Today, California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund is announcing the filing of yet another lawsuit against a Californian suburb for violating state housing law; this time, in Huntington Beach. The coastal town has made a habit of defying state law mandates in the courts. Most recently, they sued the state to invalidate Governor Newsom’s order to close Orange County beaches. It should come as no surprise that this defiance extends to fighting for the city’s ability to prevent housing development. The city has recently argued that important state law mandates on housing should not apply to them, whether it be SB 35’s affordable housing streamlining, housing element requirements, or state minimum ADU regulations. As it turns out, Huntington Beach also believes that they can deny housing developments in violation of the Housing Accountability Act. You can view our initial brief in our Law Library here.
Starting way back in 2010, the City of Huntington Beach enacted the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan which designated the area around the intersection of Beach Boulevard, Ellis Avenue, and Main Street as high-density housing. Huntington beach would later revise the specific plan to half the number of units allowed to be developed, spurring extended litigation over whether the lower density violated Housing Element requirements. Fast forward to last year where THDT Investment proposed a modest apartment building at 8041 Ellis Avenue in Huntington Beach, which is within this specific plan. The proposed building is directly across the street from a six story, 274-unit apartment building and compliant with all of the city’s own objective land use standards for the site, in both the General Plan and the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan.
Nevertheless, the city denied the project. Their reasons are predictable: the building did not “fit”, nor did it maintain consistency with the “spirit” or “vision” of the city’s plans. However, the Housing Accountability Act does not defer to nebulous feelings about “spirit” or “vision”; rather, it plainly states that only the objective, quantifiable zoning standards matter. THDT Investments appealed to the city with this information who, once again, denied the project. This time it was due to vague safety concerns.
Once more, THDT Investments challenged this denial. Once more, Huntington Beach went off the rails. The city’s third denial was based on a pair of reports produced by paid “experts” that claimed the new housing development would render an already deadly intersection even more deadly. At no point did these experts identify any objective written public health and safety standards, nor did they address whether or not there was any way to mitigate the impact.
Now, once again, CaRLA has sued to enforce the state’s Housing Accountability Act. Much like our recent victory in Los Altos, Huntington Beach is trying to invent novel interpretations of state law in ways that fail to serve Californians. The COVID-19 pandemic won’t be going away anytime soon; ensuring everyone has a safe place in which they can shelter is a prerequisite to shortening the pandemic’s duration and minimizing loss of life, regardless of what a city’s leadership might say about architectural “vision” or “harmony.” The best time to build housing was a decade ago, when our shortage was less dire and the city first rezoned this area in anticipation of its arrival. The second best time is right now. We are suing to ensure cities can’t use their review processes to arbitrarily deny housing years later, after purposefully making arrangements for it to arrive.
We are thrilled to be represented by Professor Kenneth Stahl in this case, and we will collaborate with the developer and Californians For Homeownership, who are also suing the city to challenge Huntington Beach. The State of California might be closed, but local government marches on in marathon zoom public hearings and a multitude of email threads. We’re not content to sit on the sidelines while working from home; CaRLA is continuing to enforce state housing law with lawsuits like this. A tiny minority of cities are looking to use this humanitarian crisis as cover for exacerbating an already crisis-level housing shortage, and we need your support to keep fighting back. If you haven’t already done so, please consider becoming a subscribing donor with a monthly donation.