Judge Pauses State Lawsuit Versus Huntington Beach While Similar Suit Plays Out in Federal Court

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Judge Pauses State Lawsuit Versus Huntington Beach While Similar Suit Plays Out in Federal Court

Huntington Beach city offiicials gather with residents to share about housing issues with the the state in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Feb. 14, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

11/6/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

In a battle between local and state control over building affordable housing, Huntington Beach, California, is challenging the state’s housing department over a mandated plan for such and a recent court ruling sided with the beachside city.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal, after the suit was transferred from Orange County Superior Court in July, ruled in favor of Huntington Beach Nov. 2, determining that it should have its case against the state heard first in federal court, despite state officials first seeking penalties against the city in state court.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta and California’s Department of Housing and Community Development filed suit against the city in March over housing laws the city has refused to follow.
Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates told The Epoch Times that he believes the recent ruling is a blow to state officials.
“In March, Bonta did an on-camera press conference basically saying we’re filing a lawsuit against the city of Huntington Beach and we’re going to punish them. So, they were trying to move the case quickly, and for the state court to put it on hold entirely is I think pretty devastating to the state,” he said.
Huntington Beach had an earlier victory in July after California requested an early trial for their lawsuit, which was denied by the same judge. Instead Judge Bacal gave the city until Oct. 20 to respond to the legal sufficiency of the state’s claims, which it did, prompting the recent ruling.
Huntington Beach city officials gather with residents to share about housing issues with the state in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Feb. 14, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Huntington Beach city officials gather with residents to share about housing issues with the state in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Feb. 14, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Bonta and the housing department argued at the October hearing that they should have preference over civil matters, citing a need to have the dispute first heard in state court.
But Huntington Beach countered that it is what is known as a charter city—which governs by its own laws—and asked the matter be paused pending results from the city’s lawsuit filed in federal court March 9.
The state, in its lawsuit, says the city is intentionally failing to adopt a housing mandate that requires zoning for affordable housing, and had previously ignored some state laws by banning the processing of applications under SB 9—which allows up to four homes on single lots—and for accessory dwelling units, better known as ADUs or “granny flats.” The city reversed its ban in March after the state’s lawsuit was filed.
The city, in its lawsuit, is seeking exemption from the state’s current housing mandate, which demands it zone for 13,368 housing units by 2029.
The required zoning is part of a mandatory housing plan, called a “housing element,” which the state updates every eight years.
But the city in its lawsuit argues their requirement is “disproportionate to other jurisdictions,” and if measured by square mileage is the most of any other city in the state.
Huntington Beach city offiicials gather with residents to share about housing issues with the the state in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Feb. 14, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Huntington Beach city offiicials gather with residents to share about housing issues with the the state in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Feb. 14, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Gates said if the city wins its case in federal court, the dispute will likely end and not need to be heard again.
“If the federal lawsuit adjudicates all of the issues, there will be nothing left for the state to adjudicate, because they will essentially be stopped from proceeding with their actions,” he said.
Of concern to Huntington Beach officials is that of the more than 13,000 units it must zone for, some 8,000 must be set aside as “affordable” for individuals earning very low, low, and moderate incomes. Developers usually include around 20 percent affordable units in new projects, to maintain profitability.
To meet that number, according to city officials, the affordable units would have to be spread out over multiple developments—meaning each new development would only include a quarter of units deemed affordable—which could result, they say, in having to plan for as many as 40,000 units overall.
They say such would increase the amount of housing in the city by 50 percent and would drastically change its makeup.
According to the Southern California Association of Governments, in April of 2021, Huntington Beach had a little over 76,000 units of housing.
California cities were required to have an approved housing plan, including a signed declaration stating the need for housing overrules unavoidable environmental impacts, by Oct. 15, 2022. Huntington Beach still does not.
A plan was almost approved during the March 21 council meeting, but a presentation by city staff said the impacts of approving it would create “significant and unavoidable,” environmental impacts, such as exceeding thresholds for air quality, greenhouse gases, hydrology and water quality, noise, and utilities, and services systems.
Residents gather for a city council meeting at the Huntington Beach Civic Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Residents gather for a city council meeting at the Huntington Beach Civic Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The council voted 4–3 on the issue again April 4, with the newly elected conservative majority voting against signing the declaration. Councilors Dan Kalmick, Natalie Moser, and Rhonda Bolton voted in favor.
“I will not allow the state to violate my first amendment right by forcing me to sign a document that says I think these housing mandates are more important than the negative impacts on the environment that they will create. I won’t do it,” Councilman Casey McKeon said during the meeting.
There are currently no hearings scheduled for the lawsuit filed in federal court.
Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

Author

Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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