Editor’s note: Late Monday night the Huntington Beach City Council passed the Ripcurl project with modifications, including a 385 unit limit as proposed by city staff for the 3.8 acre site, with 50 percent on site affordable housing provided for moderate income levels (50 percent low income housing provided off site) and improved pedestrian walkways. The vote was 6-1 with Councilmember Jill Hardy voting no. The OC Voice will publish more details soon on this blog and in its next print edition on Nov. 24.
By Thu-Trang Tran
OC Voice Staff Writer
(Nov. 10, 2008 at 4 p.m.)
Jesus may have been a carpenter, but would he build a “green” high-density and mixed-use development of luxury apartments and hep boutiques on Gothard Avenue and Center Street across from Golden West College?
Red Oak Investments, seeking “To serve God in the marketplace,” according to company literature, will ask the Huntington Beach City Council tonight for permission to build the project, which it calls Ripcurl, heralding a radical new approach toward redevelopment in the city.
Ripcurl was previously approved by the planning commission but with 87 apartment units per acre on the 3.8-acre property, or 330 units total. Red Oaks wants 440 units per acre. Residential density is typically 15 units per acre but often goes over 35 units and sometimes as high as 50 units per acre at specific locations throughout the city.
The strongest advocates of change that Ripcurl represents are city planners and developers. They have been swept away by the “green” philosophy of New Urbanism, a more centralized approach to community planing that allows much higher population densities and mixes commercial with residential living in order to save space and cut down on automobile commutes.
But Ripcurl’s critics depict is as out of touch with Surf City’s life style and full of the Devil in its details, including increased traffic, parking problems and crime. They are busy organizing opposition to the Ripcurl and similar projects nearby and along the Edinger/Beach corridor.
With the exception of some minor changes recommended by city staff, Ripcurl shows little sign of slowing down, even though the city council hasn’t yet completed its evaluation of the proposed Beach-Edinger Specific Plan, which would drastically change land use for large sections of land west and south of the Beach-Edinger intersection, creating synergy between existing and future developments like Ripcurl, Village at Bella Terra and Murdy Commons-all mixed-use, high-rise, high-density projects.
Alex Wong, co-owner of Red Oaks, says that Ripcurl is his company’s way of practicing Christian ethics and green values in the marketplace. “We want to walk the walk and walk the talk, seven days a week, not one,” he told the Voice, adding that the public will see “a very high standard of ethical behavior,” from Red Oaks.
Wong promises that he and co-partner Joe Flanagan will carefully choose the kind of projects they do and where they build them. “We will not tear up agricultural land and virgin land out in the inland and make the city bigger than it already is,” he said.
For example, Wong is concerned about people who work in Newport Beach but have to live in Riverside, where housing is cheaper, and who pollute the air during their daily commute by car.
“While a lot of people want that house,” he explained, “I think a portion of Americans are perfectly happy and would prefer to live in very high quality in-fill housing, which is all we focus on.” Red Oaks will only use land that has already been developed, “rather than messing up new land,” he added.
The New Urbanism may help the environment, but it’s also more profitable for developers, who can sell more units on less land due to the higher densities allowed. As available land for development becomes scarce, as it is in Huntington Beach, its value rises. Although the current recession has curtailed home construction and sales, past practice shows that developers like Wong are looking for lucrative apartment deals that could lead to even more lucrative condo-conversion sales when the economy recovers.
Andrew Nelson, project manager at Red oak, says that Ripcurl will be the city’s first environmentally sustainable multi-family development. Plans include features like recycled or renewable building materials, drought-tolerant landscaping, low-flow showers, electric-car stations and a pool heated by solar energy, among others.
Other than Wong’s promises of green and godly ethics, however, there’s little indication of how green and ethical Ripcurl will actually be. The word green isn’t mentioned on the official Red Oak web site and the majority of the city council, still true believers in the efficiency of the “free market,” are loathe to require developers to comply with the city’s self-proclaimed revolutionary green building standards.
But during an economic recession renters may worry a lot less about “living green” than how to pay their rent. Based on reports from Current Rod Oak tenants and comparable projects elsewhere, Ripcurl renters will pay between $1,700 – $3,800 per month for bachelor or 1 or 2 bedroom apartments.
Density and aesthetics are blocking concerns for Ripcurl critics like Pamela Vallot, who complained in a letter to city officials that an artist’s rendering of Ripcurl makes it look “like a prison” and that it would “stick out like a sore thumb.” Working with community groups Huntington Beach Tomorrow and Citizens Against the Ripcurl, Vallot is circulating a petition asking the city to reject the proposal until more citizen input is considered.
Critics also worry about the 63 percent rise in traffic-cited in Ripcurl’s Environmental Impact Report-that will cause longer delays for motorists using the 405 freeway ramps at Center Avenue and Beach Boulevard.
Not everyone is a Ripcurl critic, however. Huntington Beach resident Judy Secor wrote, “Having a new development offers the chance to get rid of lower class tenants, thus improving the area and preventing crime.” Supporters include other area residents, operators of nearby establishments and current lessees at the site.
But some existing tenants say that Red Oaks hasn’t been ethical in its dealings with them, despite its promises. “They’ve been real nasty to all of the tenants here,” said Kathy May, proprietor of Kathy May’s Restaurant. She waged a legal battle with Red Oak last year to get the lights for a parking lot sign fixed-which took until 10 months after he initial request and caused her to lose a lot of business, she said.
May said she believes that Red Oak is trying to push tenants out, mainly by raising rent and pressuting the city into approving Ripcurl. A tenant, who requested anonymity, said he has encountered people interested in renting, but Red Oak wouldn’t lease to them. Meanwhile, selected tenants have received relocation arrangements by way of reduced rent for agreeing to not renew their leases, says Samuel Cubete, another tenant. Note: Red Oaks did not respond to Voice requests for comment on these assertions by press time.
If approved tonight by the city council, Ripcurl will begin construction in July 2009 and could take up to two years to complete. The city council meeting starts at 6 p.m. at city hall.
Oddly, Golden West College will host a community forum on Ripcurl on Nov. 12, two days after tonight’s city council vote. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Student Center at 15744 Goldenwest Street. Representatives for Ripcurl and Bella Terra will be present.