Huntington Beach City Council members are studying whether or not to kill a decade-old plan for the Beach Boulevard area that could halt any future development along one of the city’s biggest streets.
It remains unclear what it exactly means because no city has ever done something like this before, city staff told the city council on Tuesday.
In written letters to the council, both the Orange County Business Council and the Huntington Beach Auto Dealers groups said any attempt to change the plan could hurt business developments.
“Enabling business growth and economic revitalization to occur by streamlining regulations and cutting red tape when possible, is extremely valuable,” wrote Jennifer Bullard, senior vice president for policy for the business council.
“OCBC cautions the City Council against removing important tools in the toolbox for business and economic development,” Bullard continued.
Tuesday night saw council members shouting at one another throughout the discussion over concerns that nobody truly knows what they’re getting into.
The plan in question is known as the Beach-Edinger Corridor Specific Plan, which includes an environmental impact report for nearly 460 acres that’s designed to help fast track development by doing a basic review of the environmental impacts on the street.
Councilman Casey McKeon, who proposed decertifying the report, said the original plan is too outdated to keep up with state housing mandates and that there needs to be a new look at the environmental impacts of development.
“The landscape has totally changed, and the state has turned everything on its head,” McKeon said. “Their effects ripple throughout every corner of our city’s general plan.”
The council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to study McKeon’s proposal.
Councilmembers Dan Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton, the dissenting votes, lambasted McKeon’s proposal.
They also questioned if it was simply a move to kill all housing development on the street.
“Say it. Say we don’t want to build housing on Beach Boulevard – because that allows staff to build public policy around that goal,” Kalmick said. “This doesn’t make any sense, this is not a serious policy goal and you guys aren’t serious people.”
“This sets a weird precedent.”
The Kennedy Commission, a nonprofit focused on building more affordable housing in Orange County, criticized the move, saying it would make it harder to build housing.
“If the city moves forward … it will cause greater uncertainty in creating affordable housing opportunities in Huntington Beach,” wrote Cesar Covarrubias, the group’s executive director, in a letter to the city council.
He added they “request that the city not continue to undermine affordable housing planning.”
The study comes as the city is locked in a legal battle with state leaders over California’s housing development mandates, with Gov. Gavin Newsom and others arguing the city is trying to end development altogether, while the city council majority says the state mandates destroy local zoning.
The lawsuits that will decide the future of housing development in the city are still being litigated.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Ursula Luna-Reynolds, the city’s community development director, said she couldn’t find any precedent for repealing an environmental impact report after a project was built, and said it could have negative impacts on businesses or developers looking to work in the area.
Specifically, she pointed out that the city would have to evaluate every project that comes in to determine what environmental reviews are needed, and the city would lose the ability to coordinate environmental mitigation measures across multiple projects.
“The benefit of looking at the cumulative impact … considers development throughout the entire corridor,” Luna-Reynolds said. “As a result there are a number of intersections that were identified that need improvements.”
She also noted that the plan had not expired, and that the plan is designed to accommodate more development than what is already on Beach Boulevard.
There’s no set date for when the council could next discuss the plan, but McKeon pitched staff potentially bringing it back sometime this Fall.
Moser and Bolton both brought up concerns from local businesses about how much it would cost them to perform the environmental reviews currently handled by the city’s plan.
“You all campaigned on rolling out the red carpet and this would be rolling it right back,” Moser said. “In the way it’s done, it is being recklessly implemented because it’s not looking at the ramifications.”
McKeon responded to those complaints, saying he just wants staff to study the issue and come back with a recommendation, but he insisted that the plan to decertify the environmental impact review is the goal.
“I have full faith in our staff … if they come back with a recommendation to repeal the entire plan, I welcome that,” McKeon said. “I thought people would be happy about this, we care about the environment.”
When asked to drop his request to kill the environmental review plan, and instead study potentially changing the plan, McKeon declined.
“I like the way it reads.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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