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California sues Huntington Beach over affordable housing

California Governor Housing
Posted at 12:39 PM, Mar 09, 2023

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — California on Thursday sued one of its picturesque coastal cities and accused it of refusing to build more affordable housing, an issue Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom called the "original sin" of the state's housing shortage.

Attorney General Rob Bonta sued Huntington Beach, a city of about 200,000 people along the Southern California coast where the median home sales price is $1.1 million — or more than $300,000 higher than the state average.

Bonta is asking a judge to order Huntington Beach City Council to comply with state housing laws and to punish council members by making them pay a fine.

Bonta said the council has blocked new duplexes in some single-family home neighborhoods, despite a state law requiring them to do it. He also said the council has not allowed new "accessory dwelling units" — small apartments built on a property commonly known as "granny flats."

Both approaches are a key part of state lawmakers' strategy to address the state's housing shortage, which has sent rents and home values soaring while increasing the number of people on the streets. California is home to nearly a third of the nation's homeless population, according to federal data.

State housing officials say California needs an additional 2.5 million homes by 2030 in order to keep up with demand. But the state builds about 125,000 houses each year, which would leave California well short of that goal.

"This is the colossal challenge that California is confronting," Bonta said. "The message we're sending to the city of Huntington Beach is simple: Act in good faith, follow the law and do your part to increase the housing supply. If you don't, our office will hold you accountable."

A Huntington Beach representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The city posted a message to its Twitter account on Thursday saying it is still accepting applications for accessory dwelling units. City officials have scheduled their own news conference for later Thursday.

Huntington Beach is a seaside city dubbed "Surf City USA" that's largely known for its scenic beaches and throngs of surfers bobbing in the waves by the pier.

Much of the city has a largely suburban feel with residential neighborhoods of single-family homes flanked by busy main roads lined with strip malls and office buildings.

Last year, four new council members won the election with a politically conservative bent. Since taking office, the four-member council majority has taken on state housing mandates and limited the flying of flags on city property, barring the Pride rainbow flag that has been flown in the city in each of the past two years.

Huntington Beach has an elected city attorney, Michael Gates, who has long advocated for local control and previously faced off with the state over housing and immigration enforcement.

This is the second time California officials have sued Huntington Beach for not following state housing laws. The city ended up settling that lawsuit back in 2020.

California's housing and homelessness issues have continued to worsen each year despite Newsom and the Democratic-controlled state Legislature spending billions of dollars in taxpayer money on the problem. Nearly all of that money has gone to local governments, who have their own housing and homelessness policies.

State leaders have repeatedly tried to shape those local policies through state laws and regulations.

Newsom, who won reelection in November and is seen as a potential presidential candidate one day, has aggressively challenged local governments to comply with state standards. Last year, he delayed $1 billion in homelessness funding for local governments because he said their plans to spend the money weren't good enough.

Newsom later released the money after a closed-door meeting with local officials.

"We need to do more, to do better as a state to address the original sin that is affordability," Newsom said. "At the end of the day, it's the number one issue that connects all the other bills and challenges and sins of the state together — the cost of living."


Beam reported from Sacramento, California.