State Watch

California files lawsuit accusing Huntington Beach of violating affordable housing laws

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and state officials have filed a lawsuit accusing the city of Huntington Beach of violating state housing laws.

Newsom and state Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the move at a virtual press conference Thursday, saying they were seeking a preliminary injunction against the city.

Bonta said state laws exist “to give more families the ability to help themselves, while helping our state combat a very serious housing shortage.”

“Instead, Huntington Beach has decided to slam the door in homeowners’ faces,” he said.

The lawsuit relates to the Orange County seaside suburb’s recent ban on applications to build housing under the state’s SB 9 and Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) laws, which allow homeowners to build up to four units and backyard cottages on a single-family parcel. 

The attorney general maintained the city’s effort is “illegal under the Housing Accountability Act” while Newsom described the Huntington Beach decision as “Exhibit A of what’s wrong with housing in the State of California.”

“They’ve chosen not to follow state law. It’s crystal clear,” Newsom said.

On Tuesday, Huntington Beach’s GOP-majority city council passed an ordinance to ban a so-called “builder’s remedy” clause that allows developers to circumvent zoning rules when cities fail to meet certain state laws.

The builder’s remedy specifically comes from California’s Housing Accountability Act, which permits the bypass of zoning codes when local governments do not comply with the state’s Housing Elements laws — rules that require them to meet the housing needs of all residents.

“There is a war on suburbia,” Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland said at the Tuesday hearing, noting he is “pro-development” if that development has a suburban feel. 

“What I am against is the urbanization of a wonderful suburban community,” Strickland continued. “If our citizens wanted an urban community, they would have moved to Los Angeles, they would have moved to New York.”

Stressing that his office sent Huntington Beach “multiple, emphatic and very clear warnings that we may end up right where we are,” Bonta called the city council’s actions a “willful and intentional refusal” to follow the law.

“They have asked for this, and they have earned this,” the attorney general said. “We’re in a housing shortage and affordability crisis.”

“California will need an estimated 2.5 million new homes by 2030 in order to meet housing demand, yet less than 125,000 new homes are built in California each year,” Bonta added.

Newsom echoed these sentiments, stressing the state as a whole must do better to resolve both the housing crisis and what he described as “the original sin” of affordability.

One resident invited by officials to speak during the virtual event discussed how his plans to build an accessory home on his elderly mother’s Huntington Beach property have been thrown into “disarray” and left him accruing debt.

“I apologize on behalf of people of the state that you have to suffer through local leadership there that are abusing their responsibilities and privileges and putting you in a very, very difficult situation,” the governor responded.

The Hill has reached out to the city of Huntington Beach for comment.

Tags Affordable housing Gavin Newsom Gavin Newsom Huntington Beach Rob Bonta Rob Bonta

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