Seal Beach hires EIR consultant

Stantec will look at citywide impact of Zoning Code update

Some old business returned to the council this week when the City Council considered hiring a consultant to do the environmental report for the revision of the Seal Beach Zoning Code.

The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with Stantec Consulting Services.

The Zoning Code revision has apparently been made necessary by a state government mandate that Seal Beach plan for new housing as part of updating the city’s Housing Element. (For more about the Housing Element and the General Plan, see page 4.)

According to a presentation to the March 27 City Council meeting, the Seal Beach Zoning Code update was due October 2022.

The EIR for the project would be a citywide “program” EIR rather than a specific environmental impact report for a specific project.

Why the EIR?

Community Development Director Alexa Smittle gave staff an overview of the proposal, which originally came to the council as a Consent Calendar item earlier this month. District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic at the time said she pulled it because she wanted the public to know what was going on. District Five Councilman Nathan Steele was concerned about the order in which things were being done. Mayor/District Two Councilman Tom Moore suggested pushing the item to the next meeting.

And so the matter came to the council this week.

Smittle tried to clarify things for the council members, based on what she heard at the previous council meeting.

Smittle said the Housing Element is a huge undertaking and a substantive document. She said the Housing Element, a state mandate, hinges on what Seal Beach is doing and how Seal Beach is showing that Seal Beach can foster growth in the community.

“This is not just about picking sites,” she said.

“It’s about the workplan,” Smittle said.

“The number one item is the Zoning Code update,” Smittle said.

“Because rezoning will allow for new types of developments that were not previously contemplated, the Zoning Code is a project that must be analysed under the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA,” Smittle said.

She said the contract before the council is for an Environmental Impact report, which will analyse potential impacts that could result from the zoning changes.

“As we don’t have development proposals, we cannot analyse specific development projects,” Smittle said. “So we have to take a broader view.”

“The first task of the EIR is to define the scope of what will be analayzed,” Smittle said.

Stantec and the city attorney would be part of creating that description, she said.

She said the scope of the EIR would have built-in flexibility because the city doesn’t know what the future holds.

“During the scoping period, the public will be able to provide input on what should be studied,” Smittle said.

According to Smittle, the EIR would include analysis of the impacts of the proposed Old Ranch Country Club project, the Lampson Avenue project (which is located in the city of Los Alamitos), projects being proposed in Long Beach, and any other projects identified during the research phase.

She said the environmental impact report would streamline the California Environmental Quality Act analysis of future projects.

Smittle said this is what the state wants from the city. “They want us to make housing simple,” she said.

Smittle said Seal Beach would be the lead agency for any kind of development that comes within the city.

She said Seal Beach has the authority to require that additional studies be done. “We would do that at our discretion,” Smittle said.

Smittle said the Housing Element of the General Plan was due in October 2021 and the Zoning Update was due in October 2022.

“So we are absolutely behind schedule,” Smittle said.

She said it was a complicated process. “We really do need to keep marching forward,” Smittle said.

She conceded it was not ideal to work on the Zoning Code update before finishing the Housing Element.

“But at the same time, we need to show our best faith effort,” Smittle said.

According to Community Development Director Smittle, the city could suffer “dire consequences” if the city did not put forward a good faith effort to comply with state law.

“It will take us about a year to get through the process,” Smittle said.

Councilman Steele thanked her for helping him understand the process and where the city was in the process.

“I’m comfortable supporting this now,” Steele said.

District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic pointed out that the Old Ranch project was under review right now. Sustarsic wasn’t sure if the proposed Old Ranch Specific Plan would be handled by the program EIR that Stantec would be working on.

Smittle said: “The answer is no.” Smittle said that when the Old Ranch project comes before the council, it will be accompanied by its own EIR.

So the Old Ranch project won’t be in the program EIR, but it will be included in the cumulative impacts analysis. However, the program EIR will not be presented with the Old Ranch project.

Sustarsic asked if the EIR would change the zoning of the 11 sites the city was looking at.

City Attorney Nick Ghirelli said the EIR would examine the environmental impacts of zoning changes on those 11 sites.

“But from a more general level because there are no specific projects,” Ghirelli said.

Sustarsic had a question about traffic analysis. She said if you look at Lampson during the day, you’re not going to see much traffic.

“But if you go in the morning when everyone’s going to work and going to school, you’re going to have lots of traffic,” Sustarsic said.

She said she was concerned about the level of service, apparently a reference to the proposed contract with the consultant for the EIR.

Smittle said the EIR would look at the worst-case scenario, so peak traffic hours would be an example of that.

Sustarsic expressed concern because Seal Beach has so few arterial streets.

District Three Councilwoman Lisa Landau said: “I just want to clarify the program EIR is specifically to move us to be able to rezone and update our zoning; so when we do have a specific project that comes up then a project-specific EIR, an in-depth EIR will be done on that particular location, correct?”

Smittle said it was unlikely that a specific EIR would be done. “That’s part of the steamlining that occurs with a program EIR,” Smittle said.

She said it was more likely that a proposed project would fall within the parameters of the program EIR.

Landau asked if the Planning Commission or the Environmental Quality Control Board would be able to give any consideration to any impacts they feel would be relevant.

Smittle said there would be scoping meetings. She would be looking to have the EQCB host the scoping meeting.

Smittle said the public comment on the program EIR would be eight or nine months from now. That would be a 45-day comment period.

Sustarsic wanted to know what exactly the council would be doing on April 24. (That’s when the council and the Planning Commission will hold a joint session.)

Smittle said they would be strictly talking about the Zoning Code.

According to Mayor/District Two Councilman Tom Moore, the city went from a small number of residential units in the previous Housing Element to many in the more recent Housing Element.

Moore said that was driving a lot of this. “We don’t really have a choice, in my opinion,” Moore said.


“On February 7, 2022, the City Council adopted the 2021-2029 Housing Element, amending the General Plan, pursuant to State law,” wrote Community Development Director Alexa Smittle in her staff report.

The state has not yet approved the Housing Element that the council approved last year.

“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. For the 2021-2029 cycle, the City of Seal Beach (City) has been assigned a total of 1,243 units,” Smittle wrote.

“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. 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.

“The 2021-2029 Housing Element identifies multiple sites to accommodate the required RHNA allocation. 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 allow for housing to be incorporated on what are currently commercial sites,” Smittle wrote.

“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.

Only one business submitted a proposal for the Program EIR.

“The proposer, Stantec Consulting Services, is a global firm providing a wide range of services, including environmental work under CEQA,” Smittle wrote.

“The Professional Services Agreement is in the amount of $392,254, plus a 5 percent contingency,” Smittle wrote.

According to Smittle, there is enough money in the budget for the contract.