Sunset Beach annexation is still on hold

Court Trial

Editor’s note: Jack Markovitz is a member of the Citizens Association of Sunset Beach.

Sunset Beach has not lost the vinegar in its blood to continue the fight for independence from the mega city of Huntington Beach.

Over the last year the coastal enclave has fought to keep Huntington Beach from annexing the more than 100-year-old community.

A lawsuit filed Dec. 9 by The Citizens Association of Sunset Beach (CASB) against the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission (OCLAFCO) and the city of Huntington Beach (the City) on Dec. 9 of last year is keeping Huntington Beach from annexing Sunset Beach.

The lawsuit alleges that a legal conflict exists between the CASB, the  OCLAFCO and the City with regard to Government Code Section 56375.3 (the island annexation provisions-annexation without taxation or a vote of the residents), Government Code section 77330 (requiring an annexing city to apply all of its taxes to an annexed territory), and Proposition 218 (barring new taxes without a vote).  The CASB has asked the court to determine the rights of its members and the duties of the OCLAFCO and the City regarding the annexation.

On Jan. 19, Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn ruled in favor of the CASB and imposed a Preliminary Injunction prohibiting the OC LAFCO, or the City from taking any further action regarding the annexation, including the filing of a certificate of completion until the legal issues raised in the lawsuit are resolved.

Attorneys for the OCLAFCO and the City have filed a Demurrer.  A Demurrer is a legal challenge to the lawsuit.  The hearing on the Demurrer was scheduled for March 2, 2011.  In anticipation of the hearing, the attorney for the CASB filed documents last week to amend the complaint (First Amended Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief) and filed a Petitioner’s Opposition to Demurrers by Respondent to the Petition/Complaint.

As a result, some aspects of the complaint that were the basis of the demurrer were taken away. As a result, the hearing on March 2, 2011 is not going forward. It is anticipated that the City and the LAFCO will file an amended demurrer.   The City and the LAFCO have until about March 22 to either file answers or amended demurrers to the complaint/writ. If they file amended demurrers, the CASB will file an opposition and then have a hearing on the Demurrer.

In July of 2010, the City of Huntington Beach (the City) submitted an application to the Orange County LAFCO to annex Sunset Beach.  Rather than seeking annexation of Sunset Beach under the general annexation provisions that would allow Sunset Beach residents an opportunity to challenge the annexation through protest proceedings, the City sought to annex Sunset Beach under the forced “island” annexation provisions.   They used Government Code section 56375.3, which applies to unincorporated islands that do not exceed 150 acres.  In an island annexation, the residents do not get the opportunity to protest or vote on whether to be annexed.

Proposition 218, the ”Right to Vote on Taxes Act” was approved by California voters on November 5, 1996.  Proposition 218 amended the California Constitution by adding articles XIII C and XIII D that bar local governments from imposing, or extending, or increasing general and special taxes without first giving the electorate a vote on whether to approve such taxes.

Huntington Beach imposes special taxes on its residents, most notably User Utility Taxes and a property tax over ride on pre 1978 public employee retirement benefits.

Sunset Beach residents’ taxes currently go to the county for services and except for a water utility and school taxes, Sunset Beach does not pay these Huntington Beach taxes.   Previously Huntington Beach City Council stated they did not intend to impose taxes on Sunset Beach residents post annexation.

This allowed them to use the forced  “island” annexation and avoid giving Sunset Beach Residents a vote.  In November 2010 they reversed their previous statements in a written notice, but still insist a vote is not necessary.

On April 27, 2010 Ralph Anderson & Associates issued a report entitled Final Report Sunset Beach Annexation Study for the City of Huntington Beach.  Copies of the report are publicly available on the OC LAFCO website at It should be noted that in the view of the LAFCO legal staff, the Utility Users Tax could be imposed only if the annexation were processed as a normal inhabited unincorporated area requiring a vote of the Sunset Beach electorate.

Since it is being pursued as an “island” annexation, not involving a vote of those being annexed, Proposition 218 would bar the imposition of taxes to this area according to LAFCO.

Government Code section 57330 compels the City to impose all previously authorized taxes on the residents of any new territory that the City annexes.  Proposition 218 affords the residents of Sunset Beach a constitutional right to vote whether to approve the imposition of those taxes.

Additional information can be found by going to the Citizens Association of Sunset Beach web site . The CASB is a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation formed in California.  The members are property owners, residents and business operators in Sunset Beach.