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Huntington Beach agrees to settle state housing lawsuit

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Huntington Beach has agreed to settle a state lawsuit that tried to force it to end years of opposition to meeting low-income housing goals.

The tentative settlement revolves around a proposed amendment that would exempt housing projects from limits if they reserve at least 20% of the units for low-income families, the Orange County Register reported Monday. The amendment also makes it easier for developers to build housing projects for multiple families.

The state’s housing agency said last Friday that the proposed amendment to the coastal city’s housing plans would meet requirements of a law that took effect last year that was designed to strengthen housing goals.

The city’s planning commission was expected to consider the change on Tuesday and the City Council will review it in February, City Manager Oliver Chi said in a statement last Friday.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development sets the number of new housing units that a region is projected to need to provide homes for all income levels. But wealthy Huntington Beach, which dubs itself “Surf City USA,” has been considered out of compliance since 2015, when it slashed the number of affordable housing units from a development plan for its northeastern area, reducing them from more than 400 to just 70.

That change followed protests over apartment construction along two main thoroughfares, the Register said.

The city had argued it was following the law, citing an appeals court ruling in 2017 in a related lawsuit. That ruling said that cities like Huntington Beach that have their own charters can approve plans that don’t meet the state’s housing requirements and can eliminate sites zoned for affordable housing.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in 2018 closing what housing advocates described as a legal loophole for charter cities.

In the face of California’s severe housing shortage and homelessness problem, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration then filed its first lawsuit under the law in January 2019 against Huntington Beach, one of 51 cities and counties that were considered out of compliance with housing requirements.

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