Huntington Beach

Higher densities bring protests

A BIG CROWD turned out for Tuesday’s meeting of the Huntington Beach City Council (Tribune photo by Hugh Pickering).

By Huw Pickering/Orange County Tribune

A proposal to rezone an affluent area of Huntington Beach for high-density housing has met with harsh criticism from residents of Edwards Hill and Seacliff, who feel such development would impair the quality of the area.

That issue dominated much of the public comments portion of Tuesday night’s meeting of the city council.

Like almost all cities in California, Huntington Beach must meet the requirements of its Regional Housing Needs Assessment, part of the state housing law that has determined the need to build 1.3 million new housing units between 2021 and 2029. In order to be in line with its RHNA, the city must zone for an additional 13,368 units in the city.

The Brindle/Thomas property, located north of Seacliff, lies at the edge of the wealthy equestrian community of Edwards Hill. The city has deemed that Brindle/Thomas fits the criteria for rezoning.

The issue is that some of those living at the edge of the property are deeply concerned about what could result from high-density housing at 33 units per acre. They have repeatedly made these concerns known since the proposal was first offered on Oct. 11.

Some fear a rise in crime; some fear traffic congestion from so many cars, as well as higher risk of traffic accidents with such an influx of new drivers. Still others worry that so many additional students in the neighborhood will force the local elementary schools to undergo realignment of attendance boundaries.

Indeed, the possible impact on education in the area was the locus of discontent for many speakers at Tusesday’s meeting. Most speakers were parents of students at Seacliff Elementary, and their resistance to rezoning was shared by a candidate for the council, Gracey Van Der Mark.

“I moved here from Los Angeles County 23 years ago,” said Van Der Mark during the public comments section. “I thought it was the best place to raise my children, but if this decision is taken, Huntington Beach will not be for families anymore.”

Most residents who spoke at the meeting simply resented being forced to accommodate such a change, feeling that the state government is placing unfair pressure on Huntington Beach.

“You have a responsibility to the city first and not the state,” said Seacliff resident Theresa Smith. “It seems the only way we can make our voices heard is at the voting booth.”

Unfair or not, state pressure will only grow stronger if Huntington Beach fails to meet its housing requirement. Local governments in California that do not achieve what the RHNA asks can face financial penalties in excess of $100,000 for every month they are non-compliant. Non-compliant governments can be sued by the state as well as housing developers, and can even lose their authority to issue building permits at all.

The proposal will come to a vote on Nov. 15, by which time the municipal election will have been concluded, and four of the seven council members will be off the  council.

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