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Verdicts & Settlements

San Diego Court: Huntington Beach Must Construct More Housing to Meet State Density Requirements

— May 17, 2024

The Southern California city of Huntington Beach had earlier fought against population density requirements, arguing that constructing more housing would permanently alter the city’s “suburban character.”

A San Diego Superior Court has found that the California city of Huntington Beach likely violated state law when local officials refused to authorize a plan to construct more housing.

According to The Orange County Register, Judge Katherine Becal on Tuesday ordered the city to pass new housing element policies within 120 days. To comply with state law, Huntington Beach will need to enact zoning changes permitting developers to build at least 13,368 new housing units in the next 10 years.

Housing elements, notes The Orange County Register, effectively “lay the blueprint where new development can occur.” They also “set policies to encourage affordable housing construction.”

“The court has granted our motion for temporary relief against Huntington Beach for its refusal to update the housing element of its general plan,” the California Attorney General’s Office said in a statement. “We are pleased the court agrees that we are likely to win our suit, which simply asks Huntington Beach to plan for its fair share of housing, like most California cities have done.”

“Under the court’s order,” the statement says, “Huntington Beach cannot enforce its outdated land use policies to deny new affordable housing opportunities in areas that the city itself has already identified as suitable for development.”

Men in safety gear on construction site; image by Bridgesward, via
Men in safety gear on construction site; image by Bridgesward, via

The changes are the end-result of a state-led lawsuit against Huntington Beach.

As has reported before, California began litigating claims against the city in 2024, shortly after the Huntington Beach City Council refused to pass an updated housing element—as required by recently-amended state law.

In court filings, attorneys for the city argued that being forced to create new, affordable housing would have a deleterious effect on Huntington Beach’s “suburban character.”

However, under Becal’s order, Huntington Beach will no longer have the authority to approve development for sites that do not already meet the state’s minimum density requirements.

It also prohibits the city from planning or passing any ordinances to reject or reduce the density of proposed housing developments, so long as such developments otherwise comply with state statutes.

“Huntington Beach is not above the law—that’s the essence of today’s ruling. Local governments up and down our state should take notice,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement announcing the court’s order. “We are facing a housing crisis of epic proportions, and my office will continue to act with great urgency, working with cities and counties that genuinely want to be part of the solution and holding accountable those that do not.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has also since released his own statement on the ruling, saying that the San Diego Superior Court’s finding reflects his administration’s priorities.

“From day one, my administration has been clear,” Newsom said. “Local governments must be accountable for following state law and planning for their fair share of housing.”


Judge: Huntington Beach likely to lose housing case, must approve development projects

Judge orders Huntington Beach to pass compliant housing element

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