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State wants to limit Huntington Beach’s development authority

A San Diego Superior Court judge heard arguments Friday over whether she should suspend some of Huntington Beach’s development authority, which could prevent the city from issuing building permits and making zoning changes, as part of the state’s lawsuit to get the city to build more housing.

“The city is standing in the way of the entire region meeting its housing need,” Deputy Attorney General Matthew Struhar said during oral arguments. “Because the city is doing that, the law requires accountability.”

Huntington Beach has been in a nearly year-long dispute with the state for not adopting a new housing element, which every California city is required to have. The state wants Huntington Beach to adopt zoning changes in a housing element that would allow developers to build 13,368 new housing units this decade.

City Attorney Michael Gates said the state is using a “grab bag of different statutes” that don’t apply. The lawsuit, he said, was cobbled together to be aggressive and punitive.

Huntington Beach’s Senior Deputy City Attorney Nadin Said, who made oral arguments to the judge, said suspending the city’s zoning power harms the city and does nothing for the state.

A housing element is the state-mandated plan that cities have for where new housing can be built. For decades, the state has required local communities to plan for allocated amounts of housing at a variety of price points, including some amount of affordable, to meet the needs of the future. More recently the legislature has given the process more teeth.

California law allows for a judge to suspend the city’s development authority if they don’t adopt a housing element. Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the Kennedy Commission, said limiting the city’s development authority is a strong incentive to get it to pass a housing element.

Judge Katherine Bacal took the arguments under consideration Friday and said she will issue a ruling at a later date. Bacal did not indicate how she would rule.

Gates said if the ruling does go against the city, it is appealable, which then pauses the case, preventing it from proceeding further.

The city was supposed to have passed a housing element back in October 2021.

The state Attorney General’s Office is asking the judge to issue an order to approve affordable housing developments on a ministerial basis and suspend the city’s authority to approve new developments that don’t meet state density requirements.

Huntington Beach officials have argued the city’s allocation for how many housing units it should plan for is a disproportionate burden compared to other jurisdictions. The city’s attorneys have also argued that Huntington Beach is not subject to state housing laws because it’s a charter city.

Struhar has accused Gates of making frivolous filings to delay the lawsuit. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on Wednesday echoed that sentiment with a post on social media that the city is wasting tax dollars by using stall tactics to avoid building more housing.

“Enough is enough; it’s time for the antics to stop and the building to begin. Once again, the city is trying to delay a trial from moving forward to get the city to build its fair share of homes,” Newsom’s office tweeted. “Not only are we urging the court to move forward with this case, but we intend to ask the court to sanction the city for its improper litigation tactics.”

The judge this week also agreed to allow the Kennedy Commission, a nonprofit that works to build affordable housing in the county, to join the lawsuit.

Covarrubias said the commission joined the lawsuit to make sure the relief granted by the court maximizes the chances of affordable housing being built in Huntington Beach.

“Every day that passes without the kind of project planning stability that affordable housing developers can rely on makes it less likely that they will try to develop affordable housing in Huntington Beach at all,” Covarrubias said in a statement. “Bringing the city into compliance with state housing laws, and keeping the city in compliance with those laws, is key to creating an environment in which affordable housing can not only be proposed, but actually built in Huntington Beach.”

The city also has an ongoing similar case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals against the state.

Gates said the city is in the battle for the long haul.

“The state can issue as many press releases or tweets or social media posts or whatever that they want in order to intimidate the city,” Gates said. “We’re going to keep marching forward, fighting for the city, defending our rights, and doing what’s right for our community.”

Source: Orange County Register

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