The City of Huntington Beach – long a target of the Newsom Administration on housing – has filed a wide-ranging lawsuit in federal court seeking to strike down the Regional Housing Needs Assessment process and the way that process has been implemented by the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the Southern California Association of Governments.

The 53-page lawsuit, which was filed on March 9, contains 11 causes of action, some involving novel legal theories. For example, the lawsuit argues that the RHNA process violates the First Amendment by forcing city councilmembers to make statements about the need for housing that they do not believe. This argument rests on the proposition that a city councilmember’s vote constitutes speech. The lawsuit also accuses Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state and SCAG officials of fraud because they “knew or should have known” that the RHNA process is flawed. In addition, the lawsuit claims that the RHNA process interferes with interstate commerce by forcing the delivery of construction materials to California in order to meet RHNA goals, rather than allowing those construction materials to be used in other states.

At the same time, the lawsuit contains a number of more conventional arguments. For example, the lawsuit claims that the state cannot override a charter city’s municipal authority with the RHNA process. (The state has declared housing a matter of statewide concern, which usually overrides charter city authority.) In addition, the lawsuit claims that the RHNA process puts the city in the untenable position of being required to adopt a statement of overriding considerations under the California Environmental Quality Act, an action over which local officials usually have discretion.

The Newsom Administration has been at odds with Huntington Beach, a coastal city of about 200,000 residents in Orange County, since Gov. Newsom took office in 2019. (For background, see previous CP&DR coverage here.) However, the fight has intensified since a new, more conservative city council was elected last November, led by Mayor Tony Strickland, a former Assemblymember in Ventura County. Strickland in particular complained in public that being required to adopt the statement of overriding considerations violated his First Amendment rights.

Recently, the city sought to adopt an ordinance exempting itself from the builder’s remedy under the Housing Accountability Act. This led Attorney General Rob Bonta to sue the city. At the same time, the council has deadlocked over the adoption of its housing element 3-3, with one councilmember having recused himself because of property he owns.

Much of the federal lawsuit, which was filed by elected City Attorney Michael Gates, accuses the state and SCAG of targeting Huntington Beach for political reasons, claiming that other, more politically powerful jurisdictions ganged up on Huntington Beach to give the city a high RHNA number of more than 13,000 units. (The city currently has about 83,000 housing units.) Among other things, Huntington Beach, which is 28 square miles, claims that it is require to provide more units per square mile of territory (472) than any other city in the state, though Los Angeles, with a RHNA number of more than 450,000 units and a square area of about 460 miles, would appear to have double the requirement per square mile.

The case is City of Huntington Beach v. Newsom, No. 8:23-CV-00421, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. It can be accessed via this story in the Orange County Register.