A Strange Flip-Flop

Things get curiouser and curiouser in Huntington Beach. Take the City Council's about-face Tuesday night.

The council voted 7 to 0 on revisions to the proposed Holly-Seacliff project--the largest residential development in city history. The package included the addition of some light industry, as recommended by city staff, "to bring jobs to the city."

After what was supposed to be the final vote on the project, Roger Work, a vice president and general manager of the project's developer, the Huntington Beach Co., told City Council members in strong terms that his company objected to the item allowing for light industry. When the council returned from a break, a five-member majority voted to strip the item from the plan.

Later, Mayor Thomas J. Mays said the revision would have meant the loss of parkland the developer was required to deed to the city. Also, a homeowners group did not want industry nearby. But Mays admitted "it did not look good" to switch the vote without further study.

Another case in point: the valuation of a two-acre oceanfront property. While owned by Huntington Beach Co., the property was valued at $10,000--the amount on which property taxes were paid. When the company donated the land to the city, a deal was struck setting a valuation of $3 million. If the Internal Revenue Service and State Board of Equalization go along, that's quite a tax break.

Huntington Beach Co. and city officials say the difference in valuation is tied to the potential for development. Under company ownership, the city owned a permanent easement providing public access and precluding development. Now the City Council can lift the easement and include the land in the controversial Pierside Village commercial project. While it is true the property is, of course, worth tremendously more if it can be developed, that would not have been possible under ownership by Huntington Beach Co. So why should it get the higher valuation?

These two cases would seem to indicate that the City Council is a little too close to Huntington Beach Co. One councilman, alarmed at negative publicity over the flip-flop vote, cited instances in which the council has gone against the wishes of the company. Still, you have to wonder.

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