Huntington Beach has been hearing it from all sides--from local environmentalists, the State Lands Commission and from a corps of its own wary public officials--that allowing development planned for the ocean side of Pacific Coast Highway would be a violation of a public trust.
Its own history echoes an earlier day when the city fought to get a public-access easement over beach land. Now that the Planning Commission is about to take up the controversial Pierside Village project later this month, it should heed the warnings and spare the oceanfront land from development.
The land that would be leased by a developer to build a plaza of fountains, walkways and restaurants is now a semi-developed, paved parking lot near the municipal pier. It has been a lively focus of debate in a city trying to polish its facade to become a tourist mecca. Also, environmentalists and some city officials have wrangled over the sale or leasing of beach land and parkland. The notion of untampered public access is nothing new, since the city battled in the 1930s to get public-access easement over the beach land over the objections of powerful development, oil and rail interests. But in recent years, despite the environmental concerns of some city officials, the city seemingly has forsaken its legacy as beachfront protector to act at times as if it were a party to development itself.
The issue of easements and access will engage the State Lands Commission, which has issued dire warnings to the city about the threat of further litigation. A settlement last spring resolved little.
As the population grows, the door could be opened to further conversions of precious beachfront land into sites for hotels, motels, apartments and commercial buildings. The Coastal Commission, which earlier approved a general plan for the downtown, surely will have reservations about such dangerous development. The issue has been joined, but the choice is clear: City planners should decide in favor of public easement and public access.