(CN) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Southern California city of Huntington Beach against the state of California in a bid to wriggle free of its legal obligation to build 13,000 additional housing units.
In his 15-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Fred Slaughter ruled Huntington Beach lacked standing to bring the suit under Article III of the Constitution, citing the 1980 Ninth Circuit opinion in City of S. Lake Tahoe v. California Tahoe Regional Planning. Agency.
"This precedent precludes political subdivisions of a state like plaintiff city of Huntington Beach from asserting constitutional challenges to the validity of a state law in federal court," wrote Slaughter.
In an email, Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates called the opinion "surprisingly light," especially with regard to the claim that the housing requirement violates the city's First Amendment rights. He said that the Lake Tahoe ruling shouldn't apply to Huntington Beach, because of its status as a charter city — an argument Slaughter addressed and rejected, citing a different Ninth Circuit ruling which noted that a charter city is still a political subdivision.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta praised the ruling.
"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 in a statement. "With this behind us, we look forward to prosecuting our state case against Huntington Beach. Everyone must do their part to address California's housing crisis."
Desperate to ease its longtime housing crisis, California has passed dozens of laws to incentivize home building and to require cities to alter their zoning rules in order to allow for more construction. An array of suburbs up and down the state, from Marin County all the way down to Huntington Beach — or Surf City, as it's fond of calling itself with officials' email addresses containing the domain @surfcity-hb.gov — have fought the state's new housing laws, using a variety of tactics.
California's feud with Surf City has been especially bitter and multifaceted, being fought on a variety of housing-related fronts. The state has threatened legal action against Huntington Beach over its refusal to adopt a housing element — essentially an outline for how to allow for the construction of a certain amount of housing units — and over the city's plan to ban all builder's remedy applications, a special tactic developers can use to circumvent certain requirements when a city hasn't passed a housing element.
This past March, California sued Huntington Beach over its refusal to legalize accessory dwelling units — sometimes called in-law or granny flats — on properties zoned for single-family homes, claiming that city officials had showed a "willful intentional refusal to follow laws."
At the time, Governor Gavin Newson referred to Huntington Beach as "Exhibit A of what NIMBYism looks like."
When asked if the state was singling out Surf City, Bonta said, "They’ve singled themselves out. They’re not the victim, they are the violator.”
Huntington Beach's suit against California came just a day later. Though the two disputes were unrelated, it was hard not to see one as payback for the other. The 59-page federal complaint called the state's actions "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."
But Judge Slaughter dismissed that suit on Monday with prejudice. Gates said the city will appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
"The city’s lawsuit is compelling and should be given a full, proper analysis under the law," Gates said in an email.Follow @hillelaron
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