City seeks input on its direction

Diversifying the business base, preparing for a possible rise in sea levels and shoring up the Huntington Beach Police Department to pre-recession levels are just a few concerns facing the city as it prepares to update its 18-year-old general plan.

City officials hosted a kick-off party on the beach March 19 to garner public interest and opinion and let residents know they are an integral part of updating the city's future road map.

"There's been a lot of changes since 1996, so we have to update it," senior city planner Jennifer Villasenor said of the document. "There's a lot of laws that have been enacted that we have to incorporate … and the community's different now."

The general plan serves as a guide for the city for the next 15 to 20 years.

Some of the goals Huntington Beach had in 1996 were to build a sports complex in Central Park and preserve local resources, such as the Bolsa Chica wetlands. It has succeeded with Bolsa Chica.

It should take about two years to gather input from the community and organize the information into a viable package, Villasenor said.

Residents who attended the event off Huntington Street and Pacific Coast Highway were treated to s'mores as they engaged in brainstorming activities.

One activity involved placing stickers, which had various services or demands printed on them, on an enlarged city map. For example, some residents wanted to see greater protection of the wetlands while others advocated for improved public safety downtown. And the stickers would indicate these desires on the map.

In addition to trying to get police staffing to pre-recession levels, Police Chief Robert Handy said he would like to see improved public safety technology and upgrades to police headquarters.

"It's an important time for us," he said. "We really need to look at what we have, what we're doing now and what works well. Then we have to try to predict how we can do that even better in the future and what we're going to need to do that, and plan for that as a city."

Because the general plan won't be updated again for another couple of decades, Planning Commissioners Erik Peterson and Mark Bixby said it's important for residents to suggest broad, long-term goals rather than ideas that can be addressed within a few years.

Bixby said he would like to see the city prepare for an expected rise in the sea level brought on by global warming as well as a more-varied business base.

"Having a diverse economy is always good in the face of economic downturns," he said. "You tend to do better rather than if you're a one-trick pony."

Peterson agreed with his colleague, adding that most residents travel outside of Huntingon Beach to work and that he would like to see more types of businesses setting up shop in town.

Resident John Shipman wants Huntington Beach to become more energy-efficient. The regional director of the nonprofit Community Home Energy Retrofit Project said he would like the city to consider sustainability measures.

"If we can get people to conserve energy, then that's less power that we need, and therefore we won't need to build another power plant," he said. "If we can conserve at our house, then that's more energy you can use. You can use the energy that I've saved."

The city will host its first set of community workshops Thursday and Saturday at the Central Library to discuss goals for the city.



What: Huntington Beach General Plan community workshop

When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 27; 10 a.m. to noon March 29

Where: Talbert Room in the Central Library, 7111 Talbert Ave.

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