Huntington Beach council votes to annex Sunset Beach

Emotions ran high as the Huntington Beach City Council voted late Monday to annex neighboring Sunset Beach over the cries of residents who tried to block the decision in hopes of keeping the funky, unincorporated beach town independent.

The council voted 5 to 2 to direct city administrators to complete an application with the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission to acquire Sunset Beach, the city’s northern neighbor along Pacific Coast Highway. Mayor Cathy Green and Mayor Pro Tem Jill Hardy dissented.

Sunset Beach could become part of Huntington Beach as soon as January.

“We know,” Councilman Joe Carchio told the Sunset Beach residents who had gathered in Surf City’s council chambers. “We see the handwriting on the wall. I think that we would do a great disservice to you guys if we didn’t annex you to Huntington. We would have you guys wasting $130,000.”

Sunset residents shouted “No!” as Carchio spoke, stating that they wanted the chance to try to form what would be Orange County’s smallest city by population.

The 85-acre unincorporated area of about 1,300 residents was placed under Huntington Beach’s sphere of influence about a year ago by LAFCO, which oversees the process of municipal boundary changes, in an effort to reduce the number of Orange County “islands,” the generally small, unincorporated areas that are hard to serve.

Sunset Beach’s hopes of incorporation are not financially feasible and it would be irresponsible to allow it to continue with the difficult process and spend an additional $100,000, the council said.

“We know at the end of the day, it means annexation either way,” said Councilman Don Hansen.

A peer-commissioned review showed that a 10% utility users tax and the installation of parking meters would be necessary to make Sunset incorporation feasible for a few years, but it would not work over time.

Sunset resident Diana Dodson said those numbers were based on a preliminary study and that LAFCO, not the Huntington Beach City Council, should have been allowed to make the final decision.

“It’s shocking that they would just determine the future and predict the future,” Dodson said. “That’s LAFCO’s place to determine the feasibility.”

Sunset Beach residents are concerned about Huntington Beach redeveloping their community and building it up and out, and that their 1,300 voices will get lost in Huntington’s 201,000.

“We don’t feel that we would be represented there,” Greg Griffin, president of the Sunset Beach Community Assn., said in interview before the meeting. “We want to represent ourselves.”

Huntington Beach’s philosophy is much different from Sunset Beach’s, and the community doesn’t want big buildings, parking meters or more bars, other residents said.

If Sunset Beach were to incorporate separately from its bigger neighbor, it would have to contract out most of its services, creating an unsustainable tax burden for residents, said Tim McCormack, vice president of the Sunset Beach Community Assn.

“While my heart says we would love to become our own city, my head says it is not possible,” McCormack said.

Sunset Beach will have to decide what its next step is, Griffin said. The community could consider challenging the legality of automatically allowing Huntington Beach to annex it, but it was unclear Monday night whether that option would be pursued.