California amends lawsuit against Huntington Beach

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California Construction News staff writer

The State of California has filed a motion to amend a lawsuit against Huntington Beach in order to hold the city accountable for violating the state Housing Element Law. California originally filed the lawsuit March 8, arguing Huntington Beach’s ban on processing SB 9 and Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) applications violated state housing laws and must be struck down.

Huntington Beach city council then voted Mar. 21 to resume processing SB 9 and ADU project applications. However, at an Apr. 4 meeting, council once again violated state housing law by failing to adopt a housing element that is 16 months overdue – a decision that Governor Gavin Newsom says “jeopardizes critical affordable housing opportunities for Huntington Beach residents.”

“Huntington Beach continues to fail its residents,” Newsom said. “Every city and county needs to do their part to bring down the high housing and rent costs that are impacting families across this state.

“California will continue taking every step necessary to ensure everyone is building their fair share of housing and not flouting state housing laws at the expense of the community.”

As a result, the state amended its complaint in People of California v. City of Huntington Beach seeking penalties and injunctive relief. The state will also seek temporary relief against the city including suspension of the city’s permitting authority and mandating approval of residential projects “until the city comes into compliance with the law.”

Although the state is no longer seeking a preliminary injunction due to the city’s about-face on SB 9 and ADU applications, the amended complaint seeks a declaration from the court that the previous ban on SB 9 and ADU applications was unlawful and may not be reinstated.

“California is in the midst of a housing crisis, and time and time again, Huntington Beach has demonstrated they are part of the problem by defiantly refusing every opportunity to provide essential housing for its own residents,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The refusal last week to adopt a housing element in accordance with state law is just the latest in a string of willfully illegal actions by the city – decisions that worsen our housing crisis and harm taxpayers and Huntington Beach residents.

“We won’t stand idly by as Huntington Beach continues to flagrantly violate state housing laws designed to bring crucial affordable housing opportunities to our communities. We’ll use every legal tool available to hold the city accountable and enforce state housing laws.”

State law requires local governments to have housing elements in their general plans, including an assessment of housing needs, an inventory of resources and constraints relevant to meeting those needs, and a program to implement the policies, goals, and objectives of the housing element. The housing element is a crucial tool for building housing for moderate-, low-, and very low-income Californians.

Under California’s Housing Accountability Act, cities that do not have a compliant housing element are subject to the “builder’s remedy,” which allows project developers to submit housing projects with deed-restricted 20% low-income or 100% moderate-income without regard to local zoning and general plan standards. Under the Builder’s Remedy provision, localities must approve these low- and moderate-income projects as long as they conform with objective building and design standards and comply with California Environmental Quality Act and the Coastal Act. These laws allow localities to address any specific, legitimate environmental or health and safety concerns on a project-by-project basis. As Huntington Beach remains non-compliant with the state Housing Element Law, the Builder’s Remedy is in effect, and the city must approve Builder’s Remedy projects that meet the legal criteria.

The city proposed an ordinance to ban builder’s remedy projects. On February 13, HCD and the Attorney General warned the city’s planning commission that the proposed ordinance would violate state law.

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