affordable housing
Example of Affordable Housing - Photo courtesy of Brandon Griggs on Unsplash

The conflict between the state and the city of Huntington Beach over the implementation of affordable housing laws boiled over Thursday with Attorney General Rob Bonta announcing a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court and city officials saying they will challenge the state laws in federal court.

Bonta and Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference that a narrow City Council majority brought the legal struggle on themselves.

“They are not the victim. They have intentionally done this,” Newsom said when asked about city officials complaining that they were being singled out by the state.

“They went the extra step and they have initiated this, and, with all due respect, everyone’s trying to be a victim, but I’m over it,” Newsom said. “This is nonsense and they’re playing some game here and everybody knows it.”

Bonta said, “They’ve singled themselves out here. They’re the victim. They’re the violator of the law.”

Bonta added that the city’s actions have been “egregious” and “brazen” and accused the city of “flouting the law.”

Ty Youngblood, a Corona resident, said the city’s prohibition on Accessory Dwelling Units — such as extensions to homes and “granny flats” on residential lots — has directly affected his family. Youngblood said his family wanted to expand his 82-year-old mother’s home so they can move there and keep a closer eye on her, but city officials told the Youngbloods they will not be able to get the permit they need. Youngblood said he was told it was “going to be costly” as they go through a public permitting process.

“We have debt servicing,” he said. “We’ve taken loans in excess of $50,000. And there’s the stress and anxiety. My mother is 82 years old. We thought it was a good idea to get back home and support her.”

Huntington Beach City Councilman Dan Kalmick, who has resisted the city council’s votes to challenge state law, told City News Service, “I’m not surprised” the state was suing the city. He said he was told the city has since dropped its resistance to approving the ADUs.

“It appears the city will resume processing ADU applications now,” Kalmick said.

The City Council on Tuesday voted not to go to court to challenge the ADU law, he said. Kalmick said that was the right decision.

“This is not a judicial fix. It’s a legislative fix,” he said, adding if city officials don’t like the state law they should lobby to change it.

“I don’t want to spend taxpayer money” on lawsuits, Kalmick said.

As far as the state’s goals to increase affordable housing, Kalmick said, “I think we’re out of ideas at this point. You need the hammer because of the way we build housing in the United States.”

Since housing is “treated as an asset” in terms of personal wealth there’s little incentive for people to want to build more housing because it will reduce property values for other residents, he said. Tokyo, for example, is the most affordable city in the world because its housing is built to last for 20 years, Kalmick said.

“The incentive structure is perverted” to build affordable housing, he said.

Kalmick said he prefers more “local control” in housing decisions, but violating state law won’t accomplish that.

“We risk them not certifying our housing element,” Kalmick said. “We’ll lose a lot of money to address homelessness in the city.”

The city is down 26 police officers and is struggling to hire because it is in 14th place in the county for salary. Fighting the state on housing and risking grants will force the city to dip into its general fund, which means less money to hire more police officers, Kalmick said.

“It all has a trickle down effect,” he said.

Bonta argued that the ADUs help many residents create a source of income when they rent the expanded space. He said it also helps address the housing shortage in the state.

“We are in a housing shortage,” Bonta said, adding it was an “existential” threat to California.

“The median price of a single-family home is $750,000” in California, Bonta said. “In Huntington Beach it’s an astonishing $1.1 million.”

Newsom added, “We need to do more to address the original sin, which is affordability… The cost of living, the cost of housing is directly connected — as the attorney general said — to the issue of homelessness.”

The governor said Huntington Beach “is one of the most spectacular parts of this state. It’s a beautiful community.” But, he added, “Huntington Beach is exhibit A of what’s wrong with housing in the state of California. It’s exhibit A of what NIMBYism represents.”

Newsom noted the city attempted to fight the state in 2019 in court over housing laws and lost.

“And here we go again,” Newsom said. “In 2019, they pulled the same stunt and they lost. They were forced to settle.”

Fighting the state’s laws is a “waste of time and wasting taxpayer money,” the governor said.

The council majority said in December it would adopt an ordinance that prohibits affordable housing under the state’s builder’s remedy law, which was signed in 1990. The council followed through on that promise Tuesday with a 4-3 vote.

At the council’s December meeting, Councilman Casey McKeon argued Huntington Beach is a charter city, which allows it to pass its own laws that differ from the state’s. But a charter city cannot pass a law more strict than state law.

The city made the same argument regarding the state’s sanctuary state law and appellate justices in January 2020 overturned a lower court judge’s ruling siding with the city.

“The state wants to urbanize Huntington Beach,” Mayor Tony Strickland said in December.

Strickland said residents “want us to fight as much as we can to protect our suburban coastal community. If you want to live in an urban area you can move to San Francisco or live in LA… We will fight with every fiber of our body to preserve this coastal community.”

Strickland and other city officials have scheduled a Thursday afternoon news conference to announce a federal lawsuit against the state over the issue.

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