Referring to state housing laws as the “governor’s mandate,” Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland and two other city councilmembers blocked approval of the city’s massive housing plan for the rest of the 2020s, citing environmental concerns about the impact of increased homebuilding will have on the beachside town.
But rather than kill the city’s 1,164-page “housing element” outright, the sharply divided city council united behind a motion to postpone the matter for further consideration at its next city council meeting on April 4.
“I don’t believe (Gov. Gavin Newsom’s) housing crisis, his housing mandate, is more important than the health and safety of our citizens,” Strickland said during the council’s meeting Tuesday, March 21. “That’s why I’m opposing this housing element.”
Strickland was joined in voting down the housing plan by Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark and Councilmember Pat Burns.
Councilmember Casey McKeon, who frequently votes with the majority, recused himself because of a potential conflict of interest. That resulted in a tie vote when a majority of the seven-member council was needed for the plan’s passage.
“I cannot in good conscience support (this) item,” Van Der Mark said before the vote, complaining about the effects of housing construction on clean air, water supplies, traffic and the city’s wetlands. “I don’t believe the benefits of building outweighs the consequences of destroying our city.”
At stake is a state-required blueprint for how the city of 199,000 will increase housing by 2030.
Although some councilmembers tied the state’s homebuilding mandate to Newsom, it’s actually rooted in a 53-year-old statute lawmakers began strengthening under Newsom’s predecessor.
The law requires all California cities and counties to develop periodic housing plans that include affordable housing. More recent legislation stiffened penalties for failing to adopt a substantially compliant housing element, including the authority for the state to sue recalcitrant cities and levy fines up to $600,000 a month for failing to have an approved housing element.
Huntington Beach, already 17 months late in adopting a state-approved plan, had been ordered to make room for 13,368 new homes this decade — enough homes for 29,475 residents, Van Der Mark noted.
But members of the Huntington Beach council, already embroiled in two recent lawsuits with the state over housing mandates, refused to approve a required statement that the need for housing overrides potential environmental impacts like air and water pollution, noise and overtaxed public facilities like parks.
“(The state housing department) is requiring us to sign a statement … that we believe that the benefits of these affordable housing projects override the negative impacts that they can cause to the environment,” Strickland said. “The state is forcing our speech and violating our First Amendment rights.”