Hermosa Beach voters are likely to be asked in the June election what to do with the city's only vacant beachfront property, now that a controversial hotel proposal has finally been put to rest by the state Supreme Court.
City officials were notified last weekend that the court refused to hear an appeal filed over the disputed results of a 1985 initiative election.
The high court's decision, issued without explanation, let stand a 2nd District Court of Appeal ruling that the election was a tie and therefore the proposed development was defeated.
On Tuesday, the City Council tentatively decided to let voters decide what to do with the valuable acre, located between 14th and 15th streets on the Strand, by putting at least two alternatives for the city-owned property on the June 7 ballot.
One calls for the sale or trade of the property to obtain a railroad right of way that cuts through the center of town. The other would turn the property into a park.
The City Council must pass a resolution to put the measures on the ballot, which it indicated it would do at its Feb. 23 meeting.
One ballot measure would ask voters if the property should be sold and the money used to help buy the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway right of way. The land would have to be rezoned.
Last November, voters directed the city to buy the 20-acre, 100-foot-wide right of way and preserve it as open space, but the measure did not specify how the property should be paid for.
The beachfront property will be appraised for all possible zoning classifications to determine which would be the most valuable, but city officials said they are convinced that residential property would bring in the most immediate money for the city. City officials estimate that the land could command between $5 million and $10 million if residentially zoned.
Councilwoman June Williams pointed out that the city could not rezone the site to residential without approval from the state Coastal Commission.
Although the tentative vote to place the measure on the ballot was unanimous, Councilman Jim Rosenberger complained Wednesday that the appraisals could not be completed until after the election.
He also said that residential property would probably generate the most money for the city right away, but commercial establishments would allow the city to continue collecting sales and business taxes as well as property and possibly bed taxes.
Rosenberger said he would prefer that the council wait to put any alternatives for the site on the ballot until November--after appraisals are done on both the beachfront site and the right of way. Waiting five more months also would give the city more time to negotiate with the railroad company on a possible trade, he said.
Asked if Santa Fe would be interested in trading the city's oceanfront property for the right of way, Brian Weber, who is advising the railroad in its negotiations with the city, said, "We would consider any form of transaction the city would care to propose."
Councilman Chuck Sheldon said he would prefer making the site a park.
At Sheldon's request, the council voted 4 to 1, with Rosenberger dissenting, to put a measure on the ballot asking voters if the site should be made into a park. Under the measure, the city would retain ownership of the site and its use could be changed only with voter approval.
Sheldon, a staunch supporter of the defeated hotel development, said a developer someday may be able to persuade voters to allow a hotel or other project at the site. That would only be possible, he pointed out, if the city retains possession of the property.
The city does not need the money that the sale of the property would bring, even to buy the right of way, Sheldon said.
In November, voters approved raising the utility users tax to 10% from 6% after council members promised to use the additional money generated to pay for the right of way.
Like Rosenberger, Mayor Etta Simpson and Williams said they do not think the best use for the site would be as a park, but said they voted to place the measure on the ballot to give voters a choice. City officials have not ruled out the possibility that a hotel could still be built on the beachfront site.
Several city officials and residents have said that it may not have been the hotel that some voters opposed, but the development agreement that required the city to provide up to $20 million in bonds for the $31-million project. The bonds would have been repaid with hotel bed taxes and parking revenues.
David Greenwood of Greenwood & Langlois, the development company that proposed the project, said of the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the appeal: "It's disappointing, as I'm sure it is to 50% of the voters who approved the project. We haven't made any decisions yet. We're still assessing our options."