California Sues Huntington Beach for Violating State Housing Element Law
- The state today filed a motion to amend its March 8 housing lawsuit against Huntington Beach
- Since California filed its lawsuit, the City of Huntington Beach rescinded its illegal ban on SB 9 and ADU applications but refused to adopt a housing element in violation of state law, jeopardizing affordable housing opportunities for its residents
SACRAMENTO — Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta, and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) today filed a motion to amend the state’s lawsuit against Huntington Beach in order to hold the City accountable for violating the state Housing Element Law. California originally filed the lawsuit on March 8, arguing that the city’s ban on the processing of SB 9 and Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) applications violated state housing laws and must be struck down. As a result of the state’s lawsuit, the Huntington Beach City Council reversed course and voted on March 21 to resume processing SB 9 and ADU project applications. However, at a meeting on April 4, the City Council once again violated state housing law by failing to adopt a housing element that is 16 months overdue – a decision that jeopardizes critical affordable housing opportunities for Huntington Beach residents.
Today, the state submitted an amended complaint in People of California v. City of Huntington Beach, arguing that the city is in violation of the state Housing Element Law, and seeking both penalties and injunctive relief. The state also intends to seek temporary relief against the city as authorized by statute, including, among other things, the suspension of the city’s permitting authority and mandating the approval of certain 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 does also seek a declaration from the court that the city’s previous ban on SB 9 and ADU applications was unlawful and may not be reinstated.
“Huntington Beach continues to fail its residents,” said Governor Newsom. “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.”
“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 City’s 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.”
“More housing is the path to ending and reducing homelessness but Huntington Beach continues to brazenly violate state housing laws--wasting valuable time and tax-payer money instead of working on solutions,” said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez. “HCD is committed to ensuring every city and county follows state housing laws and fulfills their commitment to building housing for all.”
State law requires local governments to include housing elements in their general plans. A housing element must include, among other things, 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. Huntington Beach has been out of compliance on its housing element since October 15, 2021, and last week in a 4-3 vote the City Council once again refused to adopt a draft housing element prepared by the city’s own staff. As a result, the state is seeking injunctive relief and penalties against the city for their ongoing failure to comply with state housing law.
Furthermore, under California’s Housing Accountability Act, cities that do not have a compliant housing element are subject to the so-called “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 previously attempted to skirt the Builder’s Remedy by proposing 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. Attorney General Bonta and HCD continue to closely monitor the progress of the proposed ordinance, as well as the city’s actions on any Builder’s Remedy project applications submitted to the city, and stand ready to take legal action if necessary.
State leaders stand united in their commitment to defending and increasing access to affordable housing in California. In 2021, Attorney General Bonta announced the creation of a Housing Strike Force within the California Department of Justice aimed at advancing housing access across the state. The same year, Governor Newsom launched a Housing Accountability Unit to increase stringent enforcement and oversight at the local level to create more housing, faster across California. Members of the public are encouraged to visit the California Department of Justice’s Housing Portal and HCD’s website for more resources and information aimed at supporting access to housing.