California Secures Order Holding Huntington Beach Accountable for Flouting Housing Element Laws

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday secured an order from the San Diego Superior Court, finding that the City of Huntington Beach violated California’s Housing Element Law.

The Court ordered the city to come into compliance within 120 days.

According to the court, the state has argued that Huntington Beach’s Housing Element “is invalid because the City has not updated it to substantially comply with the Housing Element Law for the current planning cycle, and the City refuses to adopt a Draft Housing Element Revision.”

The state argued that the City of Huntington Beach “did not adopt its housing element by October 15, 2021.”  Further, “Although the City subsequently prepared a draft housing element revision, the City Council deadlocked and ultimately voted to reject the draft housing element revision.”

During oral arguments, the city in fact “conceded” that it did not adopt a sixth cycle housing element.

The court quickly rejected most of the city’s arguments, but the one that remained in place was their argument “that to require the City to adopt a housing element with 13,368 high density units violates CEQA and would require the City to issue an objectionable and false statement of overriding considerations.”

At the hearing, “the City argued the State’s housing mandate would essentially impose a 50% increase in an already fully built-out area.”

The court continued, noting that the City argued “a wealth of evidence in the record shows the City Council engaged in a thoughtful decision-making process when it assessed the potential environmental harms that could result if they were to adopt the proposed housing element, and so they cannot be found to have engaged in an abuse of discretion and their decision was not arbitrary and capricious.”

The city also argued that “the City cannot be compelled to engage in particular legislative acts.”

However, the court, while noting that the city’s objections are “well-intentioned and understandable,” noted that the legislature specifically “created an exemption under CEQA for when a City needs to make determinations under the Housing Element’s regional housing needs, so as not to run afoul of CEQA.”

Thus the city “was required under its ministerial duty to adopt a legally compliant sixth cycle housing element. The law does not give the City discretion on whether to adopt a housing element at all, and so the City’s arguments under the abuse of discretion/arbitrary or capricious standard are inapplicable.”

The court further noted that the “environmental concerns are not (un)warranted.”

Rather, “Rather, the City can both acknowledge the serious environmental concerns while also citing that it is legally infeasible to do anything other than comply with its obligation as to the regional housing needs allocation.”

The court then ordered the city to “bring its housing element into substantial compliance with the Housing Element Law.”

“Huntington Beach is not above the law — that’s the essence of today’s ruling. Local governments up and down our state should take notice,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “We are facing a housing crisis of epic proportions, and my office will continue to act with great urgency, working with cities and counties that genuinely want to be part of the solution and holding accountable those that do not.”

“From day one, my administration has been clear: local governments must be accountable for following state law and planning for their fair share of housing,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “That’s what this case has been about from the start, and we will continue to focus on accountability. We can’t solve the decades-in-the-making crisis around housing without everyone doing their part, and this result makes clear the state is serious about enforcing the law.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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