Tempers flare as Los Al Council fails to overrule ALUC “inconsistent” findings

Courtesy photo The U.S. Army Reserve preapres to depart JFTB with military officials. Courtesy file photo

Following an extended debate rehashing complicated governmental policies surrounding its approved housing element, the Los Alamitos City Council voted 3-2 to overrule the state’s Airport Land-Use Commission’s finding that three of its proposed housing sites were “inconsistent” with the approved land use surrounding the Joint Forces Training Base.

To overrule the ALUC finding, however, the Council requires a four-fifths majority said legal advisor Michael Daudt. This means at least four of the five Council members would have had to vote in favor of Council Member Shelley Hasselbrink’s motion to overrule the Commission’s finding.

For most Council items, a simple majority is sufficient.

At issue now is whether the city will retain control of its own housing element, which city officials claim could be in danger of decertification if ALUC’s finding was not overruled, while skeptics accused the city of using “scare tactics” and said such fears that residents mayhave to go to ALUC to “change a toilet” are overblown.

“ALUC is not here to control the city, you guys know that,” said Rossmoor resident Carol Churchill, who is an attorney and former Mayor of Signal Hill. “That’s not the case,” she said.

She said the city, in its staff reports, was “one-sided and biased. You’re leaving out the information about the base,” said Churchill, citing sections of the Public Utilities Code that she says govern the issue.

More than one commenter suggested the city knows full well that fears of an ALUC takeover of the city’s planning department are being used to strengthen the argument for overruling the ALUC finding.

Most of those who spoke for the overrule of ALUC cited local control and protection of the city’s housing element as their justification.

Mark Chirco, an attorney and former mayor, served five years on the Council before choosing to return to the private sector.

“This issue is totally different. However, it is not the state trying to erode our local control. Instead, it’s the airport land use commission trying to exert power over this city council and city residents,” he said.

“You can stop them [ALUC],” said Chirco. They are an unelected Advisory Commission that wants to control what happens here…but do not capitulate and give away power. Our residents deserve to keep it,” he said.

Backed by its consultants, city officials have assured residents they are on solid ground, overruling ALUC, which is a board of officials elected to other posts but then appointed by the state to serve on ALUC.

For instance, Seal Beal City Council member Schelly Sustarsic is a member of ALUC, a five-member appointed board that currently has only four members. While the board members of ALUC are elected officials, they do enjoy a fully capable technical staff charged with regulating air space and land use around airports.

In its own evaluation of the Los Alamitos housing element, which has subsequently been approved by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, ALUC found three potential sites identified within the city as “buildable” sites for housing to be “inconsistent” with the ALUC approved land use plan.

Most of the “inconsistency” involved noise issues that ENE has covered in previous stories.

At issue is the proposed Lampson housing project of 246 units. While the proceeding to overrule ALUC has “technically” nothing to do with the proposed Lampson Project, the site on which developers plan to build it is one of the three sites found to be “inconsistent.”
To alleviate the potential problem, the city attempted to follow the lead of other OC cities, including Seal Beach, Newport Beach, and Irvine, and simply “overrule” the ALUC finding.
“We take issue with some of the comments that were made,” said City Manager Chet Simmons, suggesting all the inferences that ALUC would not get involved with city planning were untrue.

“If we do not override, they [ALUC] will expect us to submit all of our items that are listed within the law for their approval,” Simmons said to the public and the council.
“HCD [Housing and Community Development] have told us that in the event that we do not override, they will start the process of decertification [of the housing element],” the city manager said.

Council member Emily Hibard chided the staff for allowing a letter supporting the overrule from an airport land use consultant that, she says, filed paperwork on behalf of Lampson Project developers with the FAA, to end up in the official city packet of documents without disclosing his work with Lampson.

Hibard was apparently referring to the presentation made by Nick Johnson of Johnson Aviation consultants. In his presentation, Johnson said his firm supports “smart land use” and aviation safety but never once mentioned, if Hibard’s assertion is true, that he filed documents with the FAA in some way supporting the Lampson project.

(In addition, Johnson ran a Letter to the Editor last week in the Event News Enterprise which made similar arguements in favor of the overrule but made no mention of having any affiliation with other linked projects).

“The truth will prevail,” she said.

In addition, Hibard pointed to the law suggesting that if the city does not overrule, there is no immediate loss of local control. The law is, she said, “the commission [ALUC] may require that the local agencies submit all subsequent actions, regulations, and permits to the Commission for review until its general plan or specific plan is revised.”

“So being that there are three problematic sites on our housing element, either unsafe or loud, the revision of that housing element, of those three sites … submitted back to ALUC; we’d get the green light and we’re back to normal,” she said.

“I just want to clarify,” said Mayor Tanya Doby, “we have a housing element, certified by the state and they did not see fit to get ALUC’s approval before they did it. So again, it begs the question, why do I have to do it? I’m already certified. I’m working backward,” she said.

“What I know is that HCD is on the hook right now. We’ve got legislation being written because they [HCD] have to redo the way they give us numbers.

“All of us are upset,” noted Doby, adding that “everybody’s fighting the housing mandates, but we have to go through certain channels. We cannot fight them in this room, and we can’t fight them by taking power away from ourselves,” said Doby.

Hasselbrink eventually moved to overrule ALUC, “keeping consistent with what I promised my residents I would do when I first took this seat nine years ago, to represent their best interest in the future of local control,” she said.

Council member Jordan Nefulda suggested “if you’re voting not to override ALUC, you’re actually doing more damage to the local community because then you’re taking our rights away.”

Hasselbrink, Nefulda, and Doby voted to overrule ALUC, while Council member Trisha Murphy and Hibard voted against it so the measure failed to get the four votes needed to pass.

Therefore, as of Monday, the city’s housing element remains “inconsistent” with the ALUC land use plan and the next steps are uncertain.

After the vote, Doby seemingly apologized to the public for voting to appoint Murphy to the Council representing District 2 (after the passing of the late Ron Bates). The Council voted to appoint Murphy until the next regular election on Nov. 5, 2024 rather than call a special election to fill the vacancy. Murphy was one of three candidates who applied for the appointment.

“I owe all of you an apology,” said Doby, “and I’m going to give it to you right now. Because (of the two NO votes) one of these people I appointed, so I apologize. You will get your opportunity to vote for the person who represents you,” said Doby as the meeting ended.
Raising her hand from her seat, Murphy answered, “That’s right, we’ll be able to do just that.”

On Tuesday, the ENE reached out to ALUC and spoke with Lea Choum, the Commission’s Executive Director.

With the city’s failure to overrule the findings of inconsistency, she said ALUC will now call a meeting to discuss the situation. Regarding the possibility of ALUC taking over the city’s planning department, in part or in whole as a result of the city’s failure to overrule the Commission’s findings, Choum said “I believe there is some confusion out there about that.”

The ENE on Tuesday also reached out to Sustarsic but as of press time, had not heard back.

Choum said the ALUC meeting to discuss the Los Al project “will be properly noticed to the public.”