Keep watching the skyscrapers
Keep watching the skyscrapers
Dustin Ames

A Global Conspiracy Involving High-Density Development Arrives In Huntington Beach

The dark conspiracy to create a one-world government has come at last to sunny Southern California, appearing in Huntington Beach last year with the opening of Elan, a 247-unit, luxury apartment complex on Beach Boulevard.

Elan is part of the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan (BECSP), a plan to revitalize a 459-acre stretch along Beach Boulevard. Officially, the plan is supposed to "enhance the economic performance, functionality and beauty of the Beach and Edinger Corridors in accordance with the forces of the free market." An integral feature of the plan is allowing the construction of 4,500 new residential units along Beach Boulevard and Edinger Avenue.

Proponents say the new high-density developments are necessary because Huntington Beach is 97 percent built-out. If the city is to grow at all, they say, the only way is up.

Opponents are having none of it. Many residents are concerned the new developments will threaten the existing aesthetic of Surf City. They point to Elan—built on the site of a former Shell gas station—as an example of the kind of blight they wish to avoid. Posting online, one resident deems it a "monstrosity." Another declares it "the worst building in Huntington Beach."

Other residents are worried that plans for new development will lead to overpopulation and increased traffic congestion. "It's bullshit," a local resident says. He is waiting for his car to be repaired at the Allen Tire Co. across the street from Elan. "We already have too many people. If they keep on building like this, we're going to end up like New York City."

What's wrong with New York City? "It's bullshit," he says.

Congestion can certainly be a problem in Huntington Beach. One resident complains that during the recent Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, traffic was backed up by at least 35 minutes. But the BECSP is supposed to account for any such increase in traffic by adding lanes in some areas and improving signal timing in others. Perhaps this is small consolation to those who fear that Huntington Beach is fast becoming the Big Orange.

A third group of residents—also opposed to high-density development—doesn't bother with arguments about aesthetics or congestion. It uses the language of the apocalypse.

These residents can most easily be found on social media, associated with a group called Huntington Beach Against High Density. On both Facebook and YouTube, the group's members rail against a force in Surf City politics that most seem to have overlooked: the "globalists."

One of the most popular tags on the group's Facebook is "Agenda 21," which is the UN's 1992 sustainability statement whose broad goals—including "no poverty" and "zero hunger"—occasionally sound like the vague declarations of beauty-pageant contestants or profiles on an environmental dating site. In other words, it's idealistic and hard to condemn. These days, it's also more ambitious: The UN recently set a 15-year deadline for its sustainability mission and accordingly renamed the statement Agenda 2030.

Members of HB Against HD see something very sinister in Agenda 2030, with views closely resembling those of Alex Jones and Glenn Beck. Many of them earnestly believe that "globalists"—those associated with the UN and Agenda 2030—are operating in Huntington Beach under the guise of high-density development to drive families from their homes and herd them into high-rises (what they call "stack and packs") in dense urban centers. One user, who goes by the handle "Grindall Grindall," posted a video containing tips for "getting around after they get you out of your car." Another video purports to reveal a "globalist document" for "walling off cities by 2030."

Though Huntington Beach's anti-development crowd is diverse—including those who are primarily concerned about aesthetics, those who are worried about congestion, and those who believe it's all a conspiracy to establish a New World Order—one thing is clear: They have friends in high places.

Mayor Jim Katapodis has defended their concerns. "I think people are seeing a lot of building going on, [and] they just want it to stop," he says.

Councilman Erik Peterson, lionized on the HB Against HD website, has consistently voted to stop new development. He has justified his anti-development position on the grounds that it affirms Huntington Beach's status as a charter city, providing "more autonomy from the state."

With allies such as these, it looked for a while as if high-density development might be doomed in Surf City. In early 2015, Peterson proposed a moratorium on all new development. It passed the City Council 5-2. Later that year, the City Council compromised, rescinding the moratorium and slashing 2,400 residential units from the original plan.

The Kennedy Commission, a nonprofit advocacy group, promptly sued Huntington Beach for violating affordable-housing regulations. But Michael Gates, the city's attorney, fought back in the courtroom.

After losing both round one and an appeal, it looks as though Gates picked the wrong fight. Councilman Mike Posey estimates Huntington Beach has so far spent—wasted, he says—more than $600,000 in Gates' legal bid to restrict the development of new housing. And that expense line will probably climb higher: Gates said he would continue to fight the judge's ruling. In May, the city won a temporary stay, which allows them to continue holding back new development until the case can be heard by the Court of Appeal later this year.

Posey and others have defended the new development. They say it would be an economic boon, boosting property-tax revenue and helping fund improvements to the city's infrastructure. They argue this would in turn attract new businesses in a virtuous cycle of rising property- and sales-tax revenues. Just as important, they say, the plan would add to the housing supply at a time when Orange County's real-estate market is reaching new, giddy highs.

Opponents simply don't see it that way. "We want to preserve our unique beach community," one local says as he glances up at Elan from outside a nearby Denny's. "That's not what we want," he says.

With its sweeping curves, jutting angles and vivid teal exterior, Elan certainly stands out among the car dealerships and strip malls on Beach Boulevard. Seeing it for the first time, one might even begin to wonder how a luxury apartment building ever came to find itself caught between a run-down shopping center and a Jack In the Box.

Maybe that's the conspiracy.

Blake Dixon, a senior at Yale majoring in economics, is a journalism fellow at the California Policy Center in Tustin.

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