Funding for H.B.'s senior center in question

For years, it was the most famous not-quite-existent sum of money in Huntington Beach: the $22 million proposed to help build the new senior center in Huntington Central Park.

Now, that sum has been considerably downsized — and possibly the senior center along with it, according to city officials.

City Manager Fred Wilson said the planned Pacific City project, which was expected to provide the $22 million through an agreement worked out under its original developer, is now slated to pay about $7 million in park fees. The city may end up using those funds toward the senior center or other park purposes.

The change stems from a simple but unavoidable problem: Neither Makar Properties, which originally brought the Pacific City proposal to town, nor the city's Redevelopment Agency, which helped craft the senior center agreement, is still on board. Makar passed on the project to another developer years ago, while the agency was dissolved when the state abolished redevelopment agencies in December.

Ultimately, Wilson said, it will be up to the City Council to decide how to support the new center.

"We'll have to look to some other sources of funds to close the gap on the project," he said. "One option could be a downsizing or rescoping of the project. Those are really all policy choices that the City Council has to make."

When Crescent Heights, the third and most recent developer for Pacific City, came on board last year, its spokesman, Steve Afriat, said the company was up to paying the $22 million proposed under Makar for the senior center. Reached Wednesday, Afriat said Crescent Heights would pay whatever fees the city required, but that it was up to the city how the funds were ultimately spent.

For years, many in the senior community have hoped that the Pacific City funds would support the construction of a new, larger facility to replace the Michael E. Rodgers Seniors' Center. However, Councilman Joe Shaw, a liaison for the Huntington Beach Council on Aging, said the project is in limbo until the funding materializes.

If the center in Central Park doesn't become a reality, other options could include remodeling the existing center, attaching the center to the Huntington Beach Central Library or finding an alternative site, according to Shaw.

"We certainly have other park needs, too, that have to be met," he said. "We'll have to figure out how much money we have and what we can do with it."

Wilson said the $22-million payment from Pacific City was reduced to $7 million because the condominiums originally planned for the project have been converted to apartments in the new developer's plan. He noted that the $7 million is considerably more than what the developer would have paid if the city hadn't recently adjusted its structure for development fees.

Pacific City, a 30-acre mixed-use project near the beach that would include a hotel, condominiums and businesses, has yet to be built despite getting approval from the council in 2004. Meanwhile, its $22-million contribution to the senior center has sparked controversy over the last decade.

A citizens group called the Parks Legal Defense Fund, which filed a complaint in 2008 seeking to block construction of the new center, argued that using those funds toward the center violated the state Quimby Act. Under that law, cities can require developers to pay fees for projects that don't create new open space.

An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the defense fund in 2009, but the next year, an appellate judge overturned the ruling that the city could not use Pacific City funds for the senior center — due to a technicality, as the Parks Legal Defense Fund had missed the deadline to file the complaint.

The city attorney took the appellate court's ruling as a sign that Huntington could proceed with plans for the new senior center. The City Council voted in April to certify a new environmental impact report for the project.

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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