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California, Huntington Beach trade lawsuits over state housing laws

California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks during a news conference. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images | Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California Attorney General Rob Bonta told a Thursday press conference that his office is suing the city of Huntington Beach for flouting state housing laws after its city council voted to put a freeze on certain building applications. 

Joined by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Gustavo Velasquez, who leads the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, Bonta described recent actions to restrict new housing in Huntington Beach as a “brazen” violation of state law. 

“Huntington Beach is Exhibit A of what’s wrong with housing in California, Exhibit A of what NIMBYism looks like,” Newsom said. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom | José Luis Villegas/AP Photo

On Tuesday, Huntington Beach’s city council voted 4-3 to extend a recent decision to ignore new applications for accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, according to the Orange County Register. The council also voted 4-3 to ignore applications filed under the so-called “builder’s remedy,” which allows developers to sidestep zoning restrictions if a city hasn’t submitted a state-approved housing plan, and reportedly discussed filling a legal challenge to Senate Bill 9.

At the press conference, a man named Ty Youngblood said that he had hoped to build an ADU for his 82-year-old mother, but that it has been stalled because of the city’s pause on evaluating new applications. 

“The recent and sudden ban on ADUs by the city council has thrown our plans into disarray,” said Youngblood, adding that his family had already incurred “significant expenses” including engineering and architectural fees. 

Filed at Orange County Superior Court, Bonta’s lawsuit follows multiple letters advising the city council that imposing a ban would violate state law. The complaint accuses the city of violating various state housing laws, including the Housing Accountability Act and SB 9, which allows homeowners to split parcels to create multifamily housing. 

In an interview, Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates dismissed the lawsuit as “much ado about nothing” because the city still has time to consider the state’s grievances, he said. At a March 21 meeting, the city council is due to hold a second vote on the builder’s remedy moratorium. 

“The city, to date, has never received an SB 9 application,” Gates added. 

The lawsuit against Huntington Beach is the latest example of the state’s increasingly aggressive posture toward cities deemed out of compliance with state housing laws. 

Several Bay Area jurisdictions failed to submit compliant Housing Elements, or eight-year plans to make room for denser housing required by the state. Housing supply activists have filed a smattering of lawsuits against cities and counties in an effort to compel more housing development in those jurisdictions. 

Huntington Beach has filed its own lawsuit against the state, and organized a press conference on Thursday to highlight the action. 

In that lawsuit, attorneys for Huntington Beach argue that because it is a charter city, it has autonomy over local land use policies. 

The lawsuit disputes the housing targets handed down by the state, called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, and accuses the state of an “unbridled power play to control all aspects of the city council’s land use decisions in order to eliminate the suburban character of the city and replace it with a high-density mecca.”

Annie Gaus can be reached at