Crime, the Seal Beach pier, the homeless on the other side of the river, and the future of local fire services were among the topics of last week’s coffee chat with District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton, Pubic Works Director Steve Myrter and Associate Engineer David Spitz. The event was held in Javatinis Espresso & Gelato on Main Street.
As the meeting took place, Deaton announced that she had received a message from Interim Seal Beach Police Chief Joe Miller that the Long Beach police had cleared out the homeless encampment on the Long Beach side of the San Gabriel River.
Deaton said that the SBPD, small as it is, had done a good job of keeping the Seal Beach side clear. She pointed out that the Seal Beach side has restrooms and showers that would attract the homeless.
“So we need to be really, really on it,” she said.
Seal Beach Pier
Responding to questions from citizens who attended the coffee chat, Spitz said the city has finished making the structural plans for repairing the pier. Spitz is the city employee in charge of the pier project, in addition to his other duties. The city is currently seeking an outside contractor to manage the actual construction project.
Spitz said that if he managed the project it would take up all his time.
According to Spitz, the “opening day” (apparently meaning the deadline) for bids on the project will be May 1. The contract is expected to be approved in June. (The City Council would have to approve the contract.)
According to Spitz, the contractor would order “long lead” items, materials required for the projec that wouldn’t be immediately available such as the greenheart decking that will come from overseas.
Spitz said that a contractor would not want to purchase items until the contractor knew the project’s requirements.
The actual construction work is scheduled to begin in September because the California Coastal Commission does not allow construction projects from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Spitz said most of the pier would be open during the construction project, probably about half.
He said all the work would be done during the day unless the entire pier needed to be closed, in which case the work would be done at night.
Spitz said Southern California Edison has to build a new transformer in the beach parking lot. The California Public Utilities Commission no longer allows transformers to be located over water.
The old transformer was destroyed during the 2016 fire that damaged the end of the pier.
Deaton asked about sinks for fishermen on the pier. Spitz said there would eventually be sinks. Acording to Spitz, state regulations require new sinks to have water lines that go straight into a sewer system.
Spitz said the exact cost of the project is not known.
As the Sun reported in mid-March, a staff report to the City Council (prepared by Spitz) put the current cost estimate for the pier repair project at $4.3 million. The current city budget for the project is slightly more than $3.7 million.
Spitz said he didn’t think it would cost that much. He also said the insurance provider has stated they would cover any fire damage and so far they had.
Elizabeth Kane said, “Not that much could be a relative term.”
Spitz said the city had allocated $3.7 or $3.8 million for the project. He said city staff doesn’t believe Seal Beach will have to spend the entire allocation. Deaton also said the insurance company had been faithfully covering costs.
Carla Watson wanted an explanation of the cause of the 2016 pier fire that damaged the end of the pier.
Spitz said the Orange County Fire Authority had determined it was an electrical fire that started in the old bait shop.
“That can’t happen again because?” Watson asked.
“There is no bait shop,” Spitz said.
Deaton said she believed the OCFA report was a public record.
In response to questions about whether there would be a restaurant on the pier, Deaton said, “We’re not sure the community wants a restaurant on the pier.” She said that from what she’s been hearing, people in Old Town and the Hill don’t want a restaurant there.
A man named Mike said he didn’t think the city should be in the business of renting a restaurant building.
“We’re building it [the pier] as we are for the possibility for yes or no,” he said.
Deaton said, “It will become quite the discussion.” Deaton pointed out that she would not be on the City Council when the issue of having or not having a restaurant on the pier came up.
She didn’t say so straight out, but Deaton will have termed out of office by then.
Deaton confirmed that Seal Beach is considering Long Beach as a provider of fire services. Deaton currently represents Seal Beach on the Orange County Fire Authority board. Seal Beach, and other cities, have until June 30 to decide if they are going to remain with the OCFA. The Orange County Grand Jury recently released a report on the potential impact if the city of Irvine decides to pull out.
According to the Grand Jury, Irvine pays 15 percent of the Fire Authority’s revenue.
Deaton said 90 percent of fire service cost is in labor.
As both Deaton and the Grand Jury explain it, the Fire Authority is paid in one of two ways—through property taxes or by contract. Cities that pay by contract are called “structural” cities. Seal Beach is a contract city that gets its bill for services at the end of the year. (Irvine pays through property taxes, more so than any other city in the county, according to the Grand Jury.)
At last week’s coffee chat, Deaton said the bill goes up half a million every year. She said 30 years ago it was probably a good deal.
Deaton said it was not about the service the OCFA provides, but the cost. As for Long Beach, Deaton said she had not seen anything good from Long Beach, but she also spoke well of the presentation that Long Beach recently gave to Seal Beach’s ad hoc fire committee.
The Huntington Beach Fire Dpartment will give a presentation to the next committee meeting, which is scheduled for 5 p.m., Thursday, April 19, in the council Chambers. Deaton said OCFA would give the last presentation.
Deaton said that to renegotiate the contract with Seal Beach, the Fire Authority would have to renegoatiate with all the contract cities in Orange County.As for possibly hiring fire services from other cities, Deaton said, “We have some real advantage on this.” Seal Beach owns its own fire stations.
Deaton said that according to OCFA officials, Seal Beach is not paying for all the services it’s getting from the Fire Authority.
She said becoming a “structural” city that OCFA through property taxes would not be cost effective for Seal Beach.
She also said it would not be cost effective for Seal Beach to have its own fire department.
However, Deaton also said that if Seal Beach decides to opt out, the city will have no representation on the OCFA board for two years and no contract for services, just promises.
More than one resident attending the coffee chat raised concerns about crime and police patrols.
Dixie Redfearn said something is wrong when you have 15 break-ins a night. Deaton said Police Chief Miller says he needs four officers.
In response to questions from residents about where officers were deployed, Deaton said she was not supposed to say where officers are patrolling.
Lisa Landau said, “There’s too many variables.”
Watson said, “There’s just one policeman on the Hill.” She said you never see a policeman on the Hill.
“I’m not trying to indict anyone,” she said.
Deaton said Seal Beach needs more officers.
Redfearn asked if that wasn’t an allocation issue.
Deaton said Seal beach has a lot of public safety issues, including the beach and the river.
First Street restaurant
The meeting briefly became heated when Watson brought up the issue of the lease of the city’s restaurant building on First Street.
Watson said she was sorry to see Michael Balchin, the owner of the River’s End Cafe, leave Seal Beach.
Deaton said, “He was not forced out. He could have put in a bid.”
Watson expressed concern that the city had approved a contract with someone who had sued the city, an apparent reference to the Bay City Partners, the entity that owns the former DWP property on First Street near the restaurant building.
Deaton, however, said the Bay City Partners had not leased the pier.
As previously reported, On Monday, March 12, the City Council approved a lease agreement between the city of Seal Beach and Bay City LLC for the First Street restaurant building. The new restaurant will be called The Beach House.
The members of Bay City LLC are David Coe, a Huntington Beach resident and businessman; Brian Kyle, former owner of the O’Malley’s on Main restaurant and Rosie Ritchie, a real estate agent and member of the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
Kyle is also one of the Bay City Partners, another business entity which owns the land once owned by the city of Los Angeles located near the former River’s End sight. The city of Seal Beach and the Bay City Partners have filed litigation against each other in the past.
At the coffee chat ,Deaton said Seal Beach sued them first.
Watson did not agree and was apparently angry. “They threatened to break our city”
“Did they”” Deaton asked.
Watson said, “No, because you knuckled under.”
(Watson later told the Sun that this was a reference to the entire City Council.)
Deaton also said that Bay City Partners is not leasing the First Street building.
Deaton and Watson’s voices were getting louder as they disagreed. (This may have been partly due to the fact that a coffee grinder was operating loudly throughout the meeting.)
A young woman sitting next to Deaton said they were talking over everyone’s heads and suggested they discuss the issue privately. The young woman left the coffee chat shortly after that. Deaton suggested she and Watson discuss the issue “offline.”
Elizabeth Kane said she was concerned about dog food being left outside restautrants. She said a dog does not belong tied up on the sidewalk.