Huntington Beach: Pressure for Affordable Housing
By Dianne Anderson
Back and forth litigation in the City of Huntington Beach has advocates pressuring the city into compliance to provide more affordable housing units, or risk triggering costly penalties and fines for violating the state’s Housing Element law.
Following the state’s lawsuit against the city earlier this year, the city attorney filed its own version of a lawsuit based on federal law, claiming the city also has constitutional rights that the state is violating.
Councilmember Rhonda Bolton said she takes the state’s lawsuit against Huntington Beach very seriously.
“The reason is the $64,000 question. If we lose the lawsuit, then what? I haven’t heard an answer to that question,” she said.
Bolton was one of three members who voted for the Housing Element, a state-mandated law requiring that cities develop affordable housing according to the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers to keep up with housing demand.
Four of the seven-member city council opposed the RHNA Plan that calls for 13,368 new affordable housing products, which they felt was too high. They are challenging whether the state has legal federal ground to force the city to build more units.
Bolton said it’s hard to tell how things will move ahead because not all council members have been privileged to how the City Attorney’s office is handling business. She said that she and two other council members were not made aware of a request for a Temporary Restraining Order last month to block the state from pursuing affordable housing laws, which later was denied by Attorney General Bonta.
From her own research, she said this type of state litigation could drag on for months, or a year. And, she wonders about the risk the city runs if it loses the state’s lawsuit for not having a compliant Housing Element.
However, she said that aspect has not been part of the conversation.
“My hope ultimately is that the city adopts a rational and compliant Housing Element because what it boils down to is that are we [the city] going to manage how development happens? Or, are we going to put ourselves in a situation where the state can come and take over the whole process?” she said.
Huntington Beach City Manager’s office did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Earlier this month, the state amended its People of California v. City of Huntington Beach complaint that the city violated the state Housing Element Law. But, the city changed direction following the state’s March complaint, and the state is no longer seeking a preliminary injunction regarding SB 9 and ADU applications.
However, the state’s amended complaint seeks a court declaration that the city’s previous ban on SB 9 and ADU applications was unlawful and may not be reinstated. The state also is looking to suspend the city’s permitting authority and mandate the approval of certain residential projects until the city comes into compliance.
“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.”
Under the state’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA), established to address critically low housing stock in California, third parties can sue if the city is not in compliance with the Housing Element.
In 2021, The Kennedy Commission litigation was awarded over $3.5 million to cover their attorney’s fees for years of advocacy and fighting the city on the issue.
Cesar Corrarubius, executive director of The Kennedy Commission, said that this time around, they think the state has a very strong case against the city.
“They [city] turned down the last Element at the city council. They’re not making any meaningful progress toward addressing the Housing Element,” said Corrarubius, who was part of the working group on the draft Housing Element plan that the majority of the city council voted against.
He said the lawsuits are intended to force the city to comply with state laws that require housing to be developed under SB9 and SB 10, the Senate’s Building Opportunities for All housing package.
Being out of compliance with the Housing Element holds different consequences, including restrictions in project approval, commercial or industrial building permits. Other penalties allow the state to pursue additional fines daily.
Right now, his organization wants to pressure the city back into compliance and make sure that there are opportunities to develop affordable housing throughout the city.
“We sued a few years back and got them into compliance and the state also was part of that. We’re trying to assess the current situation. Our goal is to get them back into compliance, and make sure they have opportunities to develop affordable housing throughout the city,” he said.
Former Mayor Shirley Dettloff works with Homeless United Huntington Beach, and its members in support of passage of the draft Housing Element Cycle 6 that was prepared by the City of Huntington Beach Community Development Department.
She said rent and homeownership are extremely high, and the organization stands for ensuring that the city provides enough affordable units for all citizens to have a place to live.
“We’re talking middle incomes. These are teachers, nurses, and police officers who deserve to live in the city where they work. I think it’s just a human right,” she said. “At Homeless United, that’s what our work is to make sure that any document that comes out provides for affordable housing and that we have a city that goes along with that.”
Attorney General Rob Bonta stated that California is in the midst of a housing crisis, and Huntington Beach has repeatedly and defiantly refused every opportunity to provide essential housing for its own residents.
“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,” he said. “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.”