MOORLACH UPDATE — Bolsa Chica — February 14, 2014

The Second District has three large remaining unincorporated areas that can be easily identified on the map below. Going from south to north, they are Banning Ranch (bordered by Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach), Bolsa Chica (in Huntington Beach), and Rossmoor (bordered by Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Los Angeles County/Long Beach). The first two areas have no to minimal populations and are mainly open space.

One of my priorities as a County Supervisor has been to encourage the annexation of unincorporated areas within the Second District into appropriate cities. I believe local government is the best form of governance. Successes include West Santa Ana Heights into Newport Beach, an island in Fountain Valley, a couple of islands in Stanton, and Sunset Beach into Huntington Beach. We worked on Bolsa Chica a few years ago, but there was some hesitancy. I’m happy to report that the city of Huntington Beach is reconsidering annexing Bolsa Chica and giving it another thorough analysis and review. The OC Register’s Huntington Beach Wave covers the activity below.

BONUS: Wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day!

H.B. working with county to annex Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve


The city could take control of rare open space along Huntington Beach’s coastline and get the chance to create a park that connects Central Park to Pacific Coast Highway if it moves to annex the county-run Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

City officials are in talks with the county to annex 1,500 acres of the area, including 1,300 acres of the ecological reserve and 200 acres of privately owned land. The city has plans for a 114-acre regional park for the area, but officials say they want more of a financial commitment from the county before they agree to the annexation.

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, who also sits on the county Local Agency Formation Commission, which would handle the annexation, said moving forward makes sense for the city and its residents.

“Bolsa Chica is in Huntington Beach, and that’s where all the activists and naturalists and environmentalists that are concerned about Bolsa Chica reside,” he said. “It just seems that it would be an opportunity to make sure they have the kind of control over the area that would benefit (the community).”

The area is currently served by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Orange County Fire Authority. If annexed, public safety would be put under the city’s jurisdiction.

It would also give the City Council a say in what projects and plans can be approved for the area.

“I would be in favor of bringing this land into the city,” Councilwoman Connie Boardman said. “I would just like to see this land in more local control than in county control.”

The city first looked at annexing the area in 2009, but the council at the time decided to hold off, saying there were too many unknowns, including future maintenance costs and liability issues involving flooding and the wetlands.

Although some council members still share some of those concerns, officials said they welcome the opportunity to continue negotiations with the county.

“If we decide to do this, we’re going to have to get a large chunk of money to do it,” said Councilman Joe Carchio.


A city report shows Huntington Beach would nearly break even the first year if annexation moves forward. The city would get about $130,000 from oil-extraction taxes on the property and expects to spend about $151,000 to make the plan official.

Oil-extraction revenue would dwindle over time as production slows. The city’s report estimates that by 2030, wells would be dry and the sites would need to be cleaned before being turned over for parkland use.

The county currently maintains the 4-acre Harriett M. Wieder Regional Park on the site and has offered to pay the $39,000 maintenance fee for five years after annexation.

City officials said it is too early to know what kind of costs would be associated if the park were expanded to the planned 114 acres.

“We’re taking on at least $39,000 a year, depending on maintenance,” Councilwoman Jill Hardy said. “If we were to annex it, then I think that should be an argument within our negotiations to see if the county can help us out.”

Moorlach said the county is open to discussing how it could compensate the city.

“The regional park is about the only bone of contention that we have,” he said. “I’m willing to entertain any offers Huntington Beach would like to put on the table, but it has to be reasonable. It has to make sense.”

Officials will meet with the county Tuesday to continue negotiations.

If the city decides to move forward, an environmental review of the annexation could start in November.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7953 or jfletcher

Who does what?

State Lands Commission: They oversee the ongoing restoration projects in the area and contract with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to implement the projects. The annexation would not change the agency’s role.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife: Staffs the ecological reserve and maintains day-to-day operations. Their work would continue if the annexation is approved.

County of Orange: Provides municipal services for the area and also maintain the 4-acre park in the area. The annexation would mean municipal services would be provided by the city.

Aera Energy, LLC: The company is the primary rights holder for oil production in the lowlands.

Local nonprofits: Three nonprofits have a stake in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve: the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, the Bolsa Chica Conservancy and the Amigos de Bolsa Chica. They organize tours, education campaigns, raise money for projects and host cleanups, among other efforts to save and restore the area.

Source: The city of Huntington Beach

Educational center part of proposal

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy has plans for an Interpretive Center that would serve as a focal point of the planned 114-acre Harriett M. Wieder Regional Park.

Although plans are preliminary, conservancy officials say they want a space around 6,000 square feet that could serve well beyond the 16,000 visitors the current facility sees every year.

"What we hope to do is build a new center for coastal ecology, which is an education and restoration center that would be deemed as a regional hub for environmental and science-based education, as well as restoration efforts," said Grace Adams, conservancy executive director.

The conservancy is tasked with raising the funds to build the center. Once construction is complete, the county would take over the building and its maintenance.

If the city were to annex the area, voters would have to approve the project before it could be built.

Huntington Beach’s Measure C says any development slated for parkland that would cost more than $100,000 needs to be put on the ballot.

The conservancy’s current facility is a collection of trailers totaling about 1,400 square feet. The nonprofit hosts students from prekindergarten through college for various educational programs.

"Teachers love bringing their kids here because they get hands-on experience," Adams said. "We’re building upon the lessons within the four walls of the classroom."

The conservancy also runs various restoration efforts out of its facility, including removing non-native species from the reserve and hosting cleanups and tours.

Adams said she believes if the land were under the city’s control, it would benefit the conservancy and its goals and Huntington Beach.

"We want everybody to support (the center) because we believe it has long-lasting benefits to the community," she said.

How long will it take?

Here’s a look at a tentative timeline at annexing the Bolsa Chica lowlands.

February: Prepare documents to apply to the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).

April 2014: Work with the county to negotiate a tax sharing agreement. Work with landowners to make sure maintenance requirements for the area will be met.

November 2014: Environmental review of the project begins.

February 2015: Planning Commission takes up the project.

April 2015: A public hearing on the annexation goes to City Council.

August 2015: LAFCO approves the city’s application.

Disclaimer: You have been added to my MOORLACH UPDATE communication e-mail tree. In lieu of a weekly newsletter, you will receive occasional media updates, some with commentary to explain the situation, whenever I appear in the media (unless it is a duplication of a previous story).

I have two thoughts for you to consider: (1) my office does not usually issue press releases to get into the newspapers (only in rare cases); and (2) I do not write the articles, opinions or letters to the editor.

This message should appear at the bottom of every e-mail you receive. If these e-mails should stop arriving in your mail box, it will be because your address has changed and you did not provide a new one. If you do not wish to receive these e-mails, then please e-mail back and request to unsubscribe.