Huntington Beach Sues Sac'to Seeking To Overturn
|(Jan. 28, 2019, 8:50 a.m.) -- A city a few miles down the coast has filed a lawsuit challenging Sac'to actions that could generate political waves in nearby Long Beach. The City of Huntington Beach is suing the state of CA seeking to declare unconstitutional SB 35, a controversial 2017 Sac'to-enacted bill that requires CA cities which don't meet housing unit numbers decided by regional bodies to grant "ministerial" (clerk type) approval certain developer-desired housing projects regardless of those cities' local decisionmaking. SB 35 also erased certain legal grounds that residents had used to appeal the impacts of such developments under the CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
In its lawsuit filed Jan. 17, the City of HB contends that SB 35 violates CA's constitution by overriding the rights of Charter cities to govern their local matters. SB 35, like a number of other Sac'to enacted housing bills, recites that housing is an issue of statewide importance. A court(s) will now decide if the state legislature can do what it did with SB 35 and other CA legislation that in various ways seeks to control the amount, locations and types of housing (including "affordable"/below-market/low income/subsidized units) cities must allow.
Less than a week after the City of HB filed its lawsuit challenging SB 35, CA Governor Gavin Newsom announced a state of CA lawsuit against the City of Huntington Beach for allegedly [Gov. Newsom press release text] "willfully refusing to comply with state housing law, even after extensive attempts to offer partnership and support from the California Department of Housing and Community Development." In his office's Jan. 25 release, the Governor said the City of Huntington Beach is "standing in the way of affordable housing production and refusing to meet regional housing needs -- local actions that harm California families' ability to find affordable places to live and drive up housing costs for everyone...The huge housing costs and sky-high rents are eroding quality of life for families across this state. California's housing crisis is an existential threat to our state's future and demands an urgent and comprehensive response...Cities and counties are important partners in addressing this housing crisis, and many cities are making Herculean efforts to meet this crisis head on...but some cities are refusing to do their part to address this crisis and willfully stand in violation of California law. Those cities will be held to account."
The state's lawsuit against the City of HB cited AB 72, one of over a dozen housing-related bills enacted at the same time as SB 35. (Richard F. de la Torre, Community Information Officer for the City of LB's Development Services Dept., says LB's Planning Bureau indicates it has a state certified Housing Element, is in compliance with all regulations regarding the plan's implementation, has been and will remain in compliance with housing element law, and on that basis the state's action re Huntington Beach doesn't affect City of Long Beach policies or practices.) Governor Newsom's press release announcing a state lawsuit against the City of HB didn't mention the fact that the City of HB had just filed a lawsuit challenging SB 35.
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The League of CA Cities (in which the City of LB is a dues-paying member) opposed SB 35, citing its impacts on local control. Multiple other cities also opposed SB 35...but not the City of Long Beach, despite verbiage in LB's City Council-approved "state legislative agenda" that recited the City of LB would "Oppose legislation that preempts the City's existing control over local matters"..."oppose policies and legislation that preempts the current authority possessed by the City and delegates that authority to the State or other government jurisdiction"..."oppose policies and legislation that diminishes the City's local control over land use, planning, zoning and development decisions, and oppose legislation in conflict with the City's adopted General Plan or other Council adopted land use policies."
As SB 35 advanced, the City Council took no action in response to testimony by 4th dist. resident Janet West (whose representative, Daryl Supernaw remained silent publicly) citing the potential impacts of SB 35. However as the bill neared final passage (and after Ms. West cited it in the context of city staff's polarizing proposed Land Use Element), LB Mayor Robert Garcia and Councilwoman Suzie Price said they opposed SB 35. Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell (D, LB-San Pedro) voted "no" on the bill (which had more than enough votes for passage, supported by Sac'to Dem leadership, including Ass'y Speaker Anthony Rendon (D, NLB-Paramount.) Among those voting "yes" on SB 35 were then-state Senator Ricardo Lara (D, LB-Hunington Park) and now-former state Senator Janet Nguyen (R, SE LB-west OC.)
Senator Lara is now state Insurance Commissioner, and with LB the largest city in the state Senate district, two LB Council incumbents have entered the race to succeed him: LB Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez (endorsed by Lara, LB Mayor Robert Garcia and Councilman Rex Richardson) and LB Councilman Al Austin (endorsed by Councilmembers Price, Supernaw and Vice Mayor Andrews.)
On Jan. 27, SB 35 author, state Senator Scott Wiener (D, SF) blasted the City of HB's stance:
Huntington Beach's lawsuit -- which refers to California's alleged housing shortage and high cost of housing -- reflects a deeply misguided view of California's housing mess, and what we need to do so that people can actually afford to live here....
State Senator Wiener has endorsed LB Councilwoman Gonzalez to become the area's next State Senator.
Councilman Austin chaired the Council's State Legislation Committee -- comprised at the time of Austin, Gonzalez and Mungo -- which sent the City Council the state legislative agenda text (which the Council voted to approve) that recited the City would oppose legislation that could harm LB's local control including on land use matters. For reasons that remain unclear, the City of LB chose to remain "neutral" instead of oppose SB 35 and Councilmembers Austin and Gonzalez -- now both seeking to advance to Sacramento -- both remained publicly silent on SB 35 as it advanced to final passage.
So...since the City of HB's lawsuit effectively seeks to protect the rights of CA's Charter Cities -- including Long Beach -- on matters of local control, will LB's Mayor and City Council support HB's stance? Or will they support (or remain silent and tacitly support) the position of CA's Governor and Sac'to Dem party leadership on the matter?
And what will LB's two candidates for state Senate -- Councilmembers Austin and Gonzalez -- now say or do on the matter? How would they vote on locally preemptive measures like SB 35 if they were elected to Sacramento office?
Meanwhile, Councilmembers Price (who has endorsed Austin's Senate bid and belatedly opposed SB 35) and Richardson (who has endorsed Gonzalez for state Senate and to our knowledge remained silent on SB 35) are speculated future candidates for Mayor if/when incumbent Garcia bolts for higher office.
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