UPDATED Editorial

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(April 6, 2017, 4:50 p.m.) -- SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: In the 2 p.m. hour on April 6, city staff put online for the public an agendizing memo, maps and documentation showing "optional modifications to PlaceTypes and height limits" previously proposed in the City's land use element and a brief analysis of the optional changes. These are materials on which the Planning Commission will conduct a study session tonight (April 6) starting at 5 p.m. at the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library, 5870 Atlantic Ave. has NOT had an opportunity to fully review these materials; we provide this information as breaking. The maps show the following areas: Bellflower Boulevard, Lakewood Boulevard, Los Coyotes Diagonal, East 7th Street, Pacific Coast Highway, Atlantic Avenue, South Street, Artesia Boulevard, Cherry Avenue, Palo Verde Avenue, Long Beach Boulevard, the Traffic Circle, Pacific Avenue, and the Wardlow Blue Line Station. City staff's accompanying memo states:

These exhibits are meant to facilitate discussions with the Commissioners and members of the public on appropriate locations to accommodate future population and employment growth while also advancing General Plan goals for open space, active living, improved design, sustainability, and overall quality of life. When providing specific feedback to staff, the Planning Commission should consider the information presented at previous study sessions and the February 2, 2017, public hearing, public comment received to date, and the attached exhibits with optional changes. The intent of this General Plan update is to create guidance that is Citywide in context and also neighborhood specific in recognizing the unique character of local neighborhoods. By acknowledging the existing defining characteristics of each neighborhood and focusing major changes in land use to specific areas, it is possible to determine appropriate locations for targeted housing and em ployment growth opportunities. At this study session, staff requests specific feedback from the Planning Commission on the proposed changes to the PlaceType Map and height limits and direction on further study sessions and/or hearings.

The materials can be viewed at the following City of Long Beach link: here

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(Original text: April 4, 2017, 2:30 p.m.) -- On April 6, LB's Planning Commission will hold what it lists as a "study session" but in our opinion is more accurately a non-study session. As of dawn April 4, there's no written report or other materials online that show the public (and the media) what staff proposes to "study" at the "study session."

In our opinion, a study session without material available to study by Commissioners, Councilmembers AND the public is a non-study session. We acknowledge that various LB Commissions and the City Council have allowed this procedure for years. We believe it's time to change this because the current procedure is non-transparent and impedes meaningful public participation. Consider what's scheduled for Thursday April 6 for a Planning Commission "study session" on what's agendized as "the Land Use and Urban Design Elements." The truth is, based on the Commission's Feb. 2 proceedings, the "study session" will likely focus on increased commercial and residential densities and higher building heights that non-elected city staff want and residents in some impacted LB neighborhoods don't want (citing traffic, parking and other issues.) Wrigley residents opposed city staff-proposed density increases at a Feb. 2 Planning Commission hearing, which led Planning Commissioners to ask city staff to come up with options for shifting proposed density elsewhere. (The official euphemism is "more equitable" distribution of density, which we read as "put it in ELB" (the Planning Commission's chair suggested the area near LBCC's ELB campus.

At the April 6 Planning Commission study session, we expect city staff will unveil proposals to further tweak and amend its proposed Land Use Element to allow increased density in additional parts of ELB. We can't report exactly where or what staff has in mind, and impacted neighborhoods can't prepare questions and raise issues, because (as of noon April 4) details on city staff hasn't put its proposed changes online. Yes, we think city staff knows exactly what it wants to do and where it wants to do it by now and is basically hiding it until the "study session."

On April 3, invoked a section of the Brown (open meetings) Act that [very rough summary] requires that when a majority of members of legislative bodies (like the Planning Commission or City Council) are shown written materials pertaining to an agenda item, the public can get access to the documents. (Details and the procedure is in CA Gov't Code section 54957.5, which can be seen here, scroll to section 54957.5)

We requested these materials, and in response a spokesperson for City Hall's Department of Development Department politely replied that the April 6 Commission meeting is only a study session, there's no advance staff report on the agenda item; day-of materials are still being finalized, and once available, the material (as we requested) can be emailed to us or provided via a link that we and the public can access...and when the agenda items are available, we'd get them for reference.

From our standpoint, the bottom line is: if nothing changes between now and 5 p.m. April 6, we expect the Planning Commission "study session" (like other LB Commission and Council "study sessions") to consist of a city staff-staged Power Point slide show explaining what city staff wants, perhaps some written copies, with the public kept in the dark until the last minute and leaving reporters to regurgitate city staff's position after the meeting is over. Meanwhile, the public will have been blind sided, prevented from knowing matters potentially affecting their their neighborhoods, unable to prepare responses to what city staff proposes at study session until after the study session has already "studied" the matter and ended. City Hall's next step is then too often to rubberstamp city staff's desires via Commission recommendation of City Council voted action.

This isn't what a City that professes fidelity to transparency and meaningful public participation should practice or accept. It's an especially sensitive matter after previous Long Beach officials portrayed density as a way to address housing needs and bring prosperity...and let rapacious developer-driven density destabilize and damage desirable neighborhoods (with "crackerbox" multi-unit buildings.) Now a new generation of city staffers proposes significant revisions to the City's Land Use Element (on top of a separately proceeding revisions to SE LB's zoning in SEASP.)

The proposed Land Use Element revision hasn't been a secret. It's gone through various drafts, public meetings and has been reported by us and others...and include various rationalizations for proposing to allow increased density in various parts of Long Beach. It portrays density as a positive step, more carefully targeted now than in the past, better planned (including an accompanying urban design element), a tool to improve and uplift neighborhoods, not harm them.

Fine...but we believe residents of impacted neighborhoods should ultimately be the best judge of that. We do expect city staff will offer new proposals on April 6. We'd like to know what they are now.

We urge City Hall's Development Dept. to put what its staff plans for Commission "study" on April 6 on line immediately so the public can study it before it's handed to them.

We further urge the Planning Commission, and all other LB Commissions and the City Council, to instruct city staff that from now on, city staff should provide written materials for review by Commissioners and the public at least a week before scheduled "study sessions." As taxpayers in a City where officials voice fidelity to transparency and openness, Long Beach residents deserve more than non-transparent non-study sessions.

[The Planning Commission "study session" will be held at the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library, 5870 Atlantic Ave., April 6, 5 p.m.]

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