Court Rules For Neighborhood Group and Wetlands Activists, Invalidates City Hall's EIR For Proposed Studebaker/Loynes ("Home Depot") Development, Rules Document OK'd By Six LB Councilmembers Fails To Follow State Law
|(Feb. 21, 2008, updated from breaking) -- A Norwalk Superior Court judge this morning (Feb. 21) invalidated a LB City Hall-issued "Environmental Impact Report" for the proposed Studebaker/Loynes ("Home Depot") commercial development.|
View looking eastward from west of project site
The Court found that the document -- approved in Oct. 2006 by Councilmembers Bonnie Lowenthal, Suja Lowenthal, Gary DeLong, Laura Richardson, Tonia Reyes Uranga and Val Lerch -- failed to follow California's Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in evaluating the proposed development's impacts.
LBReport.com will be providuing a link to the Court's ruling shortly...which grants a Petition for Writ of Mandate sought by the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust and the University Park Estates Neighborhood Association.
The grassroots groups used personally conducted research, grassroots fundraisers and the internet in successfully countering the full weight of LB City Hall (including 3rd district Council incumbent Gary DeLong)...and endured multiple editorials/commentaries criticizing their position in the LB Press Telegram, Beachcomber and Grunion Gazette.
Attorney Doug Carstens, who successfully litigated the case for the Petitioning groups, said the result is "very significant, and the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust and University Park Estates Neighborhood Association really deserve the credit for pursuing this action. The Court's ruling is a strong statement that Environmental Impact Reports will have to meet the tests of adequacy, completeness and a good faith effort at full disclosure."
Dotted line indicates project site.
Image source: CA Coastal Comm'n exhibit
What's next? "The City [City Hall] will have an opportunity to reevaluate future applications for the future of the site...This is an opoportunity for a different project, not just a different EIR. The City is in the midst of reevaluating its SEADIP [SE area development plan] and a reevaluation of that particular site can be part of that process," Mr. Carstens said.
What about the possibility [raised in some newspaper editorials] that the property owner might turn the site [currently zoned "industrial"] into a truck terminal or container yard or the like? "That's really for others to evaluate...but it's a gem of a property," said Mr. Carstens.
At this morning's court hearing, the Court added a single sentence to its tentative ruling clarifying that its action doesn't seek to interpret Coastal Commission jurisdiction with respect to its proceedings.
Attorney Carstens called the additional verbiage innocuous and didn't oppose it. "Our position is that the Coastal Development Permit [now on separate appeal to the Coastal Commission] is void since the underlying Environmental Impact document is void. The Coastal Commission can only approve a project based on a legally valid Environmental document...and the Court has invalidated the EIR, so the Coastal Commission really has nothing to do on this for now." Mr. Carstens added, "I would hope the City wouldn't try to push forward to the Coastal Commission and see the wisdom in not evaluating a permit that's a legal nullity."
[update] Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais, who was present in Court for today's ruling, told LBReport.com that the Court's decision effectively leaves the applicant with decisions on how to proceed. The applicant could choose to pursue (and pay for) additional studies that the Court indicated are needed to sustain the EIR for the currently proposed project...or the applicant could choose to pursue a different project for the site.
Mr. Mais noted that legal requirements mean the applicant would bear the costs of additional studies, since the EIR is prepared by an independent consultant hired by City Hall...but the costs of that consultant are paid by the applicant. [end update]
This morning's court proceedings were attended by a number of LB area activists, savoring victory after being rebuffed by City Hall's Planning Commission, city staff and a Council majority.
"The wetlands are saved for now and we're celebrating with a smoothie," an exhuberant Ann Cantrell told LBReport.com.
This isn't just about the immediate neighbors," said Mr. Carstens. "These wetlands are a resource that benefits not just the City of Long Beach but all of the State of California...and taxpayers citywide and beyond have these two groups to thank for pursuing this issue."
On its website, the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust says:
In our vision for the future of the Los Cerritos Wetlands, life flourishes and beauty is restored. Walkways and viewing platforms will offer an intimate look at this one-of-a-kind natural setting. Schoolchildren reflecting the great cultural diversity of the surrounding high density urban region will be amazed by the strange and wonderful beings that call these wetlands their home. And hundreds of pristine, peaceful acres will provide a welcome refuge for resident and migratory wildlife--and people--at the water's edge.
Here is the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust's plan for restoration of the wetlands. Today, these are just lines on a map, but it is our hope they will one day be a reality of life and beauty reborn.
Long Beach alone has nearly half a million residents. Many are newly arrived from nearly every country in the world. In the inner cities of Long Beach and the Los Angeles basin, where many kids have never seen the beach, had a picnic by a stream, heard the song of a meadowlark or shriek of a hawk, or smelled the wildflowers or the sea, this project will provide a wilderness experience within a one hour school bus ride to 20 million people.
Unlike most restoration projects, the Los Cerritos Wetlands Project seeks to restore a high functioning estuary in a densely urban setting of unparalleled cultural diversity. What Central Park is to New York City, the Los Cerritos Wetlands can be to Long Beach and surrounding cities--a virtual oasis inside a culturally diverse ethnic community with highly dense urban sprawl.
Image source: Los Cerritos Wetlands Landtrust (www.lcwlandtrust.org).
In Oct. 2006, over the dissents of Councilmembers Patrick O'Donnell, Gerrie Schipske and Rae Gabelich, a City Council majority approved the EIR following roughly five hours of testimony by city staff, the land owner/developer, EIR appellants and the public.
The vote came at roughly 11:35 p.m. after several of the appellants urged 3d district Councilman DeLong to support a moratorium on eastside commercial/industrial development until completion of a master plan...and made similar appeals to Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, citing her pressure for a moratorium on downtown matters. Both declined...and supported the project.
Former 3rd district Councilman Doug Drummond opposed the project via a letter read into the record, urging completion of a master plan first. Former LB City Manager James Hankla (now Harbor Commissioner, stating his opinion in his personal capacity as an ELB resident) supported the project via a letter read into the record.
Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal moved to deny the EIR appeals, certify the EIR and "add conditions of approval requiring Home Depot to (1) demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning and Building to achieve lead certification and (2) the Home Depot will to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning and Building provide a fair share contribution to the restoration of Los Cerritos wetlands within one year of the opening of the store, provided that a special improvement district or other legal mechanism is established or dedicated to the restoration of the Los Cerritos wetlands." Councilman Val Lerch seconded.
Councilman Gary DeLong said he would support the project on grounds something will be developed on the site, a commercial development is preferable to an industrial use and the city needs the project's revenues. Councilman DeLong agreed that an eastside master plan was needed and said he's invited residents to develop one...for the future.
Councilman Patrick O'Donnell cited wetlands and traffic impacts and advocated sending the project back to find additional mitigation measures. Councilwoman Laura Richardson supported the project.
Vice Mayor Lowenthal concluded by saying she believes all parts of the city should be treated equally and doesn't want any more sales tax dollars going to Signal Hill or elsewhere.
Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga indicated that as an AQMD Boardmember, she was concerned about the project's impacts. Councilwoman Reyes Uranga added that Home Depots near her district hadn't created negative impacts, wetlands projects weren't before the Council now and accordingly would support the project. [This made five supportive Council votes].
Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske said she believed the project needs to be returned to the Planning Commission for further consideration, citing concerns about legal findings needed to approve a conditional use permit, the development's potential to draw business away from existing ELB businesses...and problems with day laborers. She also cited a lack of analysis about having commercial project next to the AES power plant. Councilwoman Schipske said it's foolish for others to suggest that those on the Council concerned about the project are not cognizant of economic and revenue matters, but are concerned about quality of life and spot zoning.
Concilwoman Suja Lowenthal voiced concerns about storm water management and permeable asphalt and water-conserving strategies. She then cited comments made in Mr. Hankla's letter about the need for sales tax revenue and said she was concerned about the fiscalization of land use policy...and the decisionmaking wasn't optimal but is the legacy of Prop 13. Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal said the net revenues that would result from the Home Depot project distinguished it from the downtown Plaza Development which she opposed as a grassroots advocate, saying her opposition stemmed in part from the Plaza not scheduled to produce net revenue for the city for 21 years. She indicated the city shouldn't oppose projects on the eastside that it would allow elsewhere. She said the downtown visioning process/moratorium she supported downtown wasn't meant to hold up projects.
Further to follow on LBReport.com.
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