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Scherer Park/Police Station Development: LBUSD confirms former "Dooley's" site, studied in City Hall's EIR as possible alternative to Scherer site, now in escrow as possible future school Documents show school Board (incl. Bonnie Lowenthal) voted in April 3 closed session to authorize LBUSD to acquire the site


(July 17, 2001, posted 11:00 a.m., updated 12:30 p.m. to add a City Hall e-mail) -- With the City Council poised to decide whether to take 2.5 acres of Scherer Park for an expanded North Division LB police station, and "Stop Take Our Park" advocates prepared to take City Hall to court if it takes the park land, a public records act request by a local activist has confirmed what local activists have said for weeks.

The former "Dooley's" site on the NW corner of LB Blvd. at Del Amo, which City Hall's EIR studied as an alternative to the Scherer Park site, is now in escrow as a possible future school.

In response to a May 22 public records request by LB neighborhood activist Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, the LB Unified School District released documents indicating that during an April 3, 2001 closed session of the School Board, Board members (including now-Council member Bonnie Lowenthal) voted to authorize LBUSD staff "to execute all documents necessary for the possible acquisition of the site."

The circumstances under which this transaction proceeded and developed, and who (if anyone) at City Hall knew about it, could prove significant since the former Dooley's site is part of City Hall's legally required EIR evaluation. Use of the site as a possible police facility site has been discussed in public meetings for over a year.

Other documents released to Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp included a draft document indicating LBUSD staff may have been eyeing the former Dooleys site as early as September, 1999.

It is clear that by the time the Planning Commission voted on the Scherer Park EIR in May, LBUSD's Board had already voted in closed session a month earlier to, in effect, make the Dooleys site harder and conceivably impossible to pursue as an alternative to the Scherer Park site.

According to the documents, details of the School Board's closed-session action were actually disclosed in an open meeting of the School Board on June 5, 2001.

City Hall's EIR for the Scherer Park police station plan, which included an evaluation of the Dooleys site, was publicly released for public comment on February 6, 2001.

During the Planning Commission's proceedings on the Scherer Park matter in April and May 2001, members of the public indicated they'd learned the Dooleys alternative site was no longer available due to LBUSD involvement. Park protection advocates argued that if this was true, the EIR should be re-done. Instead, the Planning Commission voted to approve the Scherer Park site.

LBUSD documents now show that roughly a month before the Planning Commission's vote, LBUSD had already acted in closed session to acquire the former Dooleys site for possible school use.

A cover letter from the LBUSD's Business Department (Business Services), Lisa Dutra, Business Services Administrator to Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp (provided by Kleekamp to LBReport.com late in the day on July 16) says in pertinent part:

"The Dooleys property is being considered as a school site. It is 4.65 acres, and is still in escrow for a price of $3,650,000. We do, however,anticipate escrow closing in September, 2001. We are in the Due Diligence period which provides the District the opportunity to examine the site and determine if it meets the criteria for being developed into a school campus. The District has no identified what grade configuration this school would be, therefore we are unable to provide a cost to you for development. A copy of the report out form showing authorization to proceed with purchase is enclosed.

LBUSD's "report out" document includes the following account of the closed session action taken by the LBUSD Board on April 3, 2001 under CA Gov't Code 54957.1(a)(1)(A) or (B), and indicates the information was reported out in open session during the [School] Board's June 5, 2001 meeting:

Action Taken:

Chief Business and Financial Officer Tomio Nishimura advised the Board that staff had completed most of its preliminary review of the Dooley's Hardware site of some 4.65 acres located at 5029-45 Long beach Blvd., and it appeared that the site may be suitable for school use and could be obtained for approximately $3.65 million. The Board then voted 5-0 to authorize Mr. Nishimura to execute all documents necessary for the possible acquisition of the site, subject to the usual due diligence period activities to examine the site and verify its suitability. Once the escrow documents have also been approved by the seller, this transaction will be reported out in accordance with Government Code section 54957.1(a)(1)(B).

The vote was 5-0 in favor, including then Board member, now 1st district Council member, Bonnie Lowenthal.

[July 17 updated text] Meanwhile, other documents released to Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp show that at City Hall, Amy Bodek (City Hall Community Development Property Services Dept.) sent an e-mail to Ruth Shikada (same agency), cc'd to Assistant City Manager Jerry Miller on April 19, 2001 at 8:48 a.m.. Its stated subject: "Dooley's/LBUSD". The e-mail states:

FYI, according to Mike Sidney, LBUSD opened escrow on the Dooley's site within the past week. They deposited $100,000 cash as their deposit into escrow. The escrow period is 180 days, but LBUSD has to "go hard" with their cash in 120 days. LBUSD is scheduled to start environmental testing on soils and asbestos today or tomorrow.

As an aside, LBUSD said they might need the City's (or Agency's?) "help" in acquiring a residential propety adjacent to Dooley's,but won't really deal with that issue until they are further along in escrow.

I had a community meeting last night on the North Police Station with Webb, and his office was advised of this same information. -- Amy [end July 17 updated text]

In evaluating the Dooleys site as an alternative, City Hall's EIR noted it was in a flood zone, subject to liquefaction (problematic for a public safety facility) in a higher seismic response area; the existing buildings have a high incidence of hazardous materials; and a police station would generate noise and traffic "which would impacts to the nearby residential area. Sensitive residential uses are within 100 feet of the [possible police station] development. This alternative would require street vacations and, according to the traffic consultant, would result in significant traffic impacts" at LB and Market St., Home Street and Del Amo.

The EIR says the Dooley's alternative "will displace the existing residential tenants and will require location benefits. The Redevelopment Agency may be required to utilize its power of eminent domain to acquire the site...Residential uses directly abut the proposed site and is likely to be impacted by a Police Station."

However, the EIR also notes that the former Dooley's site is visually blighted and underutilized and "an influx of 200 personnel and new construction of the station may serve as a catalyst for new construction and redevelopment in the area."

It further notes that "new construction will significantly improve the visual quality of the area [although] the interface of the station and the residential community will require buffering."

And in summarizing the Environmentally Superior Alternative, the EIR says:

Each alternative considered has both benefits and negative impacts. In the case of the project itself, the most significant effects are the use of and impact upon the park. Other impacts are less intense than the alternatives.

While City Hall's EIR cited concern for nearby residents as a factor, an LBUSD document released to Ms. Wilson-Kleekmap, stamped "Draft" and indicating (in a computer notation) it was prepared on September 30, 1999, indicates roughly 5.4 acres was then being considered by LBUSD staff as a possible future school site.

The area reported to be escrow in LBUSD's 2001 closed session report is listed as 4.65 acres, not 5.4 acres. It is unclear whether LBUSD's current plans involve acquisition of any additional property, including residences.

The LBUSD 1999 draft document states:

Draft [stamped]

School Sites
DOOLEY'S HARDWARE

Location: Vacant Dooley's Hardware Store and adjoining parcels located on the west side of Long Beach Boulevard, between Del Amo Boulevard and 51st Street

Size: 236,120 square feet or 5.4 acres

Current use: Commercial and residential

Street Closures; Home Street

Cost: No cost estimates have been prepared

Comments: This site consists of the vacant Dooleys Hardware Store, surrounding parking lots, eleven residential units, a vacant commercial building, and an Apostolic Temple. Since this location is primarily consists of empty buildings and parking lots (159,000 sf) it will have lower acquisition and relocation costs than a fully occupied site. This site is a good K-8 candidate.

As an additional benefit, the document recites the "City could develop additional open space here (rather than at Sutter School) for joint use with the school. Removal of vacant and derelict property (potential alternative commercial reuse.)

In comparison, City Hall's EIR notes that putting the police facility in Scherer Park as proposed would include "unavoidable adverse impacts" including "block[ing] a significant portion of the view of the park from Del Amo Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue and the building will visually dominate the park."

The EIR also noted that the "materials utilized in the proposed mass and configuration is not typical of the park, the existing park buildings, nor the nearby residential areas."

The circumstances under which LBUSD pursued the former Dooley's site, while the public was actively debating, and City Hall was publicly evaluating, the Dooley's site as a possible alternative to taking Scherer Park land may be clarified at tonight's City Council hearing on the matter.

Meanwhile, a so-called "compromise" plan may also be floated by Councilmembers Dennis Carroll and Frank Colonna. It would reduce the footprint of a police facility in Scherer Park by putting part of the facility underground. Similar proposals have previously been discussed and dismissed by city officials as too expensive and park advocates have asked why such money couldn't be better spent to acquire other property outside Scherer Park for the police facility.

On Saturday July 14, Councilman Carroll met with park advocates/appellants Gigi "Fast Elk" Porter, Ann Cantrell and Don May to get their reaction to an "undergrounding" compromise. Their response was negative.

Appellants point out LB City Hall has consumed large amounts of park land over the years for various projects and argue that taking parts of a large contiguous park cannot be "mitigated" with "replacement" smaller parks or lot size "pocket parks" elsewhere. Drawing a line at Scherer Park, they vow to stop City Hall from taking any more LB park land for non park purposes.

As previously reported on LBReport.com, the appellants have retained environmental lawyer and land use litigator Jan Chatten-Brown to represent them in the proceedings.

Before Councilman Carroll was elected to the Council, he drafted a park protection charter amendment for Ann Cantrell. Ms. Cantrell gathered over 20,000 signatures urging it be put on the ballot. The Council could put such a measure on the ballot with a majority vote of Councilmembers but has thus far refused to do so.

Last year, as reported by LBReport.com, Councilman Ray Grabinski waited until after the deadline for the November 2000 ballot had passed, then floated his own lesser proposal that he termed "parks in perpetuity," lecturing Ms. Cantrell from his City Council seat that a charter amendment to protect park land wasn't going to happen at that time.

Councilman Grabinski's proposal basically offered to amend the Municipal Code to allow the public more notice and opportunity to be heard if and when City Hall seeks to take more park land. He and a Council committee have held public hearings on the issue ostensibly to gather input on what is and is not a park use. Nothing has yet come of Grabinski's plan.


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