Sunset Beach annexation vote tentatively scheduled for Monday

Editor's note: This corrects the name of the agency that placed Sunset Beach under Huntington Beach's sphere of influence.

The Huntington Beach City Council plans to decide Monday whether to annex Sunset Beach, even though the small beach community along Pacific Coast Highway is trying to become its own city.

Huntington Beach could decide to absorb the 85-acre unincorporated area of about 1,300 placed under its sphere of influence a year ago by the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in an effort to decrease the number of county "islands" — the generally small, unincorporated areas that were hard to serve, such as Sunset and nearby Rossmoor.

Absorbing Sunset is expected to bring in about $624,000 annually from various sources including property, sales and transient occupancy taxes, according to the city's own preliminary study.

The meeting agenda was not been released as of press time, but city spokeswoman Laurie Payne said the council would be taking up the Sunset Beach annexation issue.

While Sunset has raised about $150,000, and has already begun the incorporation process, if Huntington decides to absorb it, the LAFCO could not deny the move. It could only amend Huntington's application, said Carolyn Emery, an assistant executive officer with LAFCO overseeing Sunset Beach.

Legally, LAFCO has to look at other options before it considers the complex process of forming a new city, she said.

"We don't get a vote, the people of Huntington Beach don't get a vote, but the City Council gets a vote," said Greg Griffin, president of the Sunset Beach Community Assn.

Griffin said they could consider challenging the legality of automatically allowing Huntington to annex.

But until Huntington makes its decision, LAFCO is proceeding with both Huntington and Sunset, both of which have filed incomplete applications, Emery said.

"We're not going to let one hold up the other," Emery said.

The association had asked the Huntington Beach City Council to wait until Sunset either completes the incorporation process or gets denied, but the council has decided to put the issue on the agenda.

That doesn't mean the council won't let Sunset finish the process, though, said Councilman Joe Carchio.

"I don't think that anybody has really made up their minds," he said.

Carchio said the council wants to hear both sides and sort through the information. And while he believes it would be best for Sunset to become part of Huntington, he doesn't want to do it against the will of the community, he said.

"I don't want to feel like we went over there and took somebody over," he said.

Sunset will continue working toward incorporation until LAFCO says it's over, said Scot Dodson, a member of the Sunset Beach Community Assn.

"If they vote to annex Sunset Beach Monday night, it will not stop incorporation," he said.

The association was scheduled to vote after press time Wednesday night on whether to start the final process — a comprehensive fiscal analysis through LAFCO that costs $100,000.

The community has already completed its own preliminary fiscal analysis, which was favorable, and gathered the signatures of about 52% of residents supporting incorporation.

Since the community was placed in Huntington's sphere of influence, it has been trying to figure out how to stay independent, but in the past year, the majority of residents have given up on remaining unincorporated, Griffin said.

"We were part of the county for 105 years, and we were comfortable being a part of the county," he said.

When the realization hit, Sunset turned to Seal Beach to annex it, but the Seal Beach City Council vetoed the idea. Since then, Sunset has been polling, raising money, sending out mailings and learning the ins and outs of LAFCOs processes for incorporation.

"Now we're faced with either going it alone or going it with Huntington Beach, and it's just not going to be the same, and I think that causes people anxiety," he said.

The road to incorporation hasn't been easy, requiring residents' "time and money and then more time and money," Griffin said. The community has already spent more than $50,000 and has another $100,000 in the bank to complete the process.

If Sunset were to incorporate, it would be one of the smallest cities in the state, Emery said — a fact that would work against it, considering that cities depend on sales tax revenue and Sunset has few commercial businesses, she said.

Griffin, though, is optimistic. If Huntington found Sunset to be revenue-positive, then the community would be revenue-positive for itself, he said.

The community would become a kind of virtual city, contracting out services, many of which it is willing to contract out to Huntington.

"They will get their revenue-positive out of it, and we will get to control our own destiny," he said.

Before that is even considered, though, the community has to fork over $100,000 so LAFCO can complete the final fiscal analysis before it will make a recommendation to its board, who will vote. If it is approved, it would go to a vote of Sunset Beach residents with only a simple majority needed.

While some Sunset residents support going to Huntington, the majority, according to signatures collected, are against annexation.

Sunset residents are concerned about Huntington 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," Griffin said. "We want to represent ourselves."

The City Council meets at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 2000 Main St.

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