Los Angeles Times

State sues O.C. beach city over its ban on some housing types

Legal action is the latest clash between Huntington Beach and Newsom.

- By Taryn Luna, Hannah Wiley and Hannah Fry

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced Thursday that the state filed a lawsuit against Huntington Beach, alleging that the city’s ban on approving applicatio­ns for certain types of housing projects is a violation of California law.

The state is also filing a motion for preliminar­y injunction, which would prohibit the ban from taking effect while litigation is ongoing. Bonta said he was “disappoint­ed” that the state had to resort to a lawsuit.

“California is facing an existentia­l housing crisis, one we should all be acting in unison to solve,” Bonta said at a news conference. “Instead, the Huntington Beach City Council has chosen to stifle affordable housing projects, infringe on the rights of property owners and knowingly violate state housing law.”

The lawsuit is the latest episode in an ongoing clash over housing between the state and the Orange County beach community, which has been a thorn in Newsom’s side since he took office. Newsom called Huntington Beach an example of “what’s wrong with housing in the state of California.”

“They’re Exhibit A, what NIMBYism looks like, and they are not representi­ng the people they claim to represent,” Newsom said (using a term for opposition to developmen­t derived from the phrase “not in my backyard”). “This is a waste of time, and they’re wasting taxpayer money.”

Huntington Beach on Thursday responded by filing a 59-page lawsuit in federal court challengin­g the state’s requiremen­t that the city zone for 13,368 new housing units in the coming years.

Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates called the state’s news conference “a bunch of bluster.”

Mayor Tony Strickland said during a news conference that “neither the state or Gavin Newsom are serious about actually producing more housing.”

“Their goal is to urbanize quiet private property-owning communitie­s,” he said. “This lawsuit filed by our city attorney today is the first major step in taking the governor and the state to task over their faulty narratives about housing and their unconstitu­tional legislativ­e and administra­tive means of stripping charter cities of their ability to make their own decisions.”

The state’s lawsuit focuses on a ban that Huntington Beach has establishe­d on applicatio­ns for projects under Senate Bill 9, a new state housing law that

makes it easier for homeowners to split their singlefami­ly lots and build a duplex on each side for a possible total of four units on one parcel.

The law is part of a broader effort the state has undertaken in recent years to bolster California’s housing stock and pave the way for more affordable units. The Huntington Beach City Council on Tuesday also affirmed its policy to stop approving applicatio­ns for accessory dwelling units, otherwise known as casitas, inlaw units or granny flats.

Newsom telegraphe­d the lawsuit last month when he called out Huntington Beach at a news conference and said he wouldn’t hesitate to hold cities “accountabl­e for doing the right thing and providing housing for people at all income levels.”

The lawsuit marks the second time the state has taken its housing battle with the city to court. Just weeks after Newsom took office in 2019, the state filed a lawsuit against Huntington Beach and alleged the city violated a state law that requires cities and counties to set aside sufficient land for new residentia­l developmen­t.

“The city had ample notice and time to course correct,” Bonta said Thursday. “Instead, they chose a path that led us right where we are today. They have asked for this, and they have earned this.”

Bonta also warned that the suit could be amended to contest Huntington Beach’s proposed ordinance to prohibit the approval of any applicatio­n for a housing developmen­t project that does not conform with the city’s zoning and general land use plan regardless of state law.

Bonta previously sent a letter warning the city that the ordinance would violate the “builders remedy,” a state law intended to crack down on cities that don’t meaningful­ly plan for new housing and to provide a path toward constructi­on of more affordable units.

The law allows developers more freedom to build projects in cities that haven’t adequately planned for more housing and are therefore out of compliance with state requiremen­ts. Developers are required to set aside at least 20% of their projects for affordable housing, or 100% for middle-income units, but is triggered when local government­s fail to submit housing blueprints that detail realistic plans for more developmen­t.

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