Huntington Beach Pier
Surfers at the Huntington Beach Pier. File photo via Pixabay

The conflict between California and Huntington Beach over the implementation of affordable housing laws boiled over Thursday with Attorney General Rob Bonta announcing a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court and city officials saying they will challenge state laws in federal court.

Bonta and Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference that a narrow City Council majority brought the legal struggle on themselves.

“They are not the victim. They have intentionally done this,” Newsom said when asked about city officials complaining that they were being singled out by the state.

“They went the extra step and they have initiated this, and, with all due respect, everyone’s trying to be a victim, but I’m over it,” Newsom said. “This is nonsense and they’re playing some game here and everybody knows it.”

Bonta said, “They’ve singled themselves out here. They’re the victim. They’re the violator of the law.”

Bonta added that the city’s actions have been “egregious” and “brazen” and accused the city of “flouting the law.”

At issue is the city’s prohibition on Accessory Dwelling Units, popularly known as “granny flats,” and Senate Bill 9, which allows homeowners to build up to four units on their property.

Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins of San Diego, who authored Senate Bill 9, called Huntington Beach’s actions a threat to property rights.

“It’s disappointing to see communities like Huntington Beach attempt to eliminate a homeowner’s right to make decisions about their own property,” she said.

“SB 9, along with ADU law, was intended to give homeowners options and streamline the building process,” she said. “These laws are options that can help folks build a granny flat to help a parent age in place, or allow someone to split their lot or turn a single-family home into a duplex, thus creating not only more housing, but intergenerational wealth for families.

Bonta said California is in a housing crisis that is an “existential” threat, and pointed to sky-highg prices in Huntington Beach.

“The median price of a single-family home is $750,000” in California, Bonta said. “In Huntington Beach it’s an astonishing $1.1 million.”

The governor said Huntington Beach “is one of the most spectacular parts of this state. It’s a beautiful community.” But, he added, “Huntington Beach is exhibit A of what’s wrong with housing in the state of California. It’s exhibit A of what NIMBYism represents.”

Newsom noted the city attempted to fight the state in 2019 in court over housing laws and lost.

The beach city’s council majority said in December it would adopt an ordinance that prohibits affordable housing under the state’s builder’s remedy law, which was signed in 1990. The council followed through on that promise Tuesday with a 4-3 vote.

At the council’s December meeting, Councilman Casey McKeon argued Huntington Beach is a charter city, which allows it to pass its own laws that differ from the state’s. But a charter city cannot pass a law more strict than state law.

The city made the same argument regarding the state’s sanctuary state law and appellate justices in January 2020 overturned a lower court judge’s ruling siding with the city.

“The state wants to urbanize Huntington Beach,” Mayor Tony Strickland said in December.

Strickland said residents “want us to fight as much as we can to protect our suburban coastal community. If you want to live in an urban area you can move to San Francisco or live in LA… We will fight with every fiber of our body to preserve this coastal community.”

City News Service contributed to this article.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.