Federal Court Dismisses Huntington Beach Housing Lawsuit

[Most recent in Plan­e­ti­zen: Hunt­ing­ton Beach Mounts Legal Chal­lenge to State-Man­dat­ed , Feb­ru­ary 27, 2023]

To put the Novem­ber 13 rul­ing into con­text, it’s help­ful to go back to March 9 the city filed its law­suit against the state and the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Asso­ci­a­tion of Gov­ern­ments, the region’s met­ro­pol­i­tan plan­ning orga­ni­za­tion (MPO) in charge of deter­min­ing the Hous­ing Needs , in the U.S. Cen­tral Dis­trict of Cal­i­for­nia in San­ta Ana, the coun­ty seat. Hours ear­li­er, state Attor­ney Gen­er­al Rob Bon­ta had filed suit against Hunt­ing­ton Beach in state court (Supe­ri­or Court of Orange) for “vio­lat­ing state hous­ing laws,” par­tic­u­lar­ly SB 9 (2021) and laws per­mit­ting the devel­op­ment of acces­so­ry dwelling units. 

“Though the two dis­putes were unre­lat­ed, it was hard not to see one as pay­back for the oth­er,” reports Hil­lel Aron for Cour­t­house News Ser­vice on Novem­ber 14.

The 59-page fed­er­al com­plaint [pdf]  the state’s actions “an unbri­dled pow­er play to con­trol all aspects of the City Coun­cil’s land use deci­sions in order to elim­i­nate the sub­ur­ban char­ac­ter of the City and replace it with a high-den­si­ty mec­ca.”

November 13 ruling—South Lake Tahoe connection

“In his 15-page opin­ion [pdf], U.S. Dis­trict Judge Fred Slaugh­ter ruled Hunt­ing­ton Beach lacked stand­ing to bring the suit under Arti­cle III of the Con­sti­tu­tion, cit­ing the 1980 Ninth Cir­cuit opin­ion in City of S. Lake Tahoe v. Cal­i­for­nia Tahoe Region­al Plan­ning Agency,” adds Aron.

[South Lake Tahoe appealed the deci­sion to the U.S. Court that year which denied hear­ing the case.]

prece­dent pre­cludes polit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions of a state plain­tiff city of Hunt­ing­ton Beach from assert­ing con­sti­tu­tion­al chal­lenges to the valid­i­ty of a state law in fed­er­al court,” wrote Slaugh­ter.

“Hunt­ing­ton Beach also con­tend­ed the state’s hous­ing orders vio­lat­ed state envi­ron­men­tal laws and the Cal­i­for­nia Con­sti­tu­tion,” report­ed Bob Egelko for the San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle on Nov. 14. “But Slaugh­ter said those claims were not based on any estab­lished Cal­i­for­nia legal prece­dent and could be con­sid­ered only in a state court.”

City Attor­ney Michael Gates said Hunt­ing­ton Beach would appeal the rul­ing to the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals.

California lawsuit status

The state’s law­suit against Hunt­ing­ton Beach filed on March 9 was paused by an Orange Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court judge on Novem­ber 3 until the city’s law­suit against the state in fed­er­al court was decid­ed, report­ed Michael Slat­en for The Orange Coun­ty register the next day.

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.

That was Novem­ber 4. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Rob Bon­ta gets the last word.

“We filed [pdf] a motion [on May 1] to dis­miss Hunt­ing­ton Beach’s fed­er­al law­suit because we believed it was mer­it­less. We are pleased that the court agreed,” said Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bon­ta in a state­ment on Novem­ber 14.

“With this behind us, we look for­ward to pros­e­cut­ing our state case against Hunt­ing­ton Beach. Every­one  do their part to address Cal­i­for­ni­a’s hous­ing cri­sis.”

Hat tip to Bob Egelko, courts reporter for the San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle

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