Huntington Beach and state reach tentative settlement of housing lawsuit – Daily News

on Jan14
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Huntington Beach and California reached a tentative settlement of the state’s first-ever lawsuit accusing a city of ignoring state affordable housing requirements.

In a letter sent Friday, Jan. 10, the California Department of Housing and Community Development said a proposed amendment to the city’s housing plans “meets the statutory requirements” of the state law requiring cities and counties to plan for housing at all income levels.

The settlement is contingent on the city adopting the proposed revisions by March.

Huntington Beach City Manager Oliver Chi issued a statement later Friday promising the city planning commission will consider the proposed amendment at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 14, and the city council will review it in February.

Newsom had been in office just weeks when he singled out Huntington Beach on Jan. 25 for its 2015 decision to cut affordable housing from its “Beach Edinger Corridor” plan.

The 2015 changes occurred after city residents showed up en masse at council meetings protesting the volume of apartment construction underway along two of Surf City’s main thoroughfares, prompting the council to change its state-approved plan known as its “housing element.”

The downsizing halved the number of units planned for the city’s northeast sector, allowing just 70 of the 413 units required for low-income residents.

The state lawsuit was the first case brought against a city under a 2017 state law that authorized California’s attorney general to sue cities that fail to adopt approved housing plans. The housing department determined Huntington Beach’s housing plan was out of compliance following the 2015 revisions.

Newsom accused Huntington Beach of “willfully refusing” to comply with the state housing law.

“Some cities are refusing to do their part to address this crisis and willfully stand in violation of California law,” Newsom said in January 2019. “Those cities will be held to account.”

Newsom threatened to file lawsuits against 47 other cities and counties lacking approved housing plans, but so far Huntington Beach remains the only city to face such litigation.

Under the city’s proposed amendment, Huntington Beach has identified seven sites on or near Beach Boulevard, its main thoroughfare, with a combined area of 10.9 acres and zoning for 607 low-income housing units – far exceeding the 413 state-mandated, low-income units it’s supposed to allow.

The state housing department accepted six of those seven sites as viable, with a capacity for 502 low-income housing units.

Developments that reserve at least 20% of their units for low-income households can be built “by right” — meaning developers wouldn’t need planning commission or city council approval.

“It looks to be in compliance,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the state housing department. “If the city approves it … they will be in compliance.”

For years, Huntington Beach argued that as a charter city it has greater autonomy over zoning issues like those in the state’s affordable housing law.

But the city manager’s statement implies Huntington Beach decided to reverse that stance after learning it can’t get state grants for homeless response programs until it has an approved housing plan.

“After review, it was identified that to comply with state regulations, the city’s … housing element would have to be updated in order to access (homeless response) funding,” City Manager Chi’s statement said. “On Nov. 4, the city council directed that staff prepare the requisite housing element amendments.”

The attorney for a nonprofit, Realtor-affiliated housing group that had sued Huntington Beach over a separate issue said he supports the proposed settlement provided the new rules allow the actual construction of the affordable homes.

Matt Gelfand, who represents Californians for Homeownership, had objected that earlier provisions of the amendment identified sites for affordable housing without assurances those homes would get built. He’s still assessing whether the updated amendment includes those assurances.

“If there are reasonable assurances that the city would allow those projects to be built, then it’s great,” Gelfand said. “The city is zoning for more affordable housing, which is everybody’s goal.”

Southern California News Group staff writer Susan Goulding contributed to this report.

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