Lawsuits Spawn in Huntington Beach Over California Housing Laws
On Thursday, March 9th, two lawsuits were filed in response to California’s efforts to encourage its wealthy coastal cities to construct more affordable housing. The state’s response to the growing number of homeless individuals has proved to not be without controversy for homeowners, developers, and residents of California.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta initiated a lawsuit against Huntington Beach in the morning, claiming that the city has disregarded state regulations that mandate the approval of more affordable housing, as well as the construction of over 13,000 homes in the next eight years.
State housing officials indicate that California requires an additional 2.5 million homes by 2030 to keep up with housing demand. However, the state is currently constructing only about 125,000 homes annually, which puts it far from reaching its goal. Currently, there are around 170,000 homeless people in California on any given night, constituting nearly a third of the unsheltered homeless population in the country, as per federal data.
Bonta filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court, seeking a judicial order for the city to comply with state laws and to be fined. Bonta stated, “This is the colossal challenge that California is confronting. The message we’re sending to the city of Huntington Beach is simple: Act in good faith, follow the law and do your part to increase the housing supply. If you don’t, our office will hold you accountable.”
Later in the day, city officials responded with their own lawsuit, demanding that a federal judge block the state from mandating the construction of a large number of homes, which they believe will alter the peaceful suburban beach town into an urban area. Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland declared, “I am committed to defend the city and its wonderful property owners who enjoy this quiet suburban beach town.”
Huntington Beach, a town just south of Long Beach nicknamed “Surf City USA,” has a suburban ambiance, characterized by residential areas of single-family homes surrounded by bustling main roads lined with strip malls and office buildings. Officials fear that the rapid construction of new homes will fundamentally alter the structure and character of the city.
The disagreement with the state revolves around the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, a procedure that mandates cities to formulate a plan every eight years to meet the housing demands set by the state.
California has instructed Huntington Beach to construct 13,368 new homes in the next eight years. The city is expected to devise a plan on how to achieve this, which must be approved by the state.
The state imposes a “builder’s remedy” on cities that do not have state-approved housing plans, which allows developers to construct affordable apartment buildings without seeking local approval. The Huntington Beach City Council is contemplating an ordinance at its upcoming meeting that would exempt the city from this penalty, but state officials assert that the ordinance is illegal.
A state law passed in 2019 authorizes a state judge to impose fines starting at $10,000 per month on cities that refuse to comply. The law also gives the court the power to appoint someone to enforce the city’s compliance with state laws.
This is the second lawsuit filed by California officials against Huntington Beach for non-compliance with state housing laws. The city resolved the first lawsuit in 2020.
Despite billions of dollars being spent by Governor Gavin Newsom and the Democratic-controlled state Legislature to address the housing and homelessness crisis in California, the situation has continued to deteriorate each year. The majority of the funds have been allocated to local governments, each with their own housing and homelessness policies. State leaders have made several attempts to influence local policies through state laws and regulations.
Newsom, who was reelected in November and is seen as a potential future presidential candidate, has taken a firm stance against local governments and urged them to comply with state standards. Last year, he postponed $1 billion in homelessness funding for local governments as he deemed their plans for utilizing the funds inadequate. He later, however, released the money following a closed-door meeting with local officials.