November 4, 2023

The state of California is suing Huntington Beach for blocking laws passed by the Legislature to boost the housing supply. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Top state officials took a legal blow in their ongoing lawsuit that accuses Huntington Beach of violating state housing laws, when a Superior Court judge halted their suit until a related federal case is decided.

A state Superior Court judge ruled Friday, Nov. 3, that the lawsuit file by the state Attorney General’s Office and California Department of Housing and Community Development must wait. The ruling is a win for city officials who hope to fight off state housing mandates to keep the “suburban character of the city.”

The state earlier this year sued Huntington Beach for refusing to adopt a housing element in compliance with state law. The city fired back by filing a lawsuit in federal court that argued because it is a charter city it’s not subject to state housing laws.

City Attorney Michael Gates called the judge’s decision “a huge loss” for the state and said the decision can’t be appealed.

“The state is stuck and can’t take any further action against the city for failure to adopt a housing element,” Gates said.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said, “We are disappointed by the court’s ruling and considering all options to obtain the swift relief that state law requires.”

For decades, on a regular cycle, the state has required local communities plan for allocated amounts of housing at a variety of price points, including some amount of affordable, to meet needs of the future. More recently the legislature has given the process more teeth.

The state wants Huntington Beach to adopt zoning that would allow developers to build 13,368 new housing units over the next eight years. Huntington Beach officials have argued the city’s allocation is a disproportionate burden compared to other jurisdictions, such as Marin County.

The state filed a motion on June 22 to dismiss the city’s federal lawsuit, but a judge hasn’t ruled on it yet.

“I don’t see how the court is summarily going to be able to dismiss it,” Gates said. “We await the ruling, but I think the motion to dismiss is not going to be granted, at least not in whole.”

The state filed a motion on Oct. 30 asking the court to make a decision on whether the lawsuit would be dismissed or not. The state argued the court had 120 days to rule on the motion to dismiss.

Huntington Beach refused to join in on the request with the state for the judge to make a decision. State officials and attorneys for Huntington Beach differed in opinion on when the 120-day clock started for the judge to make a decision.

Deputy Attorney General Matthew Struhar said both sides needed to make the joint request, and state officials ended up filing without getting signatures from Huntington Beach attorneys.

The state also took issue with the city’s request to depose Gov. Gavin Newsom and other top state officials at City Hall.