May 15, 2024 Updated May 16, 2024

Huntington Beach Pier
The Huntington Beach Pier on June 22, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Huntington Beach violated the state’s housing laws by refusing to move forward with a state-mandated housing plan, according to a new ruling from a San Diego Superior Court judge issued on Wednesday evening.

It’s the first definitive ruling after over a year of litigation – in which city officials said the state’s housing mandates don’t apply because they’re a charter city.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a Wednesday news release that Surf City is not above the law, adding the ruling is a warning to other cities not to challenge the state’s housing mandates.

“Local governments up and down our state should take notice,” Bonta said. “We are facing a housing crisis of epic proportions, and my office will continue to act with great urgency, working with cities and counties that genuinely want to be part of the solution and holding accountable.”

Attorney General Rob Bonta meeting with hotel workers

California Attorney General Rob Bonta briefly met with hotel workers at the Anaheim strike on July 11, 2023. Credit: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of OC.

In a Wednesday night statement, City Attorney Michael Gates said this isn’t the end of the city’s lawsuit and vowed to immediately appeal the judge’s ruling.

“In spite of Attorney General Bonta’s early victory lap in his latest Press Release, this case is far from over. The City Council has already given me authority to appeal court rulings,” Gates said. “We’ll continue these battles on all fronts and we will not be deterred or intimidated. The fight continues.”

Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, a member of the Republican council majority, said the state’s housing proposal would cripple the city long term.

“Together with the Council, I’ll persist in resisting State pressure to safeguard our beloved Huntington Beach and its residents,” she said in a Wednesday night statement. “We refuse to surrender our city to Sacramento’s nonsensical and overreaching dictates.”

Attorney Michael Gates in front of City Hall

In front of City Hall, Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates challenges the constitutionality of the state Regional Housing Needs Assessment goals. Credit: BRANDON PHO, Voice of OC

This lawsuit has been the cornerstone of Huntington Beach’s Republican city council majority and Gates’ campaigns, who promised to fight state housing mandates that require cities to zone for a certain number of new units, including low-income housing.

[ReadCalifornia’s Battle With Huntington Beach Over Housing Goals Heads To Court]

Gates and the council majority argued they didn’t have to follow those rules because they are a charter city and not a general law city.

But San Diego County Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal threw that argument out, saying the city now has 120 days to bring forward a housing plan.

To read the ruling, click here

In his statement, Gates argued that the judge applied law incorrectly to the city’s case.

“The trial court ruling rests on at least three areas of law that do not apply to this case. That misapplication of law created an erroneous ruling,” Gates said.

He also said the new housing construction under the state mandates would negatively impact the city.

“The City Council knows this would deplete our water supply, increase greenhouse gasses, increase pollution, endanger our precious natural resources such as our wildlife and wetlands, and rob citizens of their quality of life,” Gates said.


Homes in Huntington Beach
Homes in Huntington Beach on March 14, 2023. Credit: Joel Peterson

Gov. Gavin Newsom echoed Bonta’s remarks in a Wednesday evening news release, saying his administration has been clear that local leaders need to do their share when it comes to housing.

“That’s what this case has been about from the start, and we will continue to focus on accountability. We can’t solve the decades-in-the-making crisis around housing without everyone doing their part, and this result makes clear the state is serious about enforcing the law,” Newsom said.

While city council members previously reviewed a housing plan shortly after the election in 2022, they tossed that plan and elected not to move forward with it.

The city has also tried to argue their case against the state in federal court, but their suit was tossed out last year and is currently being appealed.

“The City has its best lawsuit against the State’s high-density housing mandates presently in federal court,” Gates said on Wednesday night.

[ReadFederal Judge Tosses Surf City Lawsuit Against CA Housing Mandate]

It remains unclear what penalties the city could face for delaying its housing plan for so long, with their Surf City staff warning last year that the state can impose millions of dollars in fines for cities that refuse to implement a plan.

[ReadWhat Happens To Cities That Defy California’s Housing Mandates?]

In a statement on Wednesday night, City Councilman Dan Kalmick, a member of the Democratic council minority that opposed the decision to sue the state, said he was “never happy” to see the city lose.

“Huntington Beach is not sovereign, we must follow state law, whether it’s housing law, the California Public Records Act or now a State Audit,” Kalmick wrote.


Councilmember Dan Kalmick of Huntington Beach
Councilmember Dan Kalmick of Huntington Beach at the Jan. 17. 2023 council meeting. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

City Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton, also a member of the Democratic minority, said the ruling is a sign that lawmaking through litigation doesn’t always work.

“I am disappointed but not surprised at the outcome of this case,” Bolton said in a Wednesday night statement. “The taxpayers will be looking to us for answers.”

The final member of the Democratic minority, Councilwoman Natalie Moser, said the ruling made it clear it is time to “shift our approach.”

“The council majority’s commitment to ‘unleash’ our City Attorney against the state has run its course and proven to be a fool’s errand,” Moser said. “Continuing to fight state laws through costly litigation isn’t just expensive; it’s counterproductive.”

Wednesday’s ruling comes a day after State Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) announced state auditors would conduct an investigation into Huntington Beach multi-million dollar settlement with the operators of the annual Pacific Airshow.

The settlement stems from an October 2021 oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach that forced an early closure of the air show that year.

[Read: State Auditors to Investigate Huntington Beach’s Pacific Airshow Settlement]

Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the housing advocacy nonprofit Kennedy Commission, applauded the ruling in a Wednesday interview.

“We hope that this is something that cities look at as an example of what they should not do,” he said. “I would hope that aside from just complying with state law, they really look at this as an opportunity for them to be able to serve their community needs, especially in affordable housing.”

Covarrubias said while the ruling means the city has four months to create a housing plan, Surf City had three years now to put it together, but chose not to adopt one.

“They chose to litigate instead, which I think was really bad for the city and for the people of Huntington Beach,” he said.

“This is the opportunity for the city to move forward.”

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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