Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced he was singling out the city of Huntington Beach, CA by filing a lawsuit against the city over a lack of affordable housing. “The time for empty promises has come to an end,” said the lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The City should not be allowed to avoid its statutory obligations any longer.”
Yet there are 50 cities on the list not addressing the housing crisis as the state has mandated. Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) who represents Huntington Beach, took umbrage with Newsom and issued a harsh statement:
Over the 4 years I have served in the State Senate, I have labored diligently to reduce the cost of housing in California so every person and family could afford a roof over their heads. That includes attempts to reform the California Environmental Quality Act, address infill constraints, and create opportunities for denser housing near transit centers. However, the state government continues to erect more burdensome obstacles in the form of higher taxes on real estate transactions and more regulatory hurdles, rather than houses. Additionally, the dark cloud of litigation hangs over the heads of developers who want to make good on the idea of affordable housing.
So that is why I am befuddled that Governor Newsom – a former mayor of a city and county with astronomical housing costs and multitudinous problems – would try and make an example out of my constituents, the City of Huntington Beach, and sue them for not having enough affordable housing.
From my vantage point, Huntington Beach is doing its best to comply with applicable state housing and zoning laws and continues to work on meeting its housing goals and has consistently prevailed in court on this very issue.
I thought that Governor Newsom understood how difficult building more affordable housing was going to be and hoped that he would engage in some goodwill gestures to help cities reach their goals. In one fell – and very awkward – swoop, he made things worse and single-handedly exacerbated the housing crisis by unilaterally announcing a lawsuit on the City of Huntington Beach.
The State of California filing a lawsuit against one of its 482 cities is the first clash between the philosophies of local control versus centralized control out of Sacramento. The issue should be in striking a balance. If the Governor thinks that using heavy-handed litigation tactics that will divert the city’s time, energy and resources to respond to obstructive and otherwise frivolous lawsuits will help them achieve their goals, then he needs to re-evaluate his priorities.
Once this approach is started, then it must be applied to all other cities not in compliance. He should have a policy of no better, no worse. Otherwise, these are strong-arm tactics.
What is really going on?
In 2017, Governor Brown signed several bills strengthen existing laws and increase accountability and enforcement in order to force cities to build more affordable housing.
See AB 72, authored by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona), passed without much Republican support. Sen. Moorlach opposed it.
Huntington Beach and 50 other cities are out of compliance because they don’t have a current/compliant affordable housing element in their general plan. What’s lost in this mandate. is that even if the cities were “in compliance,” there’s no requirement in the legislation to build.
Additionally, cities don’t build houses, developers do. With all the regulatory and licensing obstacles in place, developers already have difficulty building in California, much less “affordable housing.” The estimate of city/county/state fees and licensing costs is $100,000 per home, before ground is even broken, depending on the region.
Even Senator Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco) acknowledged how backwards the system is when he said, “The system is so broken. It gives the public a false sense that a step has been taken toward having more housing when in fact, it’s just an illusion. Many local communities basically run a scam where they spend all sorts of time – lots of public hearings, lots of public discussion – and then it’s over and you have this collection of paper sitting on a shelf. It doesn’t result in any additional housing.”
Weiner continued: “State lawmakers have known about the law’s weaknesses for decades but haven’t fixed them. They have added dozens of new planning requirements to the process but have not provided any incentive, such as a greater share of tax dollars, for local governments to meet their housing goals.”