Seal Beach Council OKs Slow-Growth Initiative for Ballot

Times Staff Writer

Preferring to let residents decide the issue, the Seal Beach City Council voted unanimously Monday night to put a sweeping slow-growth initiative on the March, 1988, city ballot.

The council’s alternative was considered an unlikely one--to adopt the initiative verbatim, which would have had the council stripping itself of any authority on land-use decisions for public open space.

Known as the Spring initiative and named after its proponents, the Seal Beach Preservation Initiative Group, the ballot measure addresses an array of issues. They range from protecting as open space several parcels of land in the coastal town to requiring approval by the state Department of Forestry before urban forests of 10 or more trees are cut or removed.

The initiative also stipulates that no liquor will be sold from the restaurant on the city pier.


It was a surprisingly uneventful meeting, even thought the measure, if passed, would change the way the city is governed. Two of the key architects of the initiative did not attend the meeting and are going to be in Europe until January.

About 25 people attended the meeting. A half-dozen speakers were about evenly split for and against the measure. Before the vote, City Atty. Gregory W. Stepanicich advised the council that a preliminary review of the initiative had identified “a number of legal questions” and “problems,” prompting the council to direct him to conduct a more thorough study in the coming weeks.

“In my opinion, some of the findings in the initiative are false,” Councilman Joe Hunt said with a hiss, referring to allegations in the initiative that city government had allowed “rapid, uncontrolled, high-density development to the detriment of our quality of life.”

The initiative is the result of a successful referendum drive begun last year by a group of local residents. Spring proponents gathered 3,414 signatures. The county registrar of voters certified half of them as registered Seal Beach voters.


In the text of the initiative, at public meetings and in local newspapers’ letters-to-the-editor pages, Spring members have accused city officials of allowing developers to build on the tiny bedroom community’s last remaining open-space parcels through variances of local zoning laws that are not granted residential property owners.

Among the most controversial parts of the initiative, however, is the one that would allow property owners to replace their structures “in kind” if they are destroyed by natural disaster, rather than upgrading them to current zoning standards.

Opponents of the measure, who have voiced their complaints in the same forums, have argued that the real motivations driving the referendum proposal are the concerns of rental property owners, particularly near the pier that was washed out by 1983 storms. Some critics say that Spring has cast a special-interest initiative as a slow-growth measure to gather signatures to qualify it for the ballot.

Spring treasurer Brent Mathews said: “I think people should read the initiative for themselves. I would suggest that that has nothing to do with the efforts spent on the initiative.


“The important thing to remember here is that the initiative is basically addressing those who want to increase density or change zoning. I mean, we are talking about locking in, at one point in the initiative, the zoning of park space that already exists!”

The ballot measure stipulates that any property classified by either the measure or by the city’s general plan as parkland, open space, public land or “quasi-public land” cannot be used for another purpose without approval of two-thirds of the voters in a Seal Beach general or special election. (Quasi-public land is not defined in the document, but some Spring members have previously cited golf courses as an example.)

Also prohibited under the proposed measure would be building, widening, rerouting or abandoning of any municipal street on public property, parkland or quasipublic land.