SB 1333: California's Fight Against Charter Cities

By Carol Gottstein
Alameda, CA

Many new bills have been introduced in the State Legislature to address the alleged "housing crisis". Although this crisis is always described as statewide, coastal cities, where the population is already quite dense, seem to get the most pressure to build more housing. Realizing the strain this will put on existing infrastructure and public services, some cities have fought against the state imposition of housing.

Huntington Beach Fights Back and Wins

One of those cities, the charter city of Huntington Beach, after losing at the trial court level, on appeal won the right to downzone its RHNA (Regional Housing Need) allotment. It won because Huntington Beach is a charter city, and in California, charter cities have the right of plenary authority over municipal affairs. Municipal affairs are not defined in the state constitution, but the determination of whether a given activity is a municipal affair or a statewide concern has always been done by the courts, on a case-by-case basis.

SB 1333:  Work-Around a Court’s Ruling

California Senate Bill 1333, now in committee, is specifically tailored to attack the Huntington Beach decision, so that other charter cities will think twice about asserting their rights to local control. It's another one-size-fits-all approach which ignores the diverse needs of California cities and counties.

SB 1333 also explicitly provides no reimbursement, assuming that new local fees and assessments will cover any program mandated by this Act. Thus, it is an unfunded mandate to benefit “the state” at the expense of local impacts.

Charter cities and counties should oppose SB 1333, to preserve what few rights they have to land use and zoning determination at the local level. Let the courts continue to decide these issues on a case-by-case basis for the individual cities, as concerns arise. Only municipalities can measure new demands on their resources and need the rights to use their land accordingly, not have the state tie their hands!