Huntington Beach city leaders voted to block a state housing law on Tuesday night despite threats from Sacramento that they could be in for a lawsuit over the ban.
The state law they blocked locally is known as “builder’s remedy,” which allows a developer to build a project in the city without their approval if the city doesn’t have a housing plan approved by the state and if the proposed development offers affordable housing units.
Huntington Beach, along with most Orange County cities, does not currently have an approved housing plan, with the council’s next discussion on the plan set for later this month.
Huntington Beach leaders argue that the builder’s remedy law is illegal, and that the state should not have the power to overrule local zoning decisions or mandate zoning for over 13,000 new housing units in the city.
Mayor Tony Strickland pointed out the council’s promise to voters during the 2022 campaign to fight back against housing mandates, saying the state was unfairly targeting Huntington Beach.
“There is a war on the automobile and there is a war on suburbia and they want to urbanize California,” Strickland said. “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.”
And that court battle could be right around the corner.
State leaders like Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta have repeatedly warned that a push to overturn builder’s remedy or any other state laws will be met with a lawsuit.
“With today’s letter, we’re putting the City on notice that adopting this ordinance would violate state law,” Bonta said in a letter sent to the city last month. “I urge cities to take seriously their obligations under state housing laws. If you don’t, we will hold you accountable.”
The city also received another letter from the state’s department of Housing and Community Development, warning them that if the ban was passed it would be a violation of state law.
To read the letter, click here.
While the council approved the motion to block builder’s remedy rules in a 4-3 vote, several council members asked why the city didn’t just focus on approving a housing plan instead of fighting builder’s remedy.
“The way to stop builder’s remedy is to approve and receive a certified housing element,” said Councilwoman Natalie Moser. “If the council was serious about wanting a certified housing element, it would not proceed with a direct violation of housing law.”
Precise details on how the city plans to fight off any lawsuit are hazy, with city attorney Michael Gates saying he can’t discuss the issue publicly without giving away the city’s legal strategy.
“This is the kind of thing that basically expresses succinctly in one paragraph what our entire body of zoning code already says,” Gates said. “This is as legal as our current zoning law.”
Gates also said Huntington Beach was being picked on, claiming that 60% of California cities don’t have an approved housing plan but that Surf City was the only one at risk of a lawsuit.
“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.”
“Well, we’re passing an ordinance that goes against state law,” Moser said. “That would be a reason to pick on us.”
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.