City Council to consider hiring consultant for EIR at next meeting

The City Council this week voted unanimously to “push” a decision on hiring a consultant for a programmatic environmental impact report to the next council meeting.

The next Seal Beach City Council meeting is scheduled to be held at 7 p.m., Monday, March 27.

This was originally a Consent Calendar item, but District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic pulled it for separate discussion.

Staff proposed a contract with Stantec Consulting Services for the proposed Environmental Impact Report. The EIR would be needed for Seal Beach to make a required update to the city’s Zoning Code, according to the staff report. The zoning update is needed because of the state mandate for the city to update the Housing Element of the General Plan.

In related news, during a March 10 phone interview, Smittle said staff hoped to submit the Housing Element to the state in the next few weeks.

“A key provision of State law related to Housing Elements is the requirement that jurisdictions maintain an inventory of potential housing sites commensurate with their Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation,” Smittle wrote in her staff report to the council.

“For the 2021-2029 cycle, the City of Seal Beach (City) has been assigned a total of 1,243 units. Of those, 258 must be affordable at very low-income levels, 201 at low-income levels, 239 at moderate income levels, and the remaining 545 units may be at above moderate-income levels,” Smittle wrote.

“While the City has not yet achieved certification of its Housing Element from California Department of Housing and Community Development, it is still required by law to proceed with the zoning update,” Smittle wrote.

During the meeting, Smittle told the council that both the EIR and the rezoning would come before the Planning Commission and the City Council. She also said the EIR was required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

According to Smittle, some areas that are currently zoned commercial would be made mixed use. This is apparently needed to accommodate the state-mandate for the city to plan for 1,243 residential units.

According to Smittle, the EIR process would take about a year.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Sustarsic said she pulled the item because she wanted the public to know what was going on.

District Five Councilman Nathan Steele expressed discomfort with spending money on a Housing Element and rezoning when the Housing Element has not yet been rezoned.

Steele asked if the city was optimistic that the Housing Element would be certified.

Smittle said the Housing Element would be certified.

Steele asked if he could abstain until he knows more.

Mayor/District Two Councilman Tom Moore said this was required to meet the Housing Element.

According to Smittle, the city has to do update the EIR to update the zoning to do the Housing Element.

According to City Attorney Nicholas Ghirelli some cities have already had their Housing Elements certified.

Steele expressed concerns that things were not in the right order.

District One Councilman Joe Kalmick raised concern that the “builders remedy” could be used if the city doesn’t have a certified Housing Element. According to Kalmick, under state law, builders could build anything they want.

“Since 1990, California’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA) has provided a so-called builder’s remedy that allows developers of affordable housing projects to bypass the zoning code and general plan of cities that are out of compliance with the Housing Element Law,” according to a primer on the builders remedy from the UCLA  Lewis Center for Regional Policy. (The document, available online, was published in April 2022.)

City Manager Jill Ingram said that every other agency in the state is trying to get their Housing Element certified.

Ingram said there were a limited number of consultants available.

Smittle wrote in her staff report that the city requested proposals for the EIR project, but was only able to obtain one.

Moore suggested pushing the item to the next meeting.

All five council members voted to do just that.


“The 2021-2029 Housing Element identifies multiple sites to accommodate the required RHNA allocation,” Smittle wrote.

“The existing zoning on most of these sites must be modified to accommodate housing; therefore, the City is required to process a major amendment to the zoning code, which will include creation of a mixed-use zoning standard that will al low for housing to be incorporated on what are currently commercial sites,” Smittle wrote.

“The re-zoning process was initiated several months ago with Lisa Wise Consulting, who is helping to develop the revised code standards. Due to the scope of the zoning code update, it has been determined that a Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be necessary to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA),” Smittle wrote.

“Stantec has provided assistance to the Public Works Department in the past, including engineering design work, permitting, and environmental review, and has proven a reliable consultant with necessary expertise,” Smittle wrote.

According to the Stantec proposal, the consultant “will also attend up to two (2) consultation meetings with Native American tribes/organizations. Stantec assumes that all meetings will be virtual, and that no in-person meetings will be required.”

Stantec will attend up to five meetings, including Planning Commission, Environmental Quality Control Board, and City Council meetings, according to the proposal.

“Stantec assumes that the City will prepare all public notices, newspaper notices, citizen mailings, etc., as well as planning and coordination of any public meetings. It is assumed that the City will be responsible for further distribution of the EIR as required by law,” according to the proposal.

According to the Stantec proposal, the cost estimate assumes a50-week project.

The proposal was signed by Stantec Principal Planner Christine Abraham and Senior Principal Trevor Macenski.