Court Finds Huntington Beach Violated State Housing Mandate

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A San Diego Superior Court judge has ruled that the city of Huntington Beach violated California’s Housing Element Law. The law sets housing targets for local governments to meet, including units for affordable housing.

The city has 120 days to comply with the ruling and establish a plan that allows developers to build more units in the city.

“Huntington Beach is not above the law,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta about the ruling. “We are facing a housing crisis of epic proportions, and my office will continue to act with great urgency, working with cities and counties that genuinely want to be part of the solution and holding accountable those that do not.”

However, Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates said they will mount an appeal.

“There’s this systematic sidestepping of CEQA, which is the California Environmental Quality Act,” Gates said. “Regardless of the impact high density housing has to the environment, the state is going to ignore CEQA, and force cities to build high density housing.”

Huntington Beach conducted an environmental review of the state’s housing mandates. According to Gates, it revealed that Huntington Beach would see a depletion in its water supply, pose a threat to wildlife and wetlands, and increase pollution “into perpetuity.”

About the state law

The Housing Element Law allows the state to intervene every eight years to let cities know how much housing they must plan for including affordable housing. It also requires cities to put together a housing element showcasing how they will achieve the state’s plan. The state then approves of the element or sends it back to cities to reconfigure according to the requirements.

“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,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said about yesterday’s ruling.

But, Gates said, the state has presented “no empirical data” that “high density housing” can make housing affordable.

State vs. Huntington Beach

California’s Democratic majority leadership continues to tussle with Huntington Beach’s Republican-leaning city council. In 2019, Huntington Beach lost a lawsuit when the state sued the city for failing to set aside land for new housing.

In 2023, the city also filed a lawsuit against the state in federal court alleging that the state’s housing laws violate the city’s zoning requirements. Late last year, U.S. District Judge Fred Slaughter ruled against the city but they filed an appeal earlier this year in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We’re fighting on multiple fronts and we’re going to continue to fight,” Gates said. “We’ve been made an example of not wanting to be friendly to housing development and doing our share for regional housing needs and the facts of the matter is that’s completely untrue.”

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