Friday, June 2, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California slams Huntington Beach over ‘brazen’ disregard of housing law

The leaders of "Surf City USA" have gone out of their way to violate California's laws to boost housing stock.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California sued the coastal enclave Huntington Beach on Thursday, the state attorney general’s first case this year claiming a city violated housing laws aimed at boosting housing stock. 

In response, the city filed counterclaims Thursday, requesting injunctive relief against the state's new laws enforcing how cities approve housing projects.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta headed a press conference alongside Governor Gavin Newsom announcing claims filed Wednesday against Huntington Beach. The state accuses the city’s elected elected leaders of approving a ban on applications for housing built under Senate Bill 9's new loosened rules in violation of state housing law. 

The City Council has refused to allow accessory dwelling units, which are additional homes on a lot, leading Bonta to file a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court claiming officials showed a “willful intentional refusal to follow laws.” Bonta wants the court to block the city from disallowing the units.

The state says the City Council's actions strip private property owners of their right to add homes, despite the dire need for additional housing. Bonta called Huntington Beach leaders’ actions a “brazen” violation of state law. Bonta said the state filed suit to send the message “act in good faith, follow the law and do your part to increase the housing supply.”

On Feb. 13, Bonta sent a letter putting the city on notice that its plans to ban all builder’s remedy applications would violate law, and a separate letter urging the City Council to reject the moratorium on special housing projects. Under Senate Bill 9, local agencies must provide a “ministerial” approval process for any proposed duplex within a single-family home or for any residential lot split. The builder’s remedy prohibits cities and counties that have not adopted a compliant housing element from denying projects where at least 20% of proposed homes are affordable to low-income households.

“This is another blatant attempt to evade state housing law, denying private property owners’ rights to house aging family members or build income through accessory dwelling units, and preventing the development of affordable housing when it is needed more than ever,” state Department of Housing and Community Development director Gustavo Velasquez said.

Huntington Beach has not adopted its housing element although it was found compliant with state law. Bonta said it is unclear how the City Council can direct its city manager to cease processing applications on the grounds that any Senate Bill 9 project would be inconsistent with current zoning if there are already standards set for these projects.

According to Bonta, the median price for a new California home is now $750,000. And 2.5 million new homes are needed by 2030.

“Instead, Huntington Beach has decided to slam the door in homeowners’ faces,” he said. “The thing is, nobody gets to pick and choose the laws they want to follow.”

Velasquez said Newsom's Housing Accountability Unit — launched to increase enforcement and oversight over housing — stepped in after Huntington Beach leaders rejected staffers' proposed housing element. He said that plan contained a list of nearly 600 accessory dwelling units.

Meanwhile, the city sits on about 100 ADU applications that were submitted before the City Council ordered staff to stop processing them. 

But Huntington Beach resident Ty Youngblood said he is directly affected by the city's actions. His family took out a loan and started the expensive process to build a home on a lot for his 82-year-old mother, who must leave her home of 50 years.

“It is unacceptable for the City Council to ignore state law and to deny us the opportunity to build ADUs,” Youngblood said. 

Governor Gavin Newsom of California appears virtually in a press conference announcing claims filed against Huntington Beach. (Screenshot via Courthouse News)

Newsom, appearing virtually after testing positive for Covid-19, called housing the state’s number one issue. He previously sued Huntington Beach for housing law violations in 2019 — and won.

“Affordability is not a game, homelessness is not a game,” Newsom added. “We mean business — they tested us in 2019 and they’re testing us again, fine. We’re not going to play any more games with this agenda any longer.” 

He accused the city of being "Exhibit A of what NIMBYism looks like."

“At the end of the day, the state vision cannot be realized anywhere else except locally. We’re all in this together and we have a responsibility to one another," Newsom said.

Newsom also took aim at Huntington Beach officials' decision to take down a Pride flag, calling it "a disgrace" and saying the state will fight what he called “rank performative politics.” 

Asked about the city accusing state officials of “singling them out,” Bonta said, “They’ve singled themselves out. They’re not the victim, they are the violator.”

But Huntington Beach doesn't plan to go down without a fight. The city filed a 59-page countersuit late Thursday, claiming the state's actions are "an unbridled power play to control all aspects of the City Council’s land use decisions in order to eliminate the suburban character of the city and replace it with a high-density mecca."

The city claims infringement of its constitutional rights and seeks a jury trial.

"This rapid, reckless, state-mandated re-development scheme threatens the health, safety, and welfare of the city; it overburdens existing city infrastructure, damages environmentally sensitive areas of the city, and devalues affected private properties," the city says in its countersuit.

The governor's and Bonta's offices did not respond to requests for comment about counterclaims from Huntington Beach officials before deadline.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.