Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a lawsuit Friday against the city of Huntington Beach, accusing the Orange County surfing haven of blocking the production of affordable housing and thus exacerbating the statewide housing crisis.
“The state doesn’t take this action lightly,” Newsom said in a statement. “The huge housing costs and sky-high rents are eroding quality of life for families across this state. California’s housing crisis is an existential threat to our state’s future and demands and urgent and comprehensive response.”
Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael E. Gates said the governor’s statement “contains inaccuracies” and said the move would slow down efforts to negotiate a legal settlement regarding housing issues.
According to Newsom’s office, the city has refused to comply with state housing law, “even after extensive attempts to offer partnership and support from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.”
The state argued that cities are required to enact housing plans that meet “the needs of the broader region and its economy.” The state Department of Housing and Community Development found Huntington Beach’s housing plan to be deficient in 2015. According to Newsom’s office, the city was in compliance two years earlier, but it then amended its housing plan “and significantly reduced the number of new housing units able to be built.”
The city later rejected a proposed amendment that would have added the ability for more units to be built, according to the governor’s office.
“Cities and counties are important partners in addressing this housing crisis, and many cities are making herculean efforts to meet this crisis head-on,” Newsom said. “But some cities are refusing to do their part to address this crisis and willfully stand in violation of California law. Those cities will be held to account.”
Gates responded that the city has been “complying with all applicable state housing and zoning laws and has been, and will continue to, work with the California Department of Housing and Community Development regarding meeting the city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment.”
Gates said proof of that “is evidenced by the city’s recent court victories in lawsuits challenging the city’s actions to zone for additional housing, including affordable housing.”
Efforts by city officials to improve its zoning “has been caused by the city fighting lawsuits and court appeals filed by plaintiffs such as the Kennedy Commission.”
Gates said the lawsuit was “timed poorly as it now interrupts recent months of discussions with both (Housing and Community Development) and the Kennedy Commission with regard to a resolution to the remaining outstanding disputes.”
Since 2014, the city has “issued permits and filed inspections for over 2,500 new housing units, including approximately 100 very low-income and low-income deed-restricted units,” Gates said.
“Moreover, the city has also permitted or entitled all of its moderate-income (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) target,” Gates said. “The city has also established programs, such as our Tenant Based Rental Assistance program, dedicated to providing assistance to extremely low income and at-risk homeless households.”
Gates said it was “noteworthy” that Huntington Beach has been singled out “while over 50 other cities in California have not yet met their RHNA targets. That raises questions about the motivation for this lawsuit filed only against Huntington Beach.”
The city also is embroiled in a legal battle with the state over the so-called “sanctuary state” law that the city has claimed doesn’t apply to Huntington Beach since it is a charter city.
State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, criticized the lawsuit in a statement.
Moorlach said he was “befuddled that Gov. Newsom — a former mayor of a city and county with astronomical housing costs and multitudinous problems — would try and make an example out of my constituents, the city of Huntington Beach, and sue them for not having enough affordable housing.”
Moorlach said he believes the city “is doing its best to comply with applicable state housing and zoning laws and continues to work on meeting its housing goals and has consistently prevailed in court on this very issue.”
The state senator said the governor has “made things worse” and “exacerbated the housing crisis by unilaterally” suing.
Moorlach said Huntington Beach should not be singled out when other cities lag behind affordable housing requirements.
“Otherwise, these are strong-arm tactics,” Moorlach said.