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California court orders Huntington Beach to zone more housing

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(The Center Square) – A California state court ruled the City of Huntington Beach must comply with state laws requiring municipalities to create plans to zone for housing needs assigned on a regional basis by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Notably, the ruling found the California Environmental Quality Act could not be used to exempt a city from housing allocations required by state law.

Under the ruling, Huntington Beach must take immediate steps to adopt a compliant housing element unless a stay is issued by an appellate court.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Huntington Beach joined several other California municipalities defeated by California Attorney General Rob Bonta that have not adopted housing plans compliant with state law. Huntington Beach drafted a compliant housing element that the city council did not adopt, leading HCD to pursue a lawsuit through Bonta to require compliance.

Huntington Beach argued the state law requiring it to adopt zoning for more housing did not apply to it as a charter city, and that the requirement to zone 13,368 high-density units violates the California Environmental Quality Act. The court ruled state law “requires a city to adopt a housing element in accordance with Housing Element Law.”

The ruling comes as Huntington Beach remains in a lawsuit with the state over its ordinance requiring voter identification for municipal elections. Bonta alleges the city requirement violates state election law, as city elections happen at the same time as federal and state elections that the state’s laws govern, while city lawyers argue a law moving through the state legislature to ban local voter ID requirements proves no such ban on requirements exists.

These cases demonstrate the ongoing tension between state and local governance and the extent to which laws created by higher bodies of governance preempt those of lower bodies. Federal law typically preempts state law, and state law typically preempts local law, except where federal and state constitutional issues arise.

The Huntington Beach case also highlights how CEQA has been used to oppose additional housing in California, where imbalances between housing supply and demand mean the typical home costs triple the median household income to afford.

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