Council passes senior center report

The Huntington Beach City Council voted Monday to certify an environmental impact report for a proposed senior center at Central Park.

But constructing the much-litigated proposal could be a ways off, as there is no ready funding for the $20-million project.

The report was the second to come before the city after lawsuits dissolved earlier decisions made by the council. The city spent just under $2 million litigating and planning the controversial proposal.

The council voted 5 to 2, with Connie Boardman and Joe Shaw dissenting.

City Attorney Jennifer McGrath said she stands by the new report, but predicted the city will likely be challenged in court by the Parks Legal Defense Fund, a group that opposes the city over the 5-acre, 45,000-square-foot location that voters approved in 2006.

To some who spoke at the meeting, that acreage was a small price to pay for what they deemed an essential service.

"Why can't this be done? We have acres of open space ... and not enough room for a senior center?" asked resident Pat Davis. "Those opposed, I guess, don't like seniors."

The majority of the council members said it's unfortunate that some people apparently plan to sue regardless of what the city does, but affirmed that they will stand by the seniors and voters.

"Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that it's down to the middle, but the majority was in favor of the senior center," said Councilman Devin Dwyer. "I hate to see issues that divide our cities. I'm looking forward to putting this one behind us."

The second environmental impact report, or EIR, was approved by the majority of the Planning Commission earlier this year, but was appealed by Boardman, who cited concerns over inconsistencies.

City staff said there are no inconsistencies and that the EIR complies with the state's environmental guidelines.

Boardman disagreed.

"Since the last EIR was litigated, it makes sense to make sure this one is defensible," she said. "I'm concerned about the EIR. There are weaknesses in the EIR. I see real problems in the EIR, factual inaccuracies and weaknesses, and I, in good conscience, can't support it."

The center is expected to cost more than $20 million to build — money the city doesn't have.

Funding for the center was expected to come from park and recreation fees from the Pacific City project, but that project has changed ownership and a new funding source has not been identified, according to the staff report.

The project's new developer, Crescent Heights, has stated that it is still committed to the senior center funding plan.

The council had the option to wait until solid funding sources were identified, which was one of the reasons Shaw voted against accepting the report.

"To do anything tonight is dishonest to the seniors in this city," he said. "It would be much better, in my opinion, if we stop this process right now and look at what we can honestly afford and what we can honestly build and where we can build it and how we're going to build it."

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