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    Huntington Beach voters to decide on housing charter amendment this November
    • July 10, 2024

    Huntington Beach will ask voters this November if residents should have a role in approving future housing development plans.

    The proposed charter amendment would create a law requiring voter approval to carry out city-initiated zoning changes when there are “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts. Environmental impacts could include more vehicle traffic, noise and greater utility usage.

    The law would mainly affect future efforts to amend the city’s housing element, the blueprint every California city has that lays out where new housing development can occur. Councilmember Casey McKeon at a special City Council meeting on Monday, July 7, emphasized that the charter amendment would not affect private developers seeking zoning changes for their projects.

    The ballot measure also declares that local planning is an area “beyond the reach of state control.” McKeon, a proponent of the charter amendment, said it puts residents in power on housing plans rather than the decision being left to the City Council.

    Critics warned that if the charter amendment is approved by voters, the city faces financial penalties from the state for its continued defiance to plan for more housing, and the effort could backfire and lessen local control.

    Huntington Beach has refused to adopt a state-mandated housing element that would allow developers to build at least 13,368 housing units this decade.

    McKeon said the push for the charter amendment came out of the discussions over the city’s housing element last year. To implement the housing element, the City Council would have to adopt a statement of overriding considerations that found the benefits of new housing outweighed the environmental effects.

    “I personally was appalled by that,” McKeon said Monday.

    The City Council voted 4-0-3 in favor of putting the charter amendment on November ballots, six days after the first council discussions over the measure.

    Councilmembers Rhonda Bolton, Dan Kalmick and Natalie Moser were absent from the meeting. In a statement, the three labeled the process to put the charter amendment on people’s ballots as rushed, lacking “robust public input,” and a “desperate attempt” to avoid complying with state housing laws.

    They warned the charter amendment’s ultimate legacy will be putting the city at risk of fiscal insolvency. Cities that don’t have a housing element in place risk fines of up to $600,000 a month from the state and are subject to builder’s remedy law, where developers can in some situations bypass local zoning and build large housing projects.

    “(The) hasty process and disregard for unintended consequences means this charter amendment will, in the end, harm the city for years to come, much like many of this council majority’s actions,” the three said in a statement read during Monday’s meeting by the city clerk.

    Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office in a post on social media platform X on Tuesday also condemned the city’s proposed charter amendment.

    “Huntington Beach’s new effort to circumvent state law and avoid building housing is an illegal stunt,” the governor’s office posted. “We’ll continue to hold all communities accountable as we work to build more housing in California.”

    The charter amendment’s text says “city planning and zoning is a local, municipal affair, beyond the reach of state control.”

    Tara Gallegos, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said in an email that “Huntington Beach’s new initiative declaring city zoning ‘beyond the reach of state control’ conflicts with half a century of decisions by state appellate courts which have established that charter cities cannot ignore state law on the critical statewide issue of housing availability and affordability. This is yet another ridiculous stunt by Huntington Beach that will unfortunately be a waste of time and taxpayers’ money, as it will likely be swatted down in court if the voters ultimately approve this.”

    The city and state have clashed on several issues over the last year and a half. The state has sued the city in separate lawsuits over its failure to adopt a housing element and for its plans to ask voters to show ID in future city elections starting in 2026 (voters approved that ballot measure in March).

    A judge in May ruled in favor of the state and said Huntington Beach had violated the law when it didn’t adopt a compliant housing element.

    Adam Wood, senior vice president of the Building Industry Association of Southern California’s Orange County Chapter, in a letter, told the council that the charter amendment doesn’t excuse the city from meeting its housing element requirements and raised concerns that it could reduce local control.

    “Thus, if the state requires a compliant housing element, enforcement actions will be brought against the city regardless of who is responsible for approving the housing element,” Wood wrote.

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    ​ Orange County Register 

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