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Huntington Beach Prepares to Fight State Housing Mandates

The Huntington Beach City Council considered plans in their Jan. 17 meeting to fight the state’s housing mandate, in an effort, some councilors said, to ease the public’s concern of high-density development.

The state is requiring 13,368 units to be built in the city by 2029, of which 60 percent would need to be low-income housing.

The mandate is known as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, otherwise known as RHNA, a state housing law that requires a set amount of housing units to be built by each city in the state.

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Mobile homes in Huntington Beach Calif., on June 10, 2022. (Julianne Foster/The Epoch Times)

Additionally, the city also needs to provide an additional 7,000 buffer sites to support any projects that fall through.

“This is one of the biggest fights we have,” said Councilman Casey McKeon. “We have the highest RHNA numbers of any coastal city,” in Southern California.

The city has, thus far, identified locations for just over 20,000 units as well as the locations for backup, officials said.

“Our approach should be to work on the minimum,” McKeon said during the meeting, adding that if some fell through, the city has “sites that we can choose from that we can then rezone at the appropriate time.”

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Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland (C) speaks at a city council meeting at the Civic Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The so-called buffer is in place in case of market factors, according to city staff.

To earn the state’s certification, the city council must finalize the city’s so-called “housing element document”—which details its housing plans including implementation, zoning updates, and an affordable housing overlay.

The council is currently considering what’s known as an “all at once approach” which would move its current draft forward, which has, thus far, received partial approval from the state’s Housing and Community Development Department.

A second option is to zone for the required units, but not include the buffer locations and instead have the city council vote on those on a case-by-case basis. Doing so, however, could slow the process given the city is only allowed 180 days to rezone such sites for others that have fallen through.

Councilmembers Rhonda Bolton and Dan Kalmick said they preferred the first option, while Mayor Tony Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark, and councilmembers Natalie Moser, Pat Burns, and McKeon favored the second.

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Residents gather for a city council meeting at the Civic Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Since McKeon proposed legally challenging the mandate to provide only the minimum required number of housing units in a December 2022 meeting, the council has received letters of warning from the state that there will be consequences if they don’t comply.

The council has also said it is prepared to allow City Attorney Michael Gates to sue the state over the mandated goals, an action the previous council declined to approve in 2021.

In a Jan. 9 letter written by Melinda Coy, the housing department’s accountability chief, she said the city’s threats to challenge the state legally are “not new and are unlikely to succeed.”

“If the City adopts an ordinance that violates state housing law, [the department] will respond in order to remedy those violations,” Coy wrote.

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The Huntington Beach Civic Center in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Nov. 12, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

But in a Jan. 12 news release, Strickland said the state’s housing department  “has abused its power, has gone well beyond the prescriptions of its authority set forth in State law, has knowingly and willfully utilized a flawed methodology in making RHNA determinations, and has violated State law by imposing its recent housing mandates.”

Strickland said the council’s concern is for its constituents.

“The City of Huntington Beach is right to challenge these State housing mandates,” Strickland wrote. “The Huntington Beach residents want us to fight against these ridiculous and arbitrary mandate housing numbers from Sacramento.”

The city’s finalized housing document was to have been submitted by Oct. 15, 2021.

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