In a surprise to most of us, the Governor, with the assistance of the Attorney General, filed a lawsuit against the city of Huntington Beach on Friday morning (see MOORLACH UPDATE — RHNA Retribution — January 26, 2019).
Those observing what occurred are weighing in. Despite the Governor’s authority to do so, several commentators make this out to be a petty political play.
What is most irksome is the capriciousness of it all. No formal warning. No filing for the 50 other cities who are also missing housing goals. I believe this could have been done in a more professional manner.
I am willing to meet with the Governor and talk about ways that we can address our housing shortage and do so in a thoughtful, deliberative and cooperative way. Addressing the high cost of obtaining a roof over our heads is something we all are focused on and it deserves a hopeful and productive process.
Dan Morain of CALmatters provides his perspectives in with his world famous daily email in the first piece below (showing just the Huntington Beach segment). He alludes to SB 106, which gave Marin County favorable treatment (and which I also voted against), hinting at my concern about its cities not being subject to litigation as well.
Katy Grimes of California Globe weighs in with the second piece below. She included my press release of Friday afternoon.
Timothy Coyle puts in his two cents in Fox & Hounds, which is the third piece. And Vicki Alger raises great hypocrisy concerns in Independent Women’s Forum, which is the fourth and final piece below.
Why crack down on Huntington Beach?
Gavin Newsom sues Huntington Beach over housing.
Making clear that he is serious about building more housing, Gov. Gavin Newsom has taken the extraordinary step of suing Huntington Beach, alleging the Orange County beach town has failed to comply with a requirement that it build affordable housing.
- Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the suit at Newsom’s behest on behalf of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, testing a 2017 law giving the state greater power to enforce often-ignored housing requirements.
Newsom: “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.”
Two things to know: Huntington Beach, aka “Surf City,” was under Republican control until November, and the city has a recent history of suing the state, which is dominated by Democrats.
- A lawsuit earlier this month claimed that because it’s a charter city, Huntington Beach need not comply with certain housing requirements. That case is pending.
- Another suit last year contended California’s so-called “sanctuary” laws limited its authority to properly police its cities. Huntington Beach won early rounds in that litigation.
Huntington Beach Mayor Erik Peterson: “Huntington has won some lawsuits against the state and we will continue to fight for local control.”
Republicans lost sole control of Huntington Beach when Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris and Sen. Tom Umberg, both Democrats, defeated Republican incumbents as part of the blue wave of 2018.
- How they respond to the state’s suit—they didn’t return my calls—could have implications for whether Democrats hold those seats in the next election.
Sen. John Moorlach, a Republican who also represents part of Huntington Beach, said he is surprised that Newsom would fire a “cannon ball this big this fast.”
Not a target: Before being elected governor and moving to Sacramento, Newsom lived in the strongly slow-growth Democratic stronghold of Marin County. It’s not being sued. In 2017, Assemblyman Marc Levin, a Marin County Democrat, won an exemption to state housing requirements, as CALmatters columnist Dan Walters detailed in this piece.
Gov. Newsom Singles Out Huntington Beach For Lawsuit on Affordable Housing
Exacerbates the California housing crisis using heavy-handed litigation tactics
By Katy Grimes
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced he was singling out the city of Huntington Beach, CA by filing a lawsuit against the city over a lack of affordable housing. “The time for empty promises has come to an end,” said the lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The City should not be allowed to avoid its statutory obligations any longer.”
Yet there are 50 cities on the list not addressing the housing crisis as the state has mandated. Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) who represents Huntington Beach, took umbrage with Newsom and issued a harsh statement:
Over the 4 years I have served in the State Senate, I have labored diligently to reduce the cost of housing in California so every person and family could afford a roof over their heads. That includes attempts to reform the California Environmental Quality Act, address infill constraints, and create opportunities for denser housing near transit centers. However, the state government continues to erect more burdensome obstacles in the form of higher taxes on real estate transactions and more regulatory hurdles, rather than houses. Additionally, the dark cloud of litigation hangs over the heads of developers who want to make good on the idea of affordable housing.
So that is why I am befuddled that Governor Newsom – a former mayor of a city and county with astronomical housing costs and multitudinous problems – would try and make an example out of my constituents, the City of Huntington Beach, and sue them for not having enough affordable housing.
From my vantage point, Huntington Beach is doing its best to comply with applicable state housing and zoning laws and continues to work on meeting its housing goals and has consistently prevailed in court on this very issue.
I thought that Governor Newsom understood how difficult building more affordable housing was going to be and hoped that he would engage in some goodwill gestures to help cities reach their goals. In one fell – and very awkward – swoop, he made things worse and single-handedly exacerbated the housing crisis by unilaterally announcing a lawsuit on the City of Huntington Beach.
The State of California filing a lawsuit against one of its 482 cities is the first clash between the philosophies of local control versus centralized control out of Sacramento. The issue should be in striking a balance. If the Governor thinks that using heavy-handed litigation tactics that will divert the city’s time, energy and resources to respond to obstructive and otherwise frivolous lawsuits will help them achieve their goals, then he needs to re-evaluate his priorities.
Once this approach is started, then it must be applied to all other cities not in compliance. He should have a policy of no better, no worse. Otherwise, these are strong-arm tactics.
What is really going on?
In 2017, Governor Brown signed several bills strengthen existing laws and increase accountability and enforcement in order to force cities to build more affordable housing.
See AB 72, authored by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona), passed without much Republican support. Sen. Moorlach opposed it.
Huntington Beach and 50 other cities are out of compliance because they don’t have a current/compliant affordable housing element in their general plan. What’s lost in this mandate. is that even if the cities were “in compliance,” there’s no requirement in the legislation to build.
Additionally, cities don’t build houses, developers do. With all the regulatory and licensing obstacles in place, developers already have difficulty building in California, much less “affordable housing.” The estimate of city/county/state fees and licensing costs is $100,000 per home, before ground is even broken, depending on the region.
Even Senator Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco) acknowledged how backwards the system is when he said, “The system is so broken. It gives the public a false sense that a step has been taken toward having more housing when in fact, it’s just an illusion. Many local communities basically run a scam where they spend all sorts of time – lots of public hearings, lots of public discussion – and then it’s over and you have this collection of paper sitting on a shelf. It doesn’t result in any additional housing.”
Weiner continued: “State lawmakers have known about the law’s weaknesses for decades but haven’t fixed them. They have added dozens of new planning requirements to the process but have not provided any incentive, such as a greater share of tax dollars, for local governments to meet their housing goals.”
By Timothy L. CoyleConsultant specializing in housing issues
In a move that may signal more to come, Governor Newsom is backing up his get-tough language with California communities by announcing that he is taking the City of Huntington Beach to court for failure to meet its housing need. The unprecedented action startled some at the Capitol while pleasing many who remarked that the lawsuit could represent “a turning point” in the state’s struggle to overcome its housing crisis.
Newsom said Huntington Beach has continually refused to meet a state mandate to provide new housing for low-income people – typically the high-density, lower-cost kind. New housing approvals in the Orange County beachside community, dubbed “Surf City”, has typically come in the form of low-density, high-cost homes, the lawsuit says.
“Californians spend more of their income on housing costs than residents of almost any other place in America,” the Governor said in a statement detailing the lawsuit. “Data show these huge costs are driving families further away from their jobs, and often out of the state.”
The lawsuit is the first to be filed under a new state law which authorizes California housing officials to refer communities to the attorney general for legal action if they do not adequately plan for new housing. Cities and counties in the state are required by law to adopt a housing plan that meets their housing needs.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) administers the law. HCD judges the communities’ compliance by examining the extent to which an adequate number of “sites for housing” have been zoned.
There are as many as five dozen communities in California that are currently out of compliance with state housing law. Huntington Beach was singled out because while it allegedly had a plan some years ago that got an HCD sign-off it subsequently amended the plan to substantially lower the number of housing units it would approve. While the City’s action to reduce its housing need is reportedly what triggered the lawsuit, some in the community worry that partisan politics is playing a role.
“It is noteworthy that Sacramento is suing only the City of Huntington Beach, while over 50 other cities in California have not yet met their targets,” said City Attorney Michael Gates. “That raises questions about the motivation for this lawsuit filed only against Huntington Beach.”
But, while the City of Huntington Beach is currently represented in the state Senate by the GOP’s John Moorlach representation in the Assembly is split, with Republican Tyler Diep sharing the community with newly elected Democrat Cottie Petrie-Norris. Orange County is the scene of severe Republican losses in the last election and one would assume a partisan Democrat like Gavin Newsom would not want to be responsible for a reversal of fortune there.
The Governor’s legal action advances an aggressive housing agenda that he campaigned on and set in the first weeks of his administration. For instance, on the campaign trail last year, he promised to build roughly 3.5 million housing units by 2025 to meet projected population growth. To accomplish this goal, the Governor knew he’d have to get tough with local governments.
“Cities and counties are important partners in addressing this housing crisis, and many cities are making herculean efforts to meet this crisis head on,” he said. “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 Governor raised the stakes in his recent budget proposal by proposing hundreds of millions in state funding as subsidies for affordable housing, including $500 million to encourage cities and counties to meet their production objectives. He has also suggested limiting transportation funding to locals which don’t meet their goals.
The complaint was filed in Orange County Superior Court by California’s attorney general. The state is seeking an order that would compel Huntington Beach to reverse its recent decision to cut its housing sites.
Lawsuits are typically ugly, time-taxing affairs. Very often they don’t achieve their desired results, either. Governor Newsom would be better off holding transportation dollars hostage. In these cash-strapped times, doing so would certainly get local government’s attention. And, it just might get some new housing built.
But, if filing lawsuits becomes the primary means of accomplishing the Governor’s housing goals, tough times are ahead.
Unaffordable Housing Isn’t an Existential Problem. It’s a Regulatory Problem.
California Governor Gavin Newsom says unaffordable housing an “existential threat to our state’s future,” and he’s making an example of Huntington Beach.
Under that law if cities and counties don’t have affordable housing targets that “substantially” comply with the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s guidelines, they can be deemed out of compliance, and the state can sue.
Yet not only are these guidelines expressly “advisory,” more than 50 other cities haven’t met their state-recommended housing targets, either. Which begs the question: Why single out Huntington Beach?
Perhaps Gov. Newsom’s suit against Huntington Beach would be a little more understandable if his own city of San Francisco were a shining beacon of affordability or livability instead of an overpriced mess.
Its cost of living there is now so high that a family of four making over $117,000 annually is considered low-income and qualifies for government housing assistance. Yet San Francisco’s standard of living is so low residents routinely contend with trash-strewn streets, crime scenes, open-injection drug use, and poop patrols cleaning human feces off the sidewalks.
Huntington Beach should not be scapegoated for California’s affordable housing morass. If Governor Newsom really wants to fix the problem, he should take housing mandates and regulations to task instead. As California Globe Editor Katy Grimes explains:
What’s lost in this mandate is that even if the cities were “in compliance,” there’s no requirement in the legislation to build. Additionally, cities don’t build houses, developers do. With all the regulatory and licensing obstacles in place, developers already have difficulty building in California, much less “affordable housing.” The estimate of city/county/state fees and licensing costs is $100,000 per home, before ground is even broken, depending on the region.
Even elected city and state officials from the Bay Area, where Governor Newsom served as San Francisco mayor for two terms, admit that the state’s affordable housing mandates are a “shell game,” “an “illusion,” “completely ineffective,” and state lawmakers have known it for years.
Experts also routinely point to California as a cautionary tale about over-regulation. In fact, houses there can cost between $500,000 and $1 million more than they would elsewhere because of the hefty regulatory burdens imposed through environmental, zoning, parking, and other mandates, not to mention expensive, bureaucratic permitting requirements.
Removing regulatory barriers is a leading recommendation for making housing more affordable—one even the Obama administration embraced. But it seems the Governor missed the memo.
Responding to Gov. Newsom’s lawsuit, State Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), who represents Huntington Beach, said:
…I have labored diligently to reduce the cost of housing in California so every person and family could afford a roof over their heads. That includes attempts to reform the California Environmental Quality Act, address infill constraints, and create opportunities for denser housing near transit centers. However, the state government continues to erect more burdensome obstacles in the form of higher taxes on real estate transactions and more regulatory hurdles, rather than houses. Additionally, the dark cloud of litigation hangs over the heads of developers who want to make good on the idea of affordable housing. …If the Governor thinks that using heavy-handed litigation tactics that will divert the city’s time, energy and resources to respond to obstructive and otherwise frivolous lawsuits will help them achieve their goals, then he needs to re-evaluate his priorities.
Until that happens, Californians are about as likely to find affordable housing as they are to find a unicorn trotting down the Pacific Coast Highway hauling groceries in plastic bags.
This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.