The city of Huntington Beach and the state of California might be in a race to file lawsuits against each other over housing issues.

Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates said at a news conference Tuesday that his office was preparing a lawsuit against the state, challenging the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation mandate of 13,368 units. He was authorized to do so at the Dec. 20 City Council meeting on a 4 to3 vote.

The lawsuit will be unveiled in the next couple of weeks, Gates said.

At the same news conference, Councilman Casey McKeon said Huntington Beach leaders were working with the state Department of Housing and Community Development to meet that minimum number of units. But McKeon and the three other newly elected conservatives on the City Council, including Mayor Tony Strickland, spoke as they campaigned of “unleashing” Gates to challenge the state’s housing requirements.

“This is a two-prong process,” Strickland said. “Obviously we’re doing what the state has said is our minimum that we have to do, but on the other end, we do believe this is unfair to the city of Huntington Beach. ... As someone who’s served in Sacramento, someone who’s been in the California state Senate and the state Assembly, I think it’s pretty clear that Sacramento wants to urbanize Huntington Beach. The people of Huntington Beach don’t want this to be an urban community. They like the suburban, coastal community that it is today. The bottom line is, we’re going to fight.”

McKeon said Huntington Beach was waiting for a response from the state on the details of its housing plan, which could take 60 to 90 days. City staff and consultants had developed a housing element of the city’s general plan that likely would have been deemed compliant last fall — but the new council didn’t vote on it once seated in early December.

That lack of compliance with state law opened the city up to “builder’s remedy” applications, which can be used to circumvent local zoning laws. The Planning Commission voted Tuesday night to recommend an ordinance that would ban these applications, though state representatives have warned the city that would violate California law.

The previous City Council voted against suing the state in April 2021. Legal challenges posted by other cities in the past have been unsuccessful, but Gates said he believed Huntington Beach had a unique set of circumstances. It is one of 121 charter cities statewide, and Gates said he believed that authority superseded state law in the case.

The state, meanwhile, may be preparing a lawsuit against Huntington Beach.

The Planning Commission voted 4 to 2 (with one member absent) on Tuesday to recommend approval of the “builder’s remedy” zoning text amendment.

The vote came a day after state Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta issued a warning letter to Gates, advising him the zoning text amendment violated the state’s Housing Accountability Act by hampering affordable housing projects.

“The city of Huntington Beach’s proposed ordinance attempts to unlawfully exempt the city from state law that creates sorely needed additional housing for low- and moderate-income Californians,” said Deputy Atty. Gen. David Pai, writing on behalf of Bonta, in the letter. “With today’s letter, we’re putting the city on notice that adopting this ordinance would violate state law.”

“Builder’s remedy” allows project developers to submit housing projects without regard to local zoning and general plan standards, if 20% of units are designated affordable housing or 100% are moderate-income housing.

McKeon argued Tuesday that these builder’s remedy projects are dangerous because they skip past local zoning requirements designed to make communities safe, keep projects environmentally friendly and ensure developments are in areas compatible with existing developments. But Pai said in the letter that an affordable housing project’s inconsistency with zoning codes “does not constitute a specific, adverse impact on public health or safety.”

“To the extent the city of Huntington Beach has legitimate environmental concerns, those can be addressed on a project-by-project basis, in accordance with state laws,” Pai said.

Szabo writes for Times Community News.