Governor Gavin Newsom and other state leaders announced two lawsuits against the city of Huntington Beach on Thursday morning over city leaders’ fight against state mandates to build affordable housing.
“Huntington Beach is Exhibit A with what’s wrong with housing in the state of California,” Newsom said at a press conference. “This is a waste of time and they’re wasting taxpayer money.”
Less than three hours later, Surf City leaders announced they were suing the state to shut down affordable housing mandates altogether, claiming it was an overreach by Sacramento that infringed on local control.
“It’s the first major step to taking the Governor and state to task over their faulty narratives about housing and unconstitutional legislative and administrative means of stripping charter cities of their ability to make their own decisions,” said Mayor Tony Strickland at a Thursday news conference at City Hall.
The city’s lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, is aimed at overturning the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, also known as RHNA, the primary system by which the state determines where housing is built.
City attorney Michael Gates argued that housing mandates are illegal because the city controls its own zoning and that state mandates don’t override the decisions of a charter city.
He said the city has always viewed the RHNA numbers as “benchmarks,” not “mandates.”
The state’s first lawsuit, which was filed yesterday, is focused on the city’s decision to block the development of “granny flats,” also known as accessory dwelling units or ADUs, that was approved last month, directly blocking a state law known as SB9.
[Read: ‘Poking the Bear’: Surf City Challenges State Housing Laws and Halts Granny Flats]
“You can challenge the law in court, but you can’t throw a law out the window because it doesn’t suit you,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “The ordinance they approved…is still illegal.”
At their press conference, city leaders announced they would continue processing requests for granny flats but would still be fighting the issue in court for a final decision.
The state’s announcement comes after Surf City leaders approved new rules locally banning the state law known as builder’s remedy on Tuesday night, which allows developers to build housing without a city’s approval if the city doesn’t have a state approved housing plan.
[Read: Huntington Beach Blocks State Housing Law, Sets Up Confrontation with CA Attorney General]
Most cities in Orange County, including Huntington Beach, do not have a housing plan approved by the state.
Bonta said that while the state has not sued over the builder’s remedy ban yet, if the city formally adopts the rules at their next meeting, they will.
At the press conference, Strickland said the city had no plans to back off on its new law.
“We’re moving forward on builder’s remedy,” Strickland said.
The two sides have been headed toward a legal battle for months, with a new Republican majority on the Huntington Beach City Council swearing during their campaigns and from the dais that their top priority was fighting Newsom over state housing mandates, promising to “unleash,” Gates on state leaders.
The two sides have been headed toward a legal battle for months, with a new Republican majority on the Huntington Beach City Council swearing during their campaigns and from the dais that their top priority was fighting Newsom over state housing mandates.
[Read: Republicans on Track to Retake Huntington Beach City Council]
“This is one of the biggest threats facing our city,” said Councilman Casey McKeon at the council’s Dec. 2022 meeting. “We have to fight this with every fiber of our being.”
Council members have repeatedly said it’s an overreach of the state to control local zoning, and that it’s something that should be left in the city’s hands.
They’ve also pointed to a recent report from state auditors that found multiple flaws with the department of Housing and Community Development’s process for deciding where new housing gets built.
[Read: CA Auditor Bashes State’s Mandated Housing Numbers, Says Process Is Flawed, Lacks Oversight]
“There is a war on the automobile and there is a war on suburbia and they want to urbanize California,” said Mayor Tony Strickland at the council’s Mar. 7 meeting. “We have a checks and balances system in this country. When we believe the state is overstepping their bounds, we have an avenue and that avenue is the courts.”
State leaders have also repeatedly warned the city they are heading to a fight they can’t win, with multiple letters from the state department of Housing and Community Development, the Attorney General’s office and repeated public statements from Newsom and Bonta themselves.
[Read: Sacramento Tells Huntington Beach To Back Off Housing Fight Against Builders’ Remedy]
“The leaders of Huntington Beach refuse to build their fair share of housing and are flagrantly breaking state law,” Newsom tweeted from the official governor’s account after the council’s Tuesday night meeting. “The city has tried these antics before. They lost then and they will lose now.”
The city and state went to court over the same issue in 2019, with the city ultimately opting to settle the case in 2020.
City attorney Michael Gates has said it feels like the city is getting picked on at the council’s last meeting.
“There are currently approximately 280 cities out of housing compliance,” Gates said. “Yet Huntington Beach is being picked on…we’re the focus of enforcement while the other 280 cities aren’t.”
“They singled themselves out. They are not the victim – they are the violator of the law. Blatant, egregious, brazen.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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