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California AG & Dept. of Housing put Huntington Beach on notice for housing law violations

In separate letters, state officials put Huntington Beach on notice and urge its city council to reject a proposed moratorium on SB 9, SB 10, and ADU projects

SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) today each issued letters under their separate enforcement authority urging the Huntington Beach City Council to reject a proposed moratorium on housing projects under Senate Bill 9 (SB 9) and Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), as well as accessory dwelling units (ADUs). In the letters, the Attorney General and HCD make it clear that the proposal — currently set to be considered by the city council today — is unlawful and directly threatens statewide efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing.

“We need partners in building a more affordable California, not more political grandstanding,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “I urge Huntington Beach to reconsider its latest proposal. Our state is facing an existential housing crisis. It is past time to work together to put the people of our state first. My office is ready to take action as necessary to enforce our laws, but Huntington Beach still has time to course correct. My message to Huntington Beach is simple: Work with us and we will work with you.”

Accessory Dwelling Unit in Los Angeles County, built by Bossage Homes
Accessory Dwelling Unit in Los Angeles County, built and designed by Bossage Homes

“The City of Huntington Beach continues to attempt to evade their responsibility to build housing, but they will simply not win,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “City leaders have a choice – build more housing or face very real consequences – including loss of state funds, substantial fines, and loss of local control. Californians need more housing in all communities and Huntington Beach is no exception. Communities that fail to meet this moment will find out that the status quo will no longer be tolerated.”

“The actions being considered by the Huntington Beach City Council should raise concerns with every resident in the city,” said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez. “This is another blatant attempt to evade state housing law, denying private property owners’ rights to house aging family members or build income through accessory dwelling units, and preventing the development of affordable housing when it is needed more than ever.”

Under SB 9, local agencies must provide a “ministerial” approval process for any proposed duplex within a single-family residential zone, or for any proposed lot split of a single-family residential parcel. Ministerial review is where the public official ensures that the proposed development meets all the applicable objective standards for the proposed action but uses no special discretion or judgment in reaching a decision. An SB 9 project may only be denied under limited circumstances. In addition, Huntington Beach already has an ordinance in place establishing objective development and design standards for SB 9 projects. As a result, it is unclear how the city council can direct its city manager to cease the processing of any SB 9 applications on the grounds that any SB 9 project would purportedly be inconsistent with the city’s current zoning. With respect to SB 10, Huntington Beach has not chosen to adopt an ordinance under that statute and instructing the city manager to ban the acceptance of SB 10 housing projects makes no real-world change to the city’s current practices. This further demonstrates the city’s lack of support for strategies that promote housing production at all income levels.

Under state laws aimed at addressing California’s housing crisis, homeowners can build ADUs — sometimes referred to as “in-law units” — or additional homes (SB 9 units) on their lot under specific circumstances. The city council’s proposed action would also be an unlawful attempt to preempt the application of state ADU laws. State law requires permitting agencies to approve or deny ADU applications ministerially and without discretionary review within 60 days of a complete application’s submittal. Should a city deny an ADU application, it must provide in writing a full set of comments to the applicant with a list of items that are defective or deficient and a description of how the application can be remedied by the applicant. State law makes it clear that no other local ordinance, policy, or regulation shall be the basis for the delay or denial of a building permit or a use permit. Refusing to process ADU permits would have the effect of reducing access to housing and also runs afoul of the Housing Crisis Act’s broad prohibitions on local government moratoriums seeking to restrict or limit housing development.

Accessory Dwelling Unit in Los Angeles County, built and designed by Bossage Homes
Accessory Dwelling Unit in Los Angeles County, built by Bossage Homes

Today’s letters reflect the latest in a string of troubling actions by the city. In a continuation of efforts to evade state housing law, the city is moving to strip private property owners of the right to add housing units, despite the dire need for additional housing. On February 13, HCD and the Attorney General warned the city’s planning commission that the proposed adoption of an ordinance banning “builder’s remedy” projects would violate state law. The builder’s remedy refers to a provision of the Housing Accountability Act prohibiting cities and counties that have not adopted a compliant housing element from denying housing projects for inconsistency with zoning if at least 20% of the proposed homes are affordable to low-income households. Huntington Beach has not adopted its housing element, even though HCD found its draft compliant with state law.

Governor Gavin Newsom launched a Housing Accountability Unit in 2021 increasing stringent enforcement and oversight at the local level to create more housing, faster across California. In 2021, Attorney General Bonta announced the creation of a Housing Strike Force within the California Department of Justice aimed at advancing housing access across the state. Members of the public are encouraged to visit the California Department of Justice’s Housing Portal and HCD’s website for more resources and information aimed at supporting access to housing.

A copy of the California Department of Justice’s letter to Huntington Beach is available here. A copy of HCD’s letter is available here.

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