Lawmaker Warns of Threats to Local Control as Huntington Beach Sues California Over Housing Laws

October 20, 2019 Updated: October 20, 2019

The city of Huntington Beach is suing California over two housing laws, SB-1333 and AB-101, joining at least three other housing lawsuits the city has already filed against the state.

Huntington Beach, along with a number of other Southern California cities, became famous for defying California’s Sanctuary State law last year. A local lawmaker says a number of bills have been pushed through the California state legislature recently aiming to give Sacramento more say over issues like zoning and city building projects.

“These lawsuits, like the other lawsuits we filed against the state, are about asserting the city’s constitutionally protected charter city authority to zone and plan for housing at the local level. These state laws are the state’s overreach and interfere with our ability at the local level to zone and plan for housing. We are looking forward to this being resolved in the courts and feel strongly that the city will prevail,” City Attorney Michael Gates said, according to the Daily Pilot.

SB-1333, signed into law last year, requires the state’s charter cities to closely follow California’s housing laws, while they used to be able to opt out of some regulations.

AB-101, signed in July, states that if a city is in violation of state housing laws, the state attorney general must acquire a court order to inform the city of the requirement to align its housing plans with state law. The city can also be fined for non-compliance.

City Council Member and former Mayor Mike Posey told The Epoch Times that he believes Sacramento is slowly chipping away at local control with an increasing number of state regulations.

“It’s bad for separation of powers because you’ve centralized and consolidated powers in Sacramento. You’ve rendered local elected officials moot and mute,” he said.

Posey placed partial blame on local elected officials in California for not acting on the need for housing, which he says has led to action taken the state legislature to centralize control at the state level.

“Those local elected officials that don’t have the political will to make [these] type of decisions are the ones that are stimulating this action,” he said.

“Most of the loss of local control is with housing policy,” added Posey. “We have seen that with bill after bill passed in 2017, 2018, and now 2019. It’s been recognized that the state of California is short probably 3 to 3.5 million housing units.”

California has been ranked 49th in the United States in housing units per resident, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report from 2016. The research found the state needs to build 3.5 million homes by 2025 in order to keep up with the needs of the growing population.

Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Fransisco) has sponsored two bills, SB-50 and SB-35, which further grant Sacramento control over local planning processes, according to critics.

SB-35 was passed and signed into law by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2017. The law stipulates that California cities must build more housing or risk temporarily losing control over the permitting and entitlements process.

Only 13 metro areas across the state meet the Regional Housing Needs Assessments (RHNA) standards set by the state, leaving 97.6 percent of cities out of compliance.

“When 97 percent of cities are failing to meet their housing goals, it’s clear we need to change,” said Senator Wiener in a press release regarding the bill.

SB-50, another bill sponsored by Wiener, was placed on the suspense file of the State Senate’s Appropriations Committee in May, essentially killing the bill for the remainder of the legislative period.

If signed into law, SB-50 would require local governments to alter zoning laws and allow taller apartments and other multi-family housing near transit areas and job centers, reported the Sacramento Bee.

Governor Gavin Newsom was a vocal supporter of the bill and expressed his disappointment in the suspension of the bill back in May.

“The cost of housing — both for homeowners and renters — is the defining quality-of-life concern for people across this state,” Newsom said at the time, according to the Bee. “California must address the housing supply shortage head on, and we need to be able to use every tool in the toolkit to address this systemic crisis.”

Posey said in addition to these polices, restrictions on homeowners being able to move their tax base to another property is another major factor contributing to the housing crisis.

“What’s further fueling demand [for housing] is the lack of inter-county reciprocity for transporting your Prop. 13 tax base. Prop. 60 was passed a few years ago. That allowed those over the age of 55 to take their property tax base and move somewhere else,” he said.

A number of efforts to bolster Prop 13, which aims to help California homeowners avoid skyrocketing property tax increases, have been approved by California voters, including Prop. 60 and Prop. 90, among others.

Prop. 60, a 1986 ballot proposal, allowed homeowners over the age of 55 to transfer their tax base from one property to another, as long as the new property is in the same county and of equal or lesser value, while Prop. 90 allowed the transfer to another county in California as long as the county allowed such a transfer by an ordinance. Currently, only 10 of the state’s 58 counties allow for Prop. 90 transfers.

In 2018, another ballot measure, Prop. 5 attempted to allowed homeowners 55 or older, or severely disabled to transfer their tax base to anywhere in the state, regardless of home value. This was defeated at the ballot box with 60% voting against and 40% voting in favor.

Posey says that despite these safeguards, homeowners are still stuck in their homes due to the limitations of the propositions, particularly in regards to the limited number of counties that allow to transfer your tax base.

“What you end with are retirees living in the house that they bought and they are sort of stuck because of the property taxes. So, they vacate [their] job because they retired. That job has to get filled by somebody and that somebody has to live somewhere. With retirees not moving, you don’t have turnover on households like you used to have. You pair that with longer life spans and now we’re accommodating households for another generation.”

Huntington Beach is also currently embroiled in a legal battle with Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has sued the city over allegations that it is defying provisions set by SB-35. That lawsuit is ongoing.