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Whiting: Seal Beach readies to develop last oceanfront stretch

Whiting: Seal Beach readies to develop last oceanfront stretch

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Rudy Castaneda of Anaheim takes a selfie with his distracted dog and riding companion, Roberto, after the couple finished a ride to Seal Beach from Anaheim along the San Gabriel River Trail Seal Beach on Tuesday. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Vuong Nguyen of Leisure World goes through her morning Tai Chi exercises at the current end of the Seal Beach pier. , MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Main Street in Seal Beach offers a mix of shops that includes California Seashell Co. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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A jogger approaches a sign near a 10.5-acre lot at Marina Drive and First Street announcing a public forum Nov. 9 to address the future of the Seal Beach site. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Bong Nguyen of Long Beach joked that he hopes he isn’t fined for using a water fountain to give some pigeons a drink while walking along the Seal Beach Pier on Tuesday. , MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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A couple takes pictures in the sand dunes at the west end of Seal Beach on Tuesday. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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A visitor and his dog spend a moment with the Salon Meritage shooting memorial at the west end of Eisenhower Park in Seal Beach on Tuesday. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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The end of the San Gabriel River Bike Trail in Seal Beach gets busy with bikers even on a Tuesday morning. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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A four-legged friend walks across the recently installed centennial bricks that were a fundraising tool for the city’s 100th birthday celebration. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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From left to right, John Isely, Ron Wood, John Merchant and Bill McDannel have coffee and bask in the morning sun in front of Bogarts Coffee House in Seal Beach on Tuesday. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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The sand berm to protect homes from the winter swells of the ocean was still being built in Seal Beach on Tuesday. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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A man has Main Street to himself for a morning walk in Seal Beach on Tuesday. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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In the last 10 years, Seal Beach Boulevard, on both sides north of the 405 Freeway, has seen a makeover with new shops and restaurants. , MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Demographics: 76.9 percent white, 9.6 percent Latino, 9.6 percent Asian, 3.5 percent two or more races

Source: U.S. Census, CoreLogic

This is part of an ongoing series highlighting every Orange County city.

With thousands of houses under construction in Orange County, a development inked for 30 new homes may seem like no big deal. But when it comes to a town so small the mayor calls it a village, the development of the last patch of virgin beachfront land is a very big deal.

Seal Beach Mayor Ellery Deaton stands before a 10.5-acre lot on the west edge of town, which ends at the mouth of the San Gabriel River. The site is filled with wildflowers and weeds, and almost anywhere else wouldn’t have taken a 15-year battle to develop.

But this vacant site is spectacular, unique. On a recent morning, a sea breeze rustles grasses where white egrets take flight. To the west, the white dome that once housed Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose airplane glistens. The brown ridgeline of the Palos Verdes Peninsula contrasts with a cerulean sky. To the south, ocean waves sparkle like so many diamonds.

A Seal Beach resident for a half-century, Deaton is wary of change and especially of development. Yet this former planning commission chairwoman smiles when she gazes at the lot.

Deaton points to a street sign above, Central Way. She explains that Central Way marks exactly how close to the ocean the homes will reach – only about one-third of the way south from the north end of the lot.

The rest of the land, the chunk that stretches toward sand, will become a 6.4-acre park.

Sure, the investors won’t make as much as they’d hoped. Part of that can be blamed on the Coastal Commission. And Deaton is OK with that.

Fiercely proud of the town, Deaton, a retired English teacher, is equally protective of her village. “Things have to be in balance.”


Just blocks away from the lot lies the Seal Beach Pier, and I ask if there is a vendor yet to replace Ruby’s, a once-popular spot for locals as well as tourists and a terrific spot to watch the sunset. City Manager Jill Ingram says repairs on the pier continue and reports the city is still looking for a vendor to build a new restaurant.

“Our tax base,” the mayor allows, “is not what people think. We have everything from waitresses to Leisure World residents to million-dollar homes on what we call our Gold Coast. But our needs are a lot more significant than inland cities.”

Not only does Seal Beach fund a force of lifeguards, for example, it also spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year building a sand berm to stave off flooding from storms.

With the forecast of El Niño-generated storms this winter, costs are expected to be especially high. Already, sandbags are at fire stations and emergency water pumps are parked around town.

Still, there is much more to Seal Beach than beachfront. City borders extend north of I-405, all the way to Los Alamitos and unincorporated Rossmoor. That area plays a large role in fueling the city’s economy.

Massive renovation started a decade ago on both sides of Seal Beach Boulevard near the Los Alamitos border. It has transformed the thoroughfare and helped increase sales tax revenues.

Once run down, The Shops at Rossmoor combined with the remodeled Old Ranch Town Center offer Bed Bath & Beyond, Sprouts Farmers Market, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and more.

The outdoor mall’s 21st-century vibe is markedly different than tree-lined Main Street, where young people easily mix with retirees over cups of coffee. Main Street’s eclectic mix of retail and restaurants includes four Irish pubs as well as such shops as Endless Summer, Trucker Mouth Clothing and Up Up & Away Kites.

As we walk and talk along Main Street, three uniformed police officers wearing shorts and riding bicycles roll by. “If we don’t keep the soul of Main Street,” the mayor maintains, “we lose what defines us.”

After three blocks, Main Street crosses Electric Avenue, where electric-powered Red Cars started rolling in 1904. The old tracks are long gone, replaced by a greenbelt. A renovated Red Car remains, a symbol of the city’s history.

By the car, there’s an original 115-year-old beach cottage scheduled for restoration. The cottage, barely big enough for a big-screen TV and couch, is a reminder of more modest times.

Deaton mentions the city has had a two-story limit on homes for seven years. She adds the city also has long had minimum 30-day stays for vacation rentals.


The mayor stops by the pierside memorial for the eight people killed in the 2011 Salon Meritage shootings.

There is a low-slung concrete bench in the shape of an open-ended heart. A metal plaque is inscribed with the names of the dead: Victoria Buzzo, David Caouette, Laura Webb Elody, Randy Lee Fannin, Michele Daschbach Fast, Michelle Marie Fournier, Lucia Bernice Kondas, Christy Lynn Wilson.

“We need to remember this could happen anywhere,” says Deaton.

The small area is quiet, modest, solemn. It’s also not in your face. If you’re taking kids to the beach, the memorial would be out of sight, out of mind. In short, it is in balance with a city incorporated a century ago that wants to honor but not dwell on the tragedy.

As if to bring home her point about keeping things in balance, the mayor crosses to the other side of the pier entrance. She points to a large clock erected to celebrate the city’s centennial. With four adult children and 11 grandchildren, she says only half-jokingly, “Now kids won’t have an excuse for coming home late from the beach.”

What makes Deaton especially happy is the clock wasn’t bought with tax dollars, but by Lion’s Club volunteers.

Her point isn’t about about saving city bucks, though that’s always a plus. It’s about the strength of the community’s spirit.

Contact the writer: dwhiting@ocregister.com

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The Orange County Register – News Headlines : Real Estate News