California sues Huntington Beach using new housing law

Posted at 3:25 PM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 18:25:40-05

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration used a new law for the first time Friday to try to force Southern California's self-styled "Surf City USA" to meet housing goals.

The administration sued the coastal Orange County city of Huntington Beach under the law that took effect Jan. 1. The measure was passed in 2017 in a package of measures intended to address the state's severe housing shortage and homelessness problem.

The lawsuit says Huntington Beach, home to about 200,000 people, is being sued because the City Council has repeatedly refused to amend the city's housing plan to add state-required low-income housing and is fighting a separate lawsuit filed by housing advocates.

"Many cities are taking herculean efforts to meet this crisis head on," Newsom said in a statement. "But some cities are refusing to do their part."

City Attorney Michael Gates said Huntington Beach is complying with state housing and zoning laws, pointing to the city's victory in the related lawsuit. An appeals court ruled in 2017 that cities like Huntington Beach that have their own charters can approve plans that don't meet the state's housing requirements and can eliminate sites that had been zoned for affordable housing.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law last year closing what housing advocates called a legal loophole.

Gates said the state's lawsuit "is poorly timed" because it interrupts months of housing negotiations. Since 2014, the city has approved more than 2,500 new housing units, including about 100 low-income units, he said, leaving the city about 400 units short of state goals for low income housing.

Huntington Beach was deemed out of compliance in 2015, and state officials most recently notified the city in November that it was still breaking state law. The state sued in Orange County Superior Court under a new law that strengthens the state's ability to require local governments to meet housing goals.

Since 1969, the California Department of Housing and Community Development has set the number of new housing units that a region is projected to need to provide homes for all income levels. Then the city or county must show how it plans to provide its share. If too few properties are zoned to meet the need, state law requires the local government to rezone enough land within three years.

The department says 90 percent of housing plans statewide are in compliance. Fifty-one jurisdictions are out of compliance, including Claremont, Compton, Covina, Hollister, La Habra Heights, La Puente, Maywood, Montebello, Paramount, Pomona, South El Monte, Westlake Village, Desert Hot Springs and Pismo Beach along with Lake and Plumas counties.

Newsom said high housing costs and rents "are eroding quality of life for families across this state." He said the problem is "an existential threat to our state's future and demands an urgent and comprehensive response."

He has promised several moves to increase affordable housing, including giving cities more money for housing shelters but taking away transportation money if they fail to meet their goals. It's part of his effort to encourage construction of 3.5 million new housing units in a state of nearly 40 million people.

The Democratic governor's first budget earlier this month proposed spending $1.75 billion to combat the most populous state's homeless problem by encouraging new affordable housing.

He wants to expand state tax credits to encourage more low- and moderate-income housing, build housing on surplus state property and ease environmental protection laws to help encourage more housing. He also is asking Silicon Valley companies to match $500 million in state funds with their own low-interest loans to developers that would go to build homes for middle-income residents.

State officials say housing negotiations began before Huntington Beach challenged the state's so-called immigration sanctuary law and aren't related to that issue.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra and immigrant rights advocates are appealing a judge's ruling that the city isn't bound by the state law that limits local police collaboration with federal immigration agents.

Huntington Beach said the state law interfered with its authority to enforce local ordinances, and an Orange County judge agreed that municipalities with their own charters have a greater degree of autonomy.