Heads/Up: Do You Want This? See Maps Showing City Staff Recommended Increased Density/Increased Bldg Hts Citywide And In Your Neighborhood; Mayor-Picked Planning Comm'n Will Make Voted Recommendations This
|(August 12, 2017, 12:30 p.m.) -- LBREPORT.com encourages readers in Long Beach neighborhoods citywide to closely examine the maps at the link below. They show city staff-proposed increased heights and increased density that would become allowable in neighborhoods citywide if City Hall's non-elected Planning Commission votes on August 17 to approve them and sends them without changes to the elected City Council, and if a City Council majority approves them without changes in the coming months.
Make sure to tell your friends and neighbors (via email and in person) about what's proposed and feel free to link to this LBREPORT.com report. It's possible that your Councilmember may not have fully informed you, or sought to downplay, the magnitude of proposed changes. Some examples:
And these are just a few of many changes. The maps on the link below show the most recent proposed increased building heights and increased density levels recommended by city staff for Planning Commission voted action on Thurs. Aug. 17.
Click below and scroll through the maps to find your neighborhood and others of interest. Areas marked 3ST, 5ST and the like mean "3 stories" or "five stories."
A map legend is below:
The dark purple areas would allow "mixed uses" -- combining commercial and residential. Red areas are purely commercial.
City staff lists its proposed "Placetypes" and the types of uses allowed within them in its proposed Land Use Element, Table LU3 at p. 65. Table LUE3 still applies although some maps and placetypes have been revised as indicated in maps linked above and at this link.
What's taking place is an update to the Land Use Element (LUE) of the City's General Plan. The full plan [CAVEAT: as published in Feb. 2017] is here. It's now amended by the proposed maps linked above (and here) which are coming to the Planning Commission on Aug. 17 at 5 p.m.
City staff's proposed Land Use Element (LUE) rewrite does more than update the city's Land Use Element; it changes the way City Hall treats land uses citywide. It replaces neighborhood descriptions with citywide fungible "PlaceTypes" that list the types of uses allowed in neighborhoods deemed basically similar (example: single family residential areas whether they're in Wrigley, Bixby Knolls, North Long Beach or East Long Beach.)
The Planning Commission (Mayor-picked/Council approved) will take public testimony and may or may not make changes to what city staff has proposed, and then forward the Commission's non-binding recommendations to the City Council. (A city staff report accompanying the Planning Commission Aug. 17 meeting is here.)
A few weeks or months after the Planning Commission's voted recommendations, the issue will come to the City Council, and Councilmembers may or may not make changes before a Council majority votes to enact Land Use changes citywide that will trigger zoning changes citywide.
At some point in the coming months (date not yet certain but could be soon), the City Council may or may not make changes before adopting the Land Use Element revisions. No vote of the people is required (although the Council could require one.) When ultimately adopted with or without changes by a City Council majority, it will become the legal foundation for subsequent changes to LB zoning rules that specify what homeowners and commercial property owners can or can't do with their properties citywide.
Five of nine Council incumbents -- Gonzalez, Price, Mungo, Uranga and Richardson -- will face voters in April 2018; Mayor Garcia (who also faces re-election in April) has no vote, only a veto that six Councilmembers can override..
Some of the areas slated for increased building heights and density (see map legend above) would allow "mixed uses," effectively returning to pre-WWII practices that allowed residences above or below businesses.
The density increases (commercial or combined commercial/residential) would be felt citywide, but especially in sprawling, easterly parts of LB's 4th and 5th Council districts which were designed after WWII to provide -- and families chose to invest in because of -- their low-rise, non-urbanized, suburban quality of life with a vehicle-oriented lifestyle in which residential and commercial areas are separated, not "mixed." Today, this runs headlong into Sac'to legislation and regional planning that seeks to reduce "greenhouse gases" by discouraging vehicle use and favoring pedestrian, transit uses. This includes giving developers "incentives" (including reduced parking requirements) for projects that put commercial and/or residential density within a quarter mile of well-serviced transit (rail and/or bus) corridors.
In addition, the Land Use Element rewrite would allow residential density from the current 7 dwelling units per acre (the standard for LB single family neighborhoods, including ELB) to a very dense 18 dwelling units per acre. Eighteen dwelling units per acre is more dense than the controversial "Riverwalk" townhouse residential development on the former Will J. Reid scout park site west of LB Blvd. along the L.A. River; a previous Council allowed roughly 14 dwelling units per acre for the Crown Point development built in the late 1970s in part of the Los Cerritos Park neighborhood.
Christopher Koontz, City Hall's Advance Planning Officer and the city management staffer with a creator's expertise on details of the proposed Land Use Element rewrite, tells LBREPORT.com via email that 18 dwelling units per acre is the absolute maximum in the Founding and Contemporary Neighborhoods PlaceType. He adds that the "vast, vast, vast [reiterates it three times for emphasis] majority of existing single family neighborhoods will remain as they are today." Mr. Koontz continues: "In the event new land comes available, such as a school or church closing, and it is developed as single family, the land use element would guide that future development. These could be traditional single family homes, traditional homes on small lot, row homes or duplexes. They would not include 'condos' as those are typically understood because this placetype is not intended to include stacked or 'multifamily' buildings." Mr. Koontz cites the accompanying Urban Design Element (to accompany the Land Use Element) which shows the different types of single family and duplex residences that could be developed in the future at this link, pp. 49-51 of the PDF (numbered pages 41-43 in the document.)
The net effect of the proposed changes would give commericial property interests a boost in their property values plus an economic incentive to replace their current uses with a taller and denser development. LB City Hall planners say the increased allowable density would encourage marketplace replacement of under-utilized or poorly-utilized areas (strip malls and the like) with upgraded "mixed use" developments.
City staff says allowing new denser developments would address the current housing shortage, encourage neighborhood pedestrian, bicycle and transit usage while reducing private vehicle usage and associated greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
However increased density brings increased traffic and less parking directly affecting nearby neighborhoods. In addition, from a citywide taxpayer perspective the need for police and fire service levels. However since FY10, LB Councils have erased roughly 20% of LBPD citywide deployable officers and left some LBFD stations without fire engines. To date (despite a Mayor/Council sought sales tax increase that has brought LB the highest sales tax rate in CA, shared with only a few cities) LB's incumbent Mayor/Council have restored fewer than 10% of citywide deployable officers, only one fire engine and one paramedic unit with no plans in place to restore the rest. (Mayor Garcia's recommended FY18 budget proposes no increase in police or fire service levels for taxpayers over FY17 levels and at an Aug. 8 Council budget hearing, no Councilmembers raised the issue; see LBREPORT.com coverage here and here.)
City staff's proposed Land Use changes don't address these impacts. At the same time, city staff plans to ask the Planning Commission (and ultimately the City Council) to approve a "Program Environmental Impact Report," a type of EIR (sometimes used for specific plans in limited areas) that could make it much harder -- in some cases basically impossible -- for residents to effectively challenge individual developer-proposed projects as they arise and may impact their neighborhoods. (City staff doesn't have to tie its proposed Land Use changes to a "program" EIR, but it has indicated it will do so after the Planning Commission decides on what changes, if any, to make in the now-pending proposed Land Use Element revisions. Current zoning will also be changed to make it consistent with the land use changes.
City staff's proposed density increases in the Land Use Element revision follow increased density invited in a Council-adopted 2012 "Downtown Plan" (with high rise impacts and parking effects that have now riled a number of nearby residents.) In addition, city staff has proposed a now-pending revision to a key portion of SE LB's zoning ("SEASP") which would allow increased building heights (exceeding current Coastal Zone limits) along PCH commercial areas in the vicinity of 2nd St.
Many Long Beach residents recall with bitterness the damages done by previous developer-friendly Councils that in the 1980s enabled increased residential density that let "crackerbox" apartments displace single family residential homes in and around downtown Long Beach. At the time, City Hall officials and development interests argued that this would address a housing shortage and bring prosperity; instead, it brought multiple negative impacts (including chronic parking shortages) still felt today. (In 1992, 2nd Council district residents voted out their Council incumbent whose actions, including vanishing on crucial votes, invited this.)
Perhaps mindful of the now-notorious Council-enabled "crackerbox" apartment density, city staff proposes that the Council adopt an entirely new Urban Design Element. The Urban Design Element specifies what types of architecture and amenities City Hall will or won't allow, and in some cases will require, as part of its accompanying revised Land Use Element.
State law requires cities to periodically update the Land Use Element to their General Plan, which Long Beach hasn't done so since 1989. In the interim, the city has deviated from its previous plans. The 1989 Land Use Element envisioned that the Los Altos Drive-In at Spring St./Bellflower Blvd. would cycle to high end residential uses, but when a new landowner wanted commercial uses, a Council vote enabled the commercial uses familiar at the site today: Worthington Ford/K-Mart/Lowes et al.
City staff has made some changes from its initially proposed LUE revision. In response to public input, it accommodated Peninsula homeowners who wanted their three-story height limit kept intact, and reduced initially-proposed heights along 2nd St. in Belmont Shore.
At a Feb. 2, 2017 Planning Commission hearing -- when the Commission could have voted to send city staff's proposed Land Use revision to the City Council -- it declined to do so after mainly Wrigley area residents spoke in opposition to proposed height and density increases in their area. Their concerns were echoed some Planning Commissioners...some of whom voiced the view that density increases should be allocated "more fairly" citywide including parts of East Long Beach.
On April 6, 2017, the Planning Commission held a study session at NLB's Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library, which was again attended by a number of Wrigley area residents who opposed increased densities in their neighborhood. Also present were ELB residents Ann Cantrell and Corliss Lee. Ms. Lee testified in opposition to increased density in parts of ELB including the Spring St./Palo Verde Plaza area. Ms. Cantrell said density would be less objectionable at ELB's Towne Center along Carson St. at the 605 freeway (as it is separated from most ELB neighborhoods) but noted that she's lived in several parts of Long Beach over her 80 years and finds it disheartening to see residents of one part of the city pitted against the other over density to protect their quality of life.
Council approval of a new Land Use Element will ultimately trigger subsequent changes to LB's zoning codes because city zoning must be consistent with underlying allowed land uses. Changes may not be visible overnight, and might be subtle at first, occurring in some areas but not others; some might not happen at all, or if they do, they might be years away.
But over time, they could be profound and permanently affect what it's like to live in Long Beach.
Aug. 13, 2:07 p.m. Some text added, revised, paragraphing re-ordered and sentences shortened for clarity.
Aug. 14, 3:10 p.m. Text corrected to note three story, not four story, commercial areas allowed along Palo Verde south of the 405 freeway.
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