Planning commissioner appeals car auction

Huntington Beach Planning Commissioner Mark Bixby has appealed an application for an auto auction show at the beach that will displace up to almost 600 parking spots for 11 days during the summer.

The Russo and Steele Auto Auction was approved Aug. 15 by the city's zoning administrator, but Bixby said many issues were not addressed and has appealed it to the commission for a review.

The applicant, Drew Alcazar, plans to hold the show at 21101 Pacific Coast Hwy., in the beach parking lot between Huntington Street and the Hyatt pedestrian bridge. The event would temporarily displace up to 588 parking spaces during the auction's duration, according to a city staff report.

Alcazar, whose company also holds car auctions in Monterey and Arizona, asked for 11 days each June for the next five years, beginning next year.

Because the show will displace up to 588 parking spots that are usually used by beach-goers, the applicant will provide shuttle services from remote parking at the Michael E. Rodgers Seniors' Center, Huntington Beach City Hall, Edison Park, Edison High School and the Newland Barn, which are all city facilities, the report said.

But Bixby and critics of the auto auction say it will present a huge inconvenience for city residents and the thousands of visitors who come to the city for its beach.

"This project will result in the temporary loss of as many as 588 city beach parking lot spaces during the peak period beach season when demand for parking is at its greatest," Bixby said in his appeal.

Bixby also said the project is not consistent with Huntington Beach's general plan coastal element or the Downtown Specific Plan, which gives priority to coastal-dependent developments.

In this case, the beach parking spots are needed for the beach and take priority over an auto auction show, which does not support access to the beach.

Bixby also raised other concerns, saying that based on the Downtown Specific Plan, the show is not consistent with permitted uses in the area.

Consistent uses include snack bars for tourists, volleyball activities or even beach parking spots, he said.

"The question is, is a car auction a related use?" Bixby said.

Assistant Planner Jill Arabe said Bixby's concerns will be addressed during the Planning Commission meeting, which is tentatively scheduled Sept. 25.

"We wouldn't have recommended approval if we didn't think it was consistent," she said.

Bixby isn't the only resident opposed to the auto auction. Other residents and some business owners are not thrilled about it.

Resident John Lejnieks, who said he spoke during the zoning administrator's meeting in opposition to the show, said in an interview Friday that he doesn't believe the benefits of the project outweigh the detriments.

"I'm not opposed to an auto auction as much as I'm just opposed to it being on the beach parking in June, and for what I consider to be essentially for free," he said. "That troubles me because this is a commercial enterprise and a very profitable enterprise."

Huntington Beach spokeswoman Laurie Frymire said the city isn't letting Russo use the parking spots for free, but it will be charging them based on how much the city usually collects from parking in that area. She did not say how much that is.

Lejnieks, who runs a law firm in the city, said Russo stands to make millions of dollars from the show, and while it might attract some business, the city, which is hurting financially, isn't getting much for the use of its facilities.

He also questioned the timing, saying that having the auction in a slow month might be more beneficial to local businesses and might not have the same impact on parking, which is in high demand during the summer.

Because the auction is looking to take place in what is considered the coastal zone, the application can be appealed to the California Coastal Commission, Bixby said.

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