Huntington Beach is likely to lose a state lawsuit over its refusal to plan for more housing and must approve new housing projects that come before it, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.

The judge suspended some of Huntington Beach’s development authority in a ruling that prevents the city from rejecting housing developments that meet state density requirements.The state attorney general’s office sued the city a year ago for not adopting a new housing element, which every California city is required to have. The city fired back by filing a lawsuit in federal court challenging its requirements to have more housing, but a judge dismissed that case in November.

This week’s ruling is a major blow to the city, which has thrown the kitchen sink at fighting state housing laws and mandates. The state wants the city to adopt zoning changes to allow developers to build 13,368 housing units this decade. Huntington Beach leaders opposed to complying with housing mandates have said the suburban character of the city is under threat.

“The court has granted our motion for temporary relief against Huntington Beach for its refusal to update the housing element of its general plan,” a spokesperson for Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “We are pleased the court agrees that we are likely to win our suit, which simply asks Huntington Beach to plan for its fair share of housing, like most California cities have done. Under the court’s order, Huntington Beach cannot enforce its outdated land use policies to deny new affordable housing opportunities in areas that the city itself has already identified as suitable for development.”

Huntington Beach, which has just under 200,000 residents, has been among the most defiant cities fighting state efforts to plan for more housing.

Judge Katherine Bacal’s ruling suspended the city’s authority to approve development on sites suitable for building that don’t meet state minimum density requirements. It also prevents the city from enforcing any planning laws to reject or reduce the density of a proposed housing development meeting state minimum density requirements.

The city was supposed to have adopted a housing element in October 2021.

Bacal found that the state has shown probable success in its lawsuit, which will have a hearing on the merits this month.

Cesar Covarrubias, who leads the Kennedy Commission, a nonprofit that advocates for building affordable housing and a party in the lawsuit, called the ruling significant and said it shows that the city needs to provide opportunities for affordable housing to be built and meet minimum densities.

“The court is providing a roadmap for development to happen,” Covarrubias said. “The city has already identified sites and densities that could be appropriate for development. Our hope is that provides some movement on affordable housing development moving forward in the city and facilitates at least those conversations to start.”

Without a roadmap that a housing element provides, affordable housing developers don’t have certainty that their projects can happen, Covarrubias said.

City Attorney Michael Gates called the ruling disappointing and vowed to fight on.

“(The) order indicates the state has shown it is likely to prevail, yet the trial hearing is next week, on March 29, and the city is prepared to present a great, compelling defense,” Gates said in an email. “We are reviewing this order for appeal. The city has known fighting the state on state housing laws in state courts was going to be a difficult fight, but it is a fight the City Council has undertaken and the city attorney’s office will zealously continue its legal work to that end.”

Attorneys for the state have argued that Huntington Beach is standing in the way of the region meeting its future housing needs. Each community has been allocated a number of homes to plan for to meet the overall goal.

Bacal wrote that despite a pending appeal of the dismissal against the city’s housing lawsuit in federal court, it does not change the status of that case.

The next hearing for the case is scheduled for March 29.