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Huntington Beach Sues California Over 2017 By-Right Affordable Housing Bill

When it comes to housing lawsuits involving the state and new housing laws, Huntington Beach might be ground zero. Over a week before Attorney General Becerra sued the Orange County city at the behest of Gov. Newsom, the city sued the state.
January 31, 2019, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Gov. Gavin Newsom made good on his tough talk to increase housing and hold cities accountable for failing to meet state housing goals by directing Attorney General Becerra to sue Huntington Beach on Jan. 25 for deliberately reducing the amount of land zoned to accommodate low-income housing. Becerra was utilizing a new law, Assembly Bill 72, signed as part of a 15-bill package signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2017 to address the state's housing crisis.

The media is just now reporting on a lawsuit, City of Huntington Beach v. State of California, Case No. 30-201-01044945-CU-WM-CJC, seeking to overturn Senate Bill 35 which authorizes a streamlined approval process for affordable housing, filed in Orange County Superior Court on Jan. 17, preceding the AB 72 lawsuit by eight days. 

"Michael Gates, city attorney for Huntington Beach, said the city views the law as an overreach into city matters, specifically zoning," reports Ashley McBride on Jan. 27.

“It’s one thing to have more basic housing laws come out of Sacramento; it’s another to have Sacramento try to micromanage cities’ zoning and attempt to approve development projects in spite of the city,” he said. “It’s really nothing more than the city trying to maintain its local control.”

Huntington Beach’s lawsuit contends that the state’s Constitution grants charter cities exclusive authority over local land use and zoning. SB35 requires housing projects to be approved faster if they offer affordable housing and meet certain conditions, such as the use of union labor.

Senate Bill 35, like the aforementioned AB 72, was among the 15 housing bills that Gov. Brown signed by Gov. Brown in September 2017. Unlike AB 72, it received a great amount of attention (see tags here and here).

"I authored SB 35 to help reduce and ultimately end California’s severe housing shortage, and to date, SB 35 has led to quick approval of nearly 5,000 units of new housing, most of which are affordable to lower-income residents," stated Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), in a news release on Jan. 27.

When it comes to housing, California needs to strike a different balance between State and local authority - with the State setting clear and enforceable standards. Housing is absolutely an issue of statewide concern - our housing shortage is threatening California’s environment, economy, and diversity - and the State has an obligation to address the issue.

This is not the first time that Huntington Beach, which also goes by the name Surf City USA, has sued the state. A far more high-profile suit filed in Orange County Superior Court last April, challenged the state sanctuary law, Senate Bill 54 by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) that expanded protections for undocumented immigrants. Gates made the same argument that he did with the SB 35 lawsuit – that the law doesn't apply to charter cities.

On Sept. 27, 2018, "Orange County Superior Court Judge James Crandall affirmed Huntington’s argument that the law violates its local control as a charter city — one run by a charter adopted by local voters," reported Priscilla Vega for the Los Angeles Times.

Additional reading on SB 35 litigation in Curbed San Francisco by Adam Brinklow and Los Angeles Times by Liam Dillon.

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, January 27, 2019 in SF Gate
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