Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland (C) conducts a city council meeting at the Huntington Beach Civic Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A week after a San Diego Superior Court Judge paused a lawsuit filed by the state against Huntington Beach over its unwillingness to follow California mandates to build affordable housing, the city’s own lawsuit on the same issue filed in federal court against the state was dismissed Nov. 14.
City officials said they would appeal the latest decision.
“The decision basically means that the federal judge believed that his federal court room was not the proper forum for the conflict to be resolved. I think he is suggesting that he thinks it should be in state court,” City Attorney Michael Gates told The Epoch Times.
According to the ruling, United States District Judge Fred W. Slaughter argued that the charter city—which sets its own law unlike “general law” cities which only operate under the laws of the state—is still a political subdivision of the state and therefore cannot challenge state law.
Mr. Gates said he believes the judge misapplied the law and the city will now file an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court.
“Because we’re a charter city we do have our own proper standing to bring federal claims in federal court,” he said. “So we will be appealing the federal judge’s decision, so that we can have the Ninth Circuit take a look at this.”
The dispute comes after California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development filed suit in Orange County Superior Court—which was later transferred to San Diego—against the city in March over housing laws the city has refused to follow.
The city filed its own lawsuit in federal court right after, arguing the state’s mandate it zone for over 13,000 units of housing is the largest allocation in the state, and disproportionate to other cities, among other issues.
Since 8,000 of those units must be set aside as “affordable” for residents earning very low, low, and moderate incomes, the city has argued that to reach that number, potentially 40,000 units would have to be built, as developers usually can only include about 20 of units in a development project as affordable in order to remain profitable.
Pending the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the case could either be rereferred to the state or back to federal court before the same judge, according to Mr. Gates.
“We know that the road ahead is going to be difficult. ... I prepped the city council that there would be appeals coming, so we were prepared for any contingency,” he said.
Because the recent action only bounced the case back to the state, Mr. Gates said the city still has a shot at having its arguments heard.
“We’re going to have our day in court one way or the other,” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting and the city council has an appetite to see this all the way through.”
Mr. Bonta said he looked forward to pursuing his case against Huntington Beach, following the recent 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,” he 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.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom additionally said that the city’s lawsuit filed in federal court was just a way to delay the “State’s enforcement action.”
“Today’s ruling from the court signals that Huntington Beach, and other communities like it, will not succeed in trying to use the legal system to stall the development of badly needed housing. It’s well past time for Huntington Beach to move quickly towards planning for their fair share of housing,” he said in a press release.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of housing units the city needs to build in order to reach the mandated number of affordable units. The Epoch Times regrets the error.