A federal judge threw out Huntington Beach’s lawsuit Tuesday afternoon, which the city argued state leaders can’t force housing construction.

Now, the issue heads back to state court – where California Attorney General Rob Bonta is mounting a legal battle against Surf City for refusing to follow state housing mandates. 

The issue in federal court was whether or not California leaders can force a charter city like Huntington Beach to follow the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA, which mandates the number of housing units cities are expected to plan for each year.  

State leaders and Huntington Beach City Council members sued each other this past March, with city leaders arguing it was unconstitutional for the state to force them to develop housing while the state said the city couldn’t willfully violate state law without consequences. 

Read: California’s Battle With Huntington Beach Over Housing Goals Heads To Court

In the minutes documenting the judge’s ruling on the issue, U.S. District Judge Fred Slaughter wrote that the city didn’t have the right to challenge the state in federal court based on earlier rulings by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

To read a copy of the minutes, click here.

“Although Plaintiffs (the city) maintain they each have standing to bring federal constitutional claims challenging the RHNA laws, the court finds each group of Plaintiffs lacks standing,” Slaughter wrote. 

However, he said city officials were welcome to try their luck in a state court, which would have the ability to decide whether or not the state’s housing laws were constitutional. 

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates said the judge was “surprisingly light on the court’s decision for dismissal” and argued the cases Slaughter cited shouldn’t apply to Surf City in a statement on Tuesday. 

“We will appeal this decision to the Ninth Circuit,” Gates said. “The City’s lawsuit is compelling and should be given a full, proper analysis under the law.”

The precedents that Slaughter cited in throwing out Gates’ motion were approved by the Ninth Circuit. 

The end of the federal lawsuit also reopens the door for a lawsuit in state court brought by Bonta, who sued the city of Huntington Beach for failing to follow state laws and plan for more housing.

In a statement on Tuesday, Bonta praised Slaughter’s decision. 

“We filed a motion to dismiss Huntington Beach’s federal lawsuit because we believed it was meritless. We are pleased that the court agreed,” Bonta said. “With this behind us, we look forward to prosecuting our state case against Huntington Beach.”  

Less than two weeks earlier, city leaders celebrated that the state’s case had been paused by a judge, who said they needed to wait until the federal court had made a decision on the issue. 

“This is a great win for the City,” wrote Mayor Tony Strickland in a statement on Nov. 3.

“This is a fundamental fight that we will continue to fight, every day.  I want to thank our City Attorney’s Office for their continued great legal work, and our City Attorney Michael Gates for a phenomenal job in court,” he said.  

But with the end of the federal case, that lawsuit can now move ahead.

It also opens questions on what penalties the city could incur if they lose at the state level. 

[Read: What Happens To Cities That Defy California’s Housing Mandates?]

State Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine), who represents the city and has been a public opponent of the city council majority, praised the judge’s decision in a statement Tuesday afternoon. 

“For the record, a motion to dismiss is only granted if there is no triable issue of fact,” Min said. 

“Once again, I want to encourage the newly elected HB Council majority to stop wasting your taxpayers’ dollars on political posturing and instead get to work on addressing the real problems that your residents are facing.”

City Councilman Dan Kalmick, who opposed the city’s decision to file the lawsuit against the state, said while he wasn’t happy to see the city lose, he said it reinforced the point that city leaders needed a new housing plan. 

“I’m not surprised the case was dismissed,” Kalmick said. “This judge felt that the arguments that the city attorney made didn’t rise to his level and dismissed the case.” 

Reporter Hosam Elattar contributed to the reporting of this story.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.


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