The issues worth watching in 2014

Huntington Beach had a small riot on its hands in 2013. So will event organizers keep their word on scaling down the surfing event?

Will the city break ground on the seemingly mythical senior center? And what about the petition to repeal the plastic bag ban?

These are just a few of many issues to keep an eye out for in Surf City in 2014.

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1) The 2014 U.S. Open of Surfing

The disturbance following the 2013 U.S. Open of Surfing was ranked as the Independent's No.1 story of the year. It's safe to say that city officials and downtown residents will closely watch 2014's surfing contest.

During a Downtown Task Force meeting in October, James Leitz, IMG Action Sports vice president and organizer of the event, proposed that the next U.S. Open will have a greater emphasis on the competition.

The 2013 event took up about 14 acres of beach next to the pier, which included a concert stage, a village area and a public skateboard bowl.

Leitz's proposal for 2014 removes the stage, the public skateboarding area and the village, and replaces them with more open space and a handful of sponsor booths. The conceptualized layout will cut the acreage of last year's event nearly in half, utilizing about eight acres of the city beach. The U.S. Open is scheduled for July 26 to Aug. 3.

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2) Proposed polystyrene ban and plastic bag ban petition

Discussions on whether the city should ban expanded polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, have been postponed since November.

The issue will be brought back to the table in late January, when City Council members will decide if they will prohibit food vendors from distributing containers and other items made from polystyrene.

The council majority voted in 2013 to ban grocery stores, liquor stores and other businesses from distributing plastic bags. The ordinance went into effect in November and has angered many residents.

One person has taken his disapproval of the ban a step further and has started a petition to place the issue on the November ballot with hopes to repeal the ordinance.

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3) The long-awaited senior center

In 2013, the City Council tried to make the proposed senior center a reality, but little progress had been made.

But this could change as city officials and staff ended 2013 with a better timetable in mind of when they will seek construction bids and break ground.

Designs for the new facility should be completed by March 10 and bidding should begin in June. The city is expected to award the construction contract and break ground in August.

The new senior center is proposed for a 14-acre site across the street from the Central Library on Goldenwest Street.

If everything goes according to plan, Huntington Beach will get is long-awaited new senior center in February 2016.

The city plans to take out a $15-million bond to pay for the majority of the $21-million project. Fund-raising and private donations are other ways the facility might be funded.

Another major factor that has delayed and could derail the project is a lawsuit from citizen group Parks Legal Defense Fund.

The group sued the city over its supplemental environmental report because the city was planning on funding the senior center with park fees it would have received for the Pacific City development.

In 2009, an Orange County Superior Court judge gave the city the go-ahead to build the facility but the Parks Legal Defense Fund appealed the decision in 2010. The case is expected to be heard in February.

The city can start on construction but officials fear that if the court rules in favor of the Parks Legal Defense Fund, the work would be for naught.

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4) Pacific City

Construction at the dirt lot off First Street and Pacific Coast Highway could start in 2014 as developers look to move forward with the Pacific City project.

The 31-acre site will be the future home to an outdoor shopping area, beachside condominiums and a hotel. The shopping center would be the heart of the project with 40 retail stores and 20 restaurants, built by DJM Capital Partners, the same company behind Bella Terra. Another portion of the site will have 516 residential units and will be handled by Crescent Heights, a Florida-based developer. An eight-story hotel by Irvine-based R.D. Olson is the last part of the equation.

DJM President Lindsay Parton is optimistic that the shopping center will be done in two years.

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5) Poseidon desalination facility

The California Coastal Commission may have voted to table the discussion regarding a highly debated desalination plant in Huntington Beach to an unspecified date, but it doesn't mean Poseidon Water, the company behind the project, won't make a move in 2014.

Poseidon, a Stamford, Conn.-based desalinated water provider, revoked its application to build the facility at the AES power plant on Pacific Coast Highway.

The commission is giving the company time to study the feasibility of constructing more environmentally friendly subsurface intakes to draw in ocean water instead of Poseidon's original plan to use open-water intakes.

Commission staff and environmentalists argued that having intake pipes underneath the sand, known as subsurface intakes, would be less harmful to sea organisms. Poseidon said going with that plan would be too costly and would stop the project.

Representatives from the water group said during a Coastal Commission hearing in November that the open-water intakes would use a screen to prevent fish and other large sealife from being sucked into the pipes.

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