Why California’s governor is suing Huntington Beach

Can a lawsuit compel upscale cities to build more housing?

By: The Economist
April 3, 2019 —

“How many governors start their administrations suing one of the most beautiful and iconic cities in the state?” asks Gavin Newsom, California’s new governor, sitting in his office in the state Capitol. Not many. However in January, soon after Mr Newsom was sworn in, the state attorney-general’s office, at the governor’s behest, sued Huntington Beach, a coastal city in Orange County, for failing to comply with the state’s housing-supply law. “I love Huntington Beach,” Mr Newsom insists. “Now I’m going to have a hard time walking the streets down there.”

A warm welcome to “Surf City”, as Huntington Beach is known, may not be in Mr Newsom’s future, but that is not what he was hoping for anyway. California has a severe shortage of affordable housing, and he wants to bring a sense of urgency to the problem. The state has the highest poverty rate in America when adjusted for the cost of living. One-third of renters pay more than half of their income towards rent, and homeownership rates in the state are at their lowest level since the 1940s. The state saw around 80,000 new homes built annually over the past 10 years, about 40% of what is needed. Local governments’ restrictions, slow approval and permitting processes, opposition from residents and high development costs are to blame.

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