State and Huntington Beach Announce Dueling Lawsuits Over Housing

huntington beach sign

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HUNTINGTON BEACH (CNS) - The conflict between the state and 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. 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 accessory dwelling units.

"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."

Because 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 Orange 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.

Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland and City Attorney Michael Gates fired back at Newsom and state officials at a news conference Thursday afternoon as they announced a federal lawsuit against the state.

Strickland argued the state is attempting to mandate 13,368 more units of "high density housing in just the next few years" in a move that would "nearly double" the city's population.

Strickland also argued that the state had tucked legislation in a larger bill providing a "carve out" for Marin County where Newsom lives. Officials with the Attorney General's Office said it wasn't true and that Marin County "is no exception" to the state laws mandating affordable housing..

Strickland accused state lawmakers of attempting to "urbanize" suburban communities.

"They don't want to turn this into an LA or San Francisco or otherwise they would have moved to an LA or San Francisco," Strickland said of the city's residents.

"I'm for housing, let's be clear," Strickland said. "If we can have homes that go with that suburban feel I'm all for that."

But, the mayor added, "The governor is not doing a good job as governor, so don't come in and tell us how to our job in Huntington Beach."

Gates said Huntington Beach "has done more for affordable housing and the homeless that any other city" in the county. "Stacked up against our neighbors we're doing more for homelessness and affordable housing than anyone else."

Strickland said the city council members will discuss what to do with the ADUs at their next meeting March 21.

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."

Newsom 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," Newsom 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.

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