Council looks at year ahead

Members cite the pier, parklets, and housing among challenges, opportunities

File photo

The future of outdoor dining parklets, food service on the pier, and housing were among the challenges and opportunities cited by the council in a recent survey. The Sun emailed five council members to ask what they say as the opportunities and challenges facing Seal Beach in 2020. The Sun received three email responses and interviewed a fourth council member by phone. Parlets were also on the public’s mind in an informal survey conducted by social media and email.

District Two Councilman Thomas Moore wrote:

“One of the challenges that continues is utilizing the most recent technology and the potential for malicious cyber attacks. The City has made good progress with a new financial system replaced in 2021 that allows residents to pay utility bills online and streamline how residents can interact with the City.

“I’d like to see even more progress so people can apply for business licenses online, pay for permits and apply for them online and other streamlined uses for technology. It would be nice to see a comprehensive IT strategy developed this year. A new phone system will be put in place shortly and will enable staff to be more responsive to residents. Cybersecurity is continuing to be a big problem, so I am sure that will be part of the IT strategy.

“There are opportunities with additional unexpected funding provided from the federal and county government to look at park improvements and also allows the City to tackle some larger projects like what to put at the end of the Pier or other projects that may have had more cost constraints previously.”

District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa, wrote:

“I see lots of opportunities this year. Specifically, revisiting many of the issues from the previous year that were put on hold due to Covid-19. I think some of our biggest opportunities are moving forward with our pool project, end of the pier discussions/decision, Main Street improvement plan, and getting the red car back open with the leadership of the new committee—just to name a few.

“Some of the major challenges are of getting through the pandemic and the many mandates from Sacramento – i.e., the housing element, food waste requirements, and new housing law for single-family zoning in our neighborhoods.”

District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic

“For the last two years, COVID-19 has been affecting our lives, and it appears we will still be dealing with it this year and possibly beyond. While other COVID variants may arise, more treatments are available to healthcare today and we are gaining increased immunity as a community—one way or another. Unfortunately, COVID has also restricted our city meetings to Zoom, and thus has limited active public participation in our meetings. I truly hope that we will be able to open back up to a more normal public process, sooner rather than later, to involve citizens once again, actively, in discussions and decisions for our city.

“Other challenges include a series of new state laws aimed at increasing housing in California, including Senate Bill 9 (SB 9) and Senate Bill 10 (SB10). While advocates for these bills talk about the need to add housing in California, these bills do not have any mandates for this housing to be affordable, so primarily market-rate housing will be built. Additionally, these laws take away the ability of cities and counties to plan for housing in their communities; this is replaced by a one-size-fits-all formula from the state which effectively acts to eliminate single-family zoning in California. SB9 allows lot splits with two duplexes (4 units) per lot; these splits must be at least a 40%/60% split, which generally requires demolition of the current home.

“SB 10, if our city would approve it, would allow at least 10 units to be built on a lot and voter-approved measures to be overturned. Both these laws do not really benefit homeowners as much as they do developers. In the past, developers would have to pay for any needed infrastructure improvements (water, sewer, etc.) necessary for their project. This is not the case with SB 9 and SB 10 as any necessary improvements would be left to the city and the taxpayers to fund. These laws also do not require much additional parking to compensate for the added density they build. Adding density on a lot also eliminates back yards, grass, trees—things that cool and help oxygenate our neighborhoods.

“A tri-partisan group has formed to place an amendment to the California Constitution on the ballot that would take back most land-use planning from the state, returning it to the cities (with the exception of projects relating to the Coastal Act, transportation, and power plants). This group is called ‘Our Neighborhood Voices’ and is actively collecting signatures (now thru April) to qualify this initiative for the ballot in November.

“The group described itself as tri-partisan. I  assume that also includes Independents. I think they are trying to be all-inclusive.”

In a phone interview, District Once Councilman/Mayor Joe Kalmick, described one of the challenges as getting through the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic as it controls our lives. (The city issued an announcement Thursday, Jan. 13, saying that City Hall would remain closed to the public.) Another challenge, Kalmick said, is the issue of parklets will have to be addressed, sooner rather than later. He said some cities are letting parklets stay up; others will make restaurants tear them down.

“They seem to be really popular, but we recognize that they’re not in great shape,” he said.

Kalmick said he and Varipapa had toured parklets in Long Beach. “They are looking pretty seedy,” he said.

He said this year Seal Beach has to get its Housing Element certified. (AS previously reported, this is a statemendate to update the Housing Element of the city’s General Plan.)

“The city is busting [its] chops to get that done,” he said.

He also said the city is making a decision about food service at the end of the pier. He said they should be able to bring concepts and costs to the public.

The same thing applies to the long-standing community pool project. Kalmick said that it appears that with the money the city has already set aside for the project, Seal Beach could afford to borrow or bond the money to build a pool.

(The project went on hold after community outreach events in early 2020. Since then, city officials determined that Seal Beach could not afford an estimated $2 million a year in rent and maintenance costs for a swimming pool to be built on the grounds of Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach.)

Kalmick also cited the Los Cerritos Wetlands restoration project. “Now we’re working on the plan for the southern section, the Hellman property,” he said.

Another challenge Kalmick cited was seeing the effect of new housing law on the city.

Kalmick said the Navy was still actively seeking a developer for Seal Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.

Turning to opportunities, Kalmick said the Seal Beach Tennis and Pickleball Center is an opportunity because of Federal funding that will allow Seal Beach to completely renovate a big part of the city’s infrastructure.

Kalmick said he was still hoping to see the Bay Theatre reopened.

He said the creation of the Historical Resources Foundation represented an opportunity to return the Red Car Museum as a viable asset to Seal Beach.