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Huntington Beach : Council Votes to Save Undeveloped Wetlands

After nearly a decade of controversy, the City Council has voted to preserve as wetlands the city’s last remaining undeveloped coastal area.

On a 5-2 vote, the council decided to designate for conservation more than half of a 231-acre parcel paralleling Pacific Coast Highway from Beach Boulevard to the Santa Ana River.

The action, which must be approved by the state Coastal Commission, would prevent property owners from developing 124.5 acres of land defined as wetlands by the state Department of Fish and Game.

It would allow commercial development oriented to visiting tourists on seven acres near Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway and existing use of an 83-acre parcel by the Southern California Edison Co. power plant. Another 17 acres were zoned for temporary conservation, but the power company could, if it chose, expand its facilities to that acreage under the terms of the state Coastal Act.

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Much of the property affected was acquired many years ago by Caltrans as right-of-way for a never-built coastal freeway. The Huntington Wetlands Conservancy already has plans to purchase and revitalize part of the area with voter-approved state bond funds designated for wetlands restoration.

Various city councils dating back to 1977 have bitterly debated land use in the area. Five years ago, the Coastal Commission scrapped a pro-development council’s proposal for the area in the city’s Local Coastal Plan, with commissioners indicating that provision was not made for wetlands preservation as required by law.

Some property owners and their representatives, who expressed interest in high-density residential development on some of the land, denounced the move as a confiscation of private property.

However, Mayor Bob Mandic said it was not the city’s place to go fight the state commission in court on behalf of private property owners.

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The council meeting drew more than two dozen speakers, many of whom denounced as “scare tactics” leaflets reportedly circulated by at least one landowner that said wetlands restoration could spark flooding in an area still smarting from flood damage of a 1983 storm.


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