Opinion: Gavin Newsom, City Planner

By:Dawn Collier

California is home to many unique and beautiful places to live and you can’t give the state’s gorgeous geography all the credit. Thanks is also owed to local city governments that do an excellent job of stewarding the planning and development of their communities. Gavin Newsom wants to change that.

Newsom held a press conference with state Attorney General Rob Bonta earlier this month announcing — with great fanfare — that they were suing Huntington Beach for refusing to go along with the state’s demand that the city approve construction of 13,368 new high-density housing units.

California is mandating that cities across the state permit the construction of 2.5 million new homes by 2030 to address homelessness and housing affordability.

Since the governor has failed to do anything to address these issues in meaningful ways during his tenure, he’s found a convenient scapegoat: Huntington Beach!

“The message we’re sending to the city of Huntington Beach is simple: Act in good faith, follow the law and do your part to increase the housing supply,” Bonta warned when announcing the lawsuit he filed in Orange County Superior Court. “If you don’t, our office will hold you accountable.”

Translation: Attention city leaders! Do what we tell you or else!

For his part, Newsom said Huntington Beach is an example of “what’s wrong with housing in the state of California.”

The governor wants you to believe that it’s not his fault California’s homeless population has skyrocketed on his watch or his lack of leadership that’s resulted in exactly zero reforms with any teeth whatsoever when it comes to mental health treatment, drugs and crime. Newsom also ignores California’s conundrum that the state’s extreme environmental laws have hindered housing development and increased building costs for decades.

No, according to the governor, the real problem is — Republicans in Huntington Beach!

“They’re Exhibit A in what NIMBYism looks like,” Newsom said about those beach lovers, surfers and independently-minded Huntington Beach voters who regularly made headlines protesting against the governor’s heavy-handed policies during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, there’s another California coastal enclave that is curiously off the governor’s radar: Marin County. In what San Francisco Chronicle columnist Emily Hoeven called “an ugly truth,” the affluent Bay Area community has been exempted from “affordable housing building requirements until 2029,” the California Globe reports.

Not-so-coincidentally, Marin County is home to countless top mega-donors to California Democrats.

Never mind that this highly-coveted zip code is just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, a city that has one of the most out-of-control homeless situations in the country. The tech leaders, almond moms and old liberal money that live in Marin County are notorious for blocking any and all attempts to build affordable housing there.

Hypocrites much?

Within hours of Newsom’s lawsuit being filed, Huntington Beach fired back, filing a lawsuit in federal court accusing the state of violating California and U.S. constitutional laws and the city’s due process rights by singling out Huntington Beach.

“Some 280 California cities are not compliant with the solutions required under the state’s plan. But many cities have been given a pass — a gift from the governor that looks suspiciously political in nature,” CPC president Will Swaim explains in his summary of the case.

Mari Barke, director of California Local Elected Officials (CLEO) at California Policy Center, says Newsom’s suit against Huntington Beach is likely meant to intimidate other cities into compliance.

“The attorney general apparently believes that, by targeting one city, he might be able to keep other cities in line,” Barke said in an email to CLEO members last week.

In addition, Huntington Beach argues that the imposition of higher housing densities via the state’s housing laws — including Senate Bill 1333 and flawed Regional Housing Needs Allocation Laws — violates the charter city’s constitutional authority under the California Constitution, Art. XI as well as the free speech rights of city officials to share their own “freely formed opinions” with their constituents about what is right for Huntington Beach.

The city argues the state mandates compel Huntington Beach city council members to arrive at “pre-ordained, ‘fixed,’ State-contrived speech” that Huntington Beach “needs more affordable housing” and that the “benefits of high-density development in the City outweigh the negative impacts…on the environment” — before the city council has had “an opportunity through its rightful, constitutionally-provided, legislative process to hold public hearings and make its own findings on a proposed zoning issue….”

Or as Mari Barke explains: “The governor is telling city officials what they have to do instead of letting them do the job they were elected to do.”

Huntington Beach’s elected city attorney Michael Gates joined Barke for a call with CLEO members about the dueling lawsuits last week. Gates didn’t pull any punches on the call.

“There are times throughout history where the little guy has to stand up to the big guy,” Gates told CLEO members. “Honestly, I think now is the time — to preserve our communities on the one hand, but also to preserve democracy and the value of the vote at the local level.”

“If the state continues to commandeer cities and dictate to city council members what they can say and do and how they should vote, then what’s the point of electing local officials except for ribbon cuttings and photo ops,” Gates said.

Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland says Newsom’s lawsuit is part of the Left’s war on suburbs.

“Their goal is to urbanize quiet private property-owning communities,” said Strickland during a press conference.

Strickland called Huntington Beach’s lawsuit “the first major step to taking the governor and state to task over their faulty narratives about housing.”

A federal judge this week denied Huntington Beach’s motion for a temporary restraining order to keep the state from levying penalties while the court considers the suit. Now Huntington Beach’s lawsuit moves forward on the merits of the case.

To learn more, read CPC president Will Swaim’s summary of the lawsuit here or the Huntington Beach complaint here.

Dawn Collier is the Communications Director for the California Policy Center.


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