By John Earl
Surf City Voice
On July 6, 2010, the Huntington Beach City Council voted 5-1 to approve rezoning from open space/park to residential for a hotly disputed 5 acre patch of land on the Bolsa Chica upper mesa and to accept a Mitigated Negative Declaration for a 22 unit housing development proposed by California Coastal Communities (Hearthside Homes) for the site–instead of a more rigorous Environmental Impact Report.
To many Native Americans, the entire area is a holy site that should be left alone out of respect for their ancestors. To preservationists it is also a place of natural wonder linked to the Bolsa Chica wetlands ecosystem that should be kept natural to help maintain the city’s already limited open spaces.
The current owner of the site says that Native American burial remains and artifacts are unlikely to be found there and that the project will not have significant impacts on cultural or environmental resources that can’t be properly mitigated for.
The following question was submitted to every Huntington Beach City Council candidate as the first in an ongoing series to be published between now and the day before election in November, 2010.
On July 6, 2010 the Huntington Beach City Council will consider an appeal of the city planning commission’s approval of rezoning 5 acres of land on the upper Bolsa Chica mesa (known as the Ridge) from open space/park to residential and its approval of a Mitigated Negative Declaration for a 22 unit housing development on the site.
If you were an elected member of the city council, how would you vote (or how would you have voted if you answer after the city council meeting) on the appeal of the Huntington Beach Planning Commission’s decisions (noted above) on the Ridge site? Would you vote (yes) to uphold the appeal in whole or in part? Explain which part of parts of the appeal you would uphold or not uphold and the reasons for your decision in each case.
The following candidates submitted answers in the requested format within the deadline requested. Readers are encouraged to post their responses to any of the answers posted by the candidates, to ask them questions, challenge or praise them. Candidates may answer readers and post questions for other candidates as well. Please keep all comments within the spirit of constructive debate and keep your comments to the issues.
Respondents are listed in alphabetical order.
As a current Planning Commissioner, I voted in support of the Ridge proposal and would vote the same way again. I would not change my vote on any portion of the Ridge proposal. At their July 6, 2010 meeting, the overwhelming majority of the City Council agreed with our findings and upheld our decision.
First, it is appropriate to keep the history of the site in perspective. The original landowner bought the Bolsa Chica property in the 1920s. In 1970, the city of Huntington Beach annexed 10 acres of land at the end of Bolsa Chica Street into the city. The property was designated as low density residential in the city’s general plan and zoning at the time of annexation.
In 1982, in anticipation of the County of Orange approving over 3,000 homes at Bolsa Chica, the city changed the general plan and zoning on 5 acres of the property to Open Space/Park. Since this time, the development plan has been through many court battles and overhauls, ultimately resulting in the preservation of over 94% of the Bolsa Chica property.
The proposed Ridge development simply reverts the property back to its original low density residential zoning. I believe this to be an appropriate decision when balanced with the large amount of open space that has been preserved for the community.
Fundamental to this decision is my firm belief in protecting private property rights. The original designation of the land was low density residential and I do not believe it is appropriate for a government agency to change the rules based on pressure by a third party who does not own the property.
If you would like to learn more about my stance on other issues or to send me a question or suggestion, I encourage you to visit my website www.Barbara2010.com or e-mail me directly at Barbara@Barbara2010.com.
The short simple answer is NO. I would not vote to approve the change of the open space, or the development of the 22 units planned for the 5 acres known as the Ridge.
As a Planning Commissioner I am one of the few candidates who can claim more than a position on this issue. I have actually cast a vote when the issue came before me. My first action in reference to the Ridge was the appeal the staff’s decision to seek a lower level of environmental review. I worked hard to convince my fellow Planning Commissioners that a full EIR was required to properly address the sensitive habitat and cultural resources on this site. I was not able to convince the Commission to vote with me at that meeting, but did get the staff to agree to at least do a biological assessment.
When the final set of entitlements came before the Planning Commission earlier this year, I led the fight to deny this project. I worked hard to convince my fellow Commissioners that this project was not acceptable as presented. Ultimately I had two other brave Commissioners vote along with me to deny this project and to preserve the open space. However, the other four votes carried the day and the project was approved.
Little about the project changed when it came before the Council. It still had non-standard lot sizes and shapes. It still allowed for tandem parking. It still had too small a buffer between the ESHA and the homes. It still ignored the admitted tactic of the property owner to destroy any biological plants or habitat on the site in advance of the environmental assessment. It still did not fully consider the gravity of the development taking place on a declared cultural resource site.
So there are lots of reasons to vote NO on the Ridge. Let me give you a few of the reasons I did:
- This project changed the current zoning on this property from Open Space to a Planned Unit Development. This so called PUD allows the property to have non standard lot sizes, in exchange for a public benefit. The public benefit on this project was that it would be “green” (more on that in a moment). But the existing city codes for a PUD were still not enough, so the developer and staff rewrote the PUD zoning to allow for more “flexibility” At the end of the day this 5 acres sits in such close proximity to Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area that is should have been left open. If the same buffer applied to Shea on the east side was applied here, there would be no room left to build on this site.
- The so called “Public Benefit” on this project to justify the PUD housing is the requirement for a LEED Silver Certification and the landscaping of a public trail. Both of these are good, but neither can overcome the fact that the it is illogical to build in a biological and cultural zone that deserves protection and call it green. This is green washing at its finest. All the developer has to do is throw out the term and it does not even matter that the project is located in a sensitive area. The solar panels will “make up” for the lost open space and the lost cultural resources.
- There will likely be cultural resources found on the site, which will require the developer to halt work and proceed with excavation. Their own expert indicated that it was likely.
- The preemptive destruction of the potential habitat area is unconscionable. It sets a dangerous precedent for all future developers… If you have something on your site that might cause a headache in terms of your project, just spray it away and then seek your environmental review…. and guess what; nothing will be there!
- The sale of this land to a public or non-profit would have been a more reasonable solution. The parties opposed to development indicated they could raise the money to make a purchase feasible.
The fight for the Bolsa Chica Mesa is still on. The Ridge is not a done deal, until the Coastal Commission hears the project. It is possible, and indeed likely that they will modify or deny this application. To the south of The Ridge is the “Goodell” property slated for similar development. Keep fighting for open space!
Candidate for Huntington Beach City Council
I would have voted ‘no’ to not approve the project or the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND). The city government has, over the last few years, been very supportive of development at the expense of quality of life of its residents. I do not agree that a development or developer should be allowed to make a profit at the expense of other residents of Huntington Beach. The people of Huntington Beach agreed back in the 70s, through their
duly elected representatives, that this area of Bolsa Chica should be zoned as protected open space as a planned development of more than 3000 units was proposed. The current iteration of developer knew what this area’s zoning was, so why, almost 40 years later, should they be allowed to have it rezoned so that they can make a profit? More 600 people responded telling the City Council that the people of Huntington Beach wanted to maintain the open space and not spec out a project to build 22 empty houses. This situation is quite different from rezoning light residential into medium or commercial into residential. This is a permanent loss of open area extremely close to precarious habitat.
Tangent to the issue of rezoning land for the profit of some at the expense of others is the issue of archeology and heritage. Granted most of coastal Orange County has Native American archeological sites, but we must at least try to preserve, protect and respect such sites. Be it excavation and removal for future preservation or maintaining their existing integrity. The site was issued a MND instead of a full Environment Impact Report (EIR). An EIR would potentially address concerns of affected parties and at least show that the current city government acknowledged and empathized with the Native American tribes, the residents who want to maintain open space, and the population at large who want to see openness and thoroughness of their elected government.
There are plenty of ways to make money as a developer in Huntington Beach. We have many pieces of property in prime locations that are zoned properly and in areas appropriate for development. Unfortunately, these proposed projects tend to be lacking in creativity and funding. I stand to protect the residents of Huntington Beach from bad deals and short sightedness. This is not a stand against development, just irresponsible and uncreative development. I support property rights of an owner, but not the right to change the designation of what we as a civic society have deemed appropriate use. Neither the city nor the residents mislead the property owner into what they were purchasing. The land is Open Space and we do not have much of it left. We need to change the way we build in Huntington Beach and not look back for inspiration but forward and around the world to idealize a better city for everyone and not an elite few.
Dan Kalmick for HB City Council 2010
If I had a vote on the Bolsa Chica issue I would have voted no. The lack of open/park space in our great city is a pressing concern to me. The remains of Native American ancestors on the site and the disrespect shown to the
Native American community also moves my vote to no as respecting the site where the first settlers of Huntington Beach lived is more important than one man making a profit. The proposal presented by the Bolsa Chica Land Trust in which the trust buys the land once they have accumulated the funds to do so, seems reasonable to me. This would please both parties as the land owner could still make money and 6% of Bolsa Chica would not be lost.
The Environmental Impact Report made me uneasy as I understand the owner of the land sprayed pesticides on the vegetation in the area and then conducted the EIP. As a result, it is quite possible that the EIP report was less than accurate, and this made me more inclined to side with the Bolsa Chica Land Trust to vote no on this motion.
The main decider in my vote, however, is the protest of all the citizens that begged the council to vote no on this motion but were ignored. The council is elected to serve the people and I felt that this fact was forgotten at the council meeting, as all the citizens who were not working for the land owner were against this motion. If I were elected, I would definitely vote no for Bolsa Chica to be converted into a residential property. The overwhelming protest of the whole community and the blatant disregard of the citizens by the council is what I’m trying to change by running for this office. I hope that in the future the people’s cries will be heard and no more of our precious open space will be destroyed.
I would have voted to reject the Hearthside project. Clear evidence was presented to the Planning Commission and to the city council that the site has important cultural and archeological significance. Further, the project will also be located too closely to environmentally sensitive habitat. I would also have voted against changing the land use designation from open space to residential, as it has been zoned open space for nearly 30 years.
Our Coastal Element forbids development of the bluffs at Bolsa Chica, so the city council and planning commission voted to violate that part of our Local Coastal Program. The council, at the very least, should have required an Environmental Impact Report because of the significant impacts that the development will have on the Bolsa Chica bluffs. It’s mind boggling that city staff and both the planning commission and city council were blind to the glaring evidence that an EIR was needed.
With a deficit of parkland, and few, if any, opportunities to create more, it is a dereliction of duty to the residents of Huntington Beach to give away precious open space, especially so integral a part of the Bolsa Chica Mesa.
As a Member of the Board of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, I led efforts to stop this project and will continue to do so as a city councilman. The fight will continue, at the Coastal Commission and legally, if necessary. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust has been actively seeking state, county and non-profit grants to purchase this property and the adjacent Goodell Property.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had city leaders who would heed the will of our residents, and who were willing to protect and preserve the little open space we have left?