Seal Beach looks at draft of Housing Element of General Plan

State mandates city plan for 1,243 homes for various income groups

File photo

The council this week directed staff to submit a draft of the city’s Housing Element of the General Plan to the state government.

To address the state mandate to plan for a lot of new homes in town, city staff recommended Seal Beach consider making potential zoning changes throughout the city. The changes would be considered over a three-year period. For now, a planning document is off to the state for official review.

Old Town Councilman and Mayor Joe Kalmick called the submission of the plan an exercise.

However, College Park East Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic and Planning Commissioner Patty Campbell were concerned about potential congestion that could be caused by some potential zoning changes.


The Seal Beach City Council and Planning Commission held a special joint study session Monday, Sept. 20, to look at the draft of the Housing Element of the General Plan.

Complicating matters is another, related, state mandate requiring Seal Beach to plan for 1,243 housing units.

The state government can’t compel Seal Beach to actually build those units, according to the staff report by the city’s interim Community Development director. The city can’t compel land owners to build those units, according to the staff report. But state law requires Seal Beach to plan for the assigned allotment of homes all the same.

According to the report by Interim Community Development Director Barry Curtis, Seal Beach’s current land regulations do not provide enough sites to meet the state mandate.

“Therefore, as part of the Housing Element update, the City must identify candidate sites where changes to land use and zoning designations could create additional opportunities for housing development,” he wrote.

The state government allows cities three years to identify potential housing sites and change zoning to allow their development.

Deadlines, consequences

State law requires cities to update their Housing Elements on an eight-year cycle.

“The formal deadline to submit is October 15, 2021,” wrote Assistant City Manager Patrick Gallegos in a Monday afternoon, Sept. 20 email.

“However, the California Department of Housing and Community Development allows for a 120 day grace period as well,” Gallegos wrote.

At a June 2013 City Council meeting, the council was told that if the city did not meet the deadline for updating the housing element, someone could sue the city and a court might rule that the city could not issue building permits.

Current City Attorney Craig Steele, in a Monday, Sept. 20, 2021 email, pointed out that the law has changed. “Since 2013, however, the Legislature adopted an additional remedy in that the Department of Housing and Community Development (‘HCD’) is now required to report non-compliant cities to the Attorney General, and the Attorney General can bring a lawsuit to force a city to adopt a compliant housing element, among other penalties,” Steele wrote.

“This is a more significant ‘stick’ because the Attorney General is more likely to bring an enforcement action than a private citizen or advocacy group would have been.  But both could happen,” Steele wrote.

Potential changes and official comments

A table in the staff report identified 11  candidate sites for rezoning. (They are also in the draft of the proposed Housing Element update.)

The sites include the Shops at Rossmoor in Seal Beach (which the Curtis report says could potentially yield 200 units), the Old Ranch Country Club (120), Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach (150), the Main Street area (40), and 99 Marina Drive (86).

“Every one of them is difficult,” said Leisure World Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt. She said she thought it was important for Seal Beach to follow the rules so Seal Beach stays out of court.

Councilman Varipapa said the council didn’t want this to turn into a NIMBY situation.

“It is a Sacramento decision being imposed on us as well as other cities,” Varipapa said.

Leisure World and College Park West Councilman Thomas Moore said he agreed it would be difficult to develop the areas.

College Park East Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic said she had a problem with Old Ranch Country Club being on the list because there is a development restriction there. She said she would appreciate discussions with the Joint Forces Training Base to see if the plan encroaches on their air safety zone. Kalmick said staff had done a good job in finding sites in a city that is built out.

College Park East Planning Commissioner Patty Campbell said the city may run into problems “piggybacking” housing onto the supermarket at the Old Ranch Town Center.

She was also concerned about potential development near the intersection of Lampson and Seal Beach Boulevard.

“We don’t have any side streets that can absorb extra traffic,” Campbell said.

“We need housing,” said Old Town Planning Commissioner Steve Miller. He acknowledged that he was expressing an unpopular opinion. He said he hoped his daughter would be able to afford housing.

After meeting comments

In a post-meeting phone interview, Campbell said they wanted to put 58% of the units north of the freeway.

She said she was kicking herself for not calling for changes to the document. “That intersection is a real bottleneck,” she said, referring to Seal Beach Boulevard and Lampson.

Kalmick had a different take during his phone interview. “This is an exercise that we had to complete to satisfy the state,” he said. “We’re not building anything.”

As for the potential housing on the Navy site, Naval Weapons Station Public Affairs Officer Gregg Smith said theoretically, there could be housing on the site but that is off in the future.

According to Smith, that would happen only if a developer proposed housing. At this point, the Navy is not requesting proposals.

A bit of local zoning history

As mentioned above, staff is currently recommending zoning changes in pursuit of planning for the legally possible construction of 1,243 housing units for the 2021-2029 Housing Element.

The city last had a conflict between the allotment and available land in 2013. In June 2013, the council ultimately approved a zone change for 4 acres of industrial land at the so-called Accurate Storage site to allow residential development.

Opponents said the change would allow for 90 homes to be built.

However, the city code at that time reportedly would have allowed just 50 units to be built.

In either case, the zoning change would have allowed for more housing than the state had mandated.  Without the change, the mandate could not have been met.

The 2013 zoning change proposal drew large crowds to multiple council meetings.

Opponents feared the homes would be built and residents of those homes would complain about noise from the animal shelter. Opponents argued the Animal Care Center would be closed as a result.

The zoning change was ultimately approved. As of this date, no residential housing has been built on the property.

Housing needs

and other numbers

The Regional Housing Needs Assessment currently assigned to Seal Beach  a requirement to plan for 258 very low income residential units, 201 low income units, 239 moderate income units and 545 above moderate income units.

(In case you were wondering, according to page II-14 of the draft of the Housing Element, a maximum of $40,350 is considered “extremely low” income for a family of four in Orange County.)

Staff asked for authorization to submit the draft of the Housing Element to the state.

None of the council or Planning Commission members proposed changes to the draft of the document. Kalmick directed staff to submit the report to the state.

By law, the California Department of Housing and Community Development will have 60 days to review the draft.