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Huntington Beach to Keep Fighting Despite State’s Recent Court Victory on Affordable Housing

Huntington Beach to Keep Fighting Despite State’s Recent Court Victory on Affordable Housing

City Attorney Michael Gates updates residents at the Elks Club in Huntington Beach, Calif., on May 20, 2024. (Rudy Blalock/The Epoch Times)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

5/22/2024

Updated: 5/22/2024

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During a May 20 gathering at the Huntington Beach Elks Club, City Attorney Michael Gates updated residents on a slew of lawsuits the city is facing, including one that could force city officials to adopt a state-mandated plan for affordable housing.
Last week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he and Gov. Gavin Newsom had secured a lower court victory in a March 2023 state lawsuit over the city’s failure to plan for housing. But the recent success will be short lived as the city pushes forward in a battle for local control, Mr. Gates said in his update.
“I said this before, and I'll say it again, this battle over housing for Huntington Beach is a long battle. Nothing is going to happen overnight. ... There’s a lot more to this, including an appeal we will file,” he said in front of a crowd of a few dozen residents.
In his May 15 press release, Mr. Bonta said the recent order by a San Diego Superior Court judge would require the city to submit a plan known as a housing element within 120 days. California cities were required to have such plans approved in 2021, but Huntington Beach has yet to adopt one.
“Huntington Beach is not above the law—that’s the essence of today’s ruling. Local governments up and down our state should take notice,” Mr. Bonta said.
Mr. Newsom in the same announcement warned that local governments will be held accountable if they ignore state mandates.
“We can’t solve the decades-in-the-making crisis around housing without everyone doing their part, and this result makes clear the state is serious about enforcing the law,” he said.
Despite the strong message by the state officials, Mr. Gates said he had no plans to settle with the state, while acknowledging the task ahead wouldn’t be easy.
“The reality is, we are in state court, in front of a state judge, sitting in front of the state seal, fighting state attorneys, on state law. So it is an uphill battle. It is truly the David and Goliath scenario,” he said.
He said the recent ruling will not take effect for at least 35 days, and at that point the city could file an appeal and further delay it.
“There’s still stuff that the city can do. And there’s still stuff that we can go to the court and appeal, the appeal that we’re going to file in state court, for instance, stays everything,” he said.
Also in March 2023, the city filed its own lawsuit against the state in federal court, which according to Mr. Gates could overrule any decisions coming out of the state’s lawsuit.
The federal lawsuit, he said, mirrors many of the arguments other charter cities made in Los Angeles Superior Court which were upheld by a judge in April.
The Los Angeles judge found favor with five Los Angeles County cities in their lawsuit against the state over Senate Bill 9, passed in 2021, which essentially allowed homeowners to split their lots and build up to two new homes. The law was found unconstitutional, as it violated charter cities’ local zoning authority. The ruling applies to cities statewide.
Mr. Gates said the ruling could bolster the city’s case in its federal suit.
“I was telling people that our federal case was strong way before the SB 9 ruling came down. And yet the SB 9 ruling is exactly what our legal theory has been. So there are hints of hope that we have already seen,” he said.
The city’s federal suit is currently pending an appeal after it was initially dismissed in November. In its appeal, the city argued the judge had misapplied the law, since the judge’s ruling only applied to “general law” cities, but not charter cities like Huntington Beach.
In his ruling, United States District Judge Fred W. Slaughter argued Huntington Beach is still a political subdivision of the state and therefore cannot challenge state law.
Of concern to Huntington Beach officials is that of the more than 13,000 units it must zone for under state requirements, some 8,000 must be set aside as “affordable” for individuals earning very low, low, and moderate incomes.
But developers usually include only around 20 percent affordable units in new projects to maintain profitability.
City officials say the affordable units would have to be spread over multiple developments, which could result in having to plan for as many as 41,000 units overall.
City officials have said that would increase the amount of housing in the city by 50 percent and drastically change its makeup.
According to Mr. Gates, the requirement is part of California’s plan to lower the cost of housing by building more units, including high density developments. But he said there isn’t any relationship between the two and the intrusive mandate itself is unconstitutional for charter cities like Huntington Beach.
“It’s nonsensical, and it violates the law. So we’re going to keep fighting, and we’re going to prevail,” he said.
City officials almost approved a plan during a council meeting in March 2023 before ultimately deciding against it.
The decision came after a presentation by city staff saying the new housing would create “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts, such as exceeding thresholds for air quality, greenhouse gases, noise, and water quality, as well as straining utilities and service systems.
To approve the plan, city officials would have to sign a declaration stating that the need for housing overrules those impacts, which they refused to do.
Mr. Gates said at the top of the list was a lack of water supplies, among other impacts, like noise pollution.
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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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