City Hall Proposed "Parks in Perpetuity" Zoning Code Change, To Be Considered With New Open Space & Recreation Element, Would OK Taking Parkland For Non Park Purposes By Council Majority If Parkland Is "Replaced" Where "Needed"
Other Proposed Changes Include Definition of Allowed "Commercial Recreation" amd Community Services Uses" In Parks
Coming to Planning Comm'n July 18, Council later
(July 16, 2002) -- In a proposal that could result in ELB park land being taken for non-park purposes and "replaced" in downtown LB, City Hall staff has proposed changing LB's zoning law to include a formula for taking parkland for non-park purposes if a City Council majority approves and the park land is "replaced" acre for acre and amenity for amenity where City Hall says it's needed.
The item is part of a package of city staff drafted changes proposed for both the city's zoning code and the "Open Space and Recreation Element" to LB's General Plan. We post proposed changes below.
The parkland coversion formula, opposed by grassroots park protection advocates, was used by the Council ad hoc last year in a controversial vote that approved taking over two acres of Scherer Park to expand a NLB police station. At that time, 8th district Councilman Rob Webb pointed to neighborhood support for the police station and replacement land in nearby NLB, and staff claimed its actions were prompted Scherer Park's optimal geographic location.
However, City Hall's proposed Municipal Code amendment would apply the same formula for taking LB parkland to all LB city parks...and would not require replacing the park land in the area, only where it's "needed"...leaving that determination to City Hall.
5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell -- whose district has the most park land and thus potentially the most to lose -- has twice agendized and twice withdrawn discussion of park protective ballot measures. A properly drawn ballot measure could protect ELB's park land from being taken by a majority vote of Councilmembers representing other districts. Currently, there is no such legal protection.
Although the Council can (within certain parameters) take park land now and pledge "replacement" park land without a Municipal Code amendment, enacting the amendment would institutionalize the practice and make it easier to take similar actions in the future.
Grassroots park protection advocates have opposed the notion of "replacing" parts of contiguous open space parks with pieces elsewhere. (One told us they doubt New Yorkers would let parts Central Park be taken in exchange for sending pieces to Brooklyn.)
The zoning code changes include amending the park district zoning use table to indicate police and fire stations, communication centers, schools, government buildings and the like are not allowed in park districts. Although a Council enacted overall zoning change is not binding on future Councils, it may limit the ability of future Councils to "spot zone" a disallowed use into a park district.
However, subject to spot zoning limitations, City Hall may still contend it has the power to do what it did at Scherer Park: "covert" parkland to a non-park zone (such as institutional) where the park district restrictions would not apply...as long as the park land taken is "replaced" where it's "needed."
The proposals are part of a city staff drafted package of revisions to the Open Space and Recreation Element to the city's General Plan and associated zoning code revisions that will come to the Planning Commission at its July 18 meeting. The Planning Commission can vote to recommend Council action, but the Council has the last word on what is, or isn't, enacted.
In an unusual development prior to a Planning Commission vote dealing only with recommendations to the Council, city management has scheduled an "Urgent Media Briefing" before the meeting. City of LB Public Information Officer Kathy Parsons told LBReport.com that City Hall wants to ensure LB media outlets have a complete picture of all details of the plan. (LBReport.com has posted below the draft Open Space and Land Use Element as represented on City Hall's web site, which should speak for itself.)
City staff's proposed addition to section 21.35.205 begins by dedicating all city parks "in perpetuity" for park and recreation uses. However, it simultaneously allows "conversion of parkland to non-park purposes by a majority vote of the City Council as long as the parkland is "replaced" where it's "needed" (not necessarily in the area where it's taken and a decision left to City Hall). The verbatim proposed text:
All City parks are dedicated in perpetuity for park and recreation uses. Any conversion of parkland to non-park purposes must be approved by a majority of the City Council and converted park acreage must be replaced on at least an acre-for-acre and amenity-for-amenity basis in an area needing parkland.
This verbiage would apply the policy used by the Council in taking roughly two acres of Scherer Park (for a police station expansion) in exchange for an equal amount of "replacement" park land in NLB. At the time, the Scherer Park controversy led 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell (who voted to approve City Hall's Scherer Park plan) to say publicly she believed this would be the last non-park use allowed in a LB park and in a week would "urge the Council to look at putting a proposal on the ballot to stop any more building in our parks except for maybe very basic recreational kinds of activities."
Councilwoman Kell has since twice agendized, and at the last minute twice removed, discussion of a ballot measure that might have protected parks (including parks in her ELB district) from future Council tampering. In removing the ballot measure item last month, Kell said she was awaiting the Planning Commission's consideration of the Open Space and Land Use Element changes.
Kell's decision not to pursue a park protection ballot measure leaves her ELB district -- which has the most park land and thus the most to lose -- with no legal protection from a Council majority voting to take her district's park land for non-park uses and "replacing" it in other parts of the city where a Council majority says it's "needed."
The development comes as City Hall's appointed Recreation Commission hopes voters will pass a Charter Amendment that would increase Commission members' powers but wouldn't prevent park land from being taken for non park uses.
At the March 21, 2002 Recreation Commission meeting, grassroots activists urged the Recreation Commissioners to support a measure to protect park land from non-recreational uses. Here's how the Recreation Commission's official minutes recorded it:
Ms. Gigi Fast Elk Bannister presented a park preservation initiative. She said that this is for the Recreation Commission’s review and comments. She discussed Section 110.5, which is the restriction of building in any park or beach a facility over 1,500 square feet, unless authorized by a public vote. She explained that she believed that a vote by the public would have more power to protect the parks in perpetuity. She stated that this initiative is a work in progress and that they have requested input by lawyers and the community.
President Marmion stated that the Recreation Commissioners would study the document.
Mr. Hester responded that this issue came up about two or three years ago and was discussed at that time. He stated that he also discussed this issue with staff from Huntington Beach, where this has been initiated, and how this has cost that city a lot of money through the process. Mr. Hester mentioned that this initiative mentions that sports complexes cannot be added, which could be interpreted to mean soccer fields and softball fields, without a vote. He mentioned that staff would like to work with Ms. Bannister on a document that the City could potentially support.
Vice President Antenore stated that she is very opposed to putting this initiative on the ballot, as it would be too cumbersome.
City staff has also proposed changing the definition of "commercial recreation" uses allowed in parks (as a conditional use) as follows:
21.15.565 Commercial recreation.
OLD VERSION: "Commercial recreation" means any recreational activity and/or facility for which a fee is charged by a private, for-profit person, partnership or corporation. This includes participatory sports or craft activities such as golf, tennis, racquetball, soccer, craft classes, dance classes or exercise classes. It does not include amusement parks, spectator sports facilities or entertainment facilities such as movie theaters or night clubs. (Ord. C-7032 § 45, 1992).
NEW VERSION: "Commercial recreation" means any recreational use and/or activity for which a fee is charged by a private, for-profit person, partnership or corporation where that entity has the discretion to set the fee independently of the City’s Recreation Commission or Council.
As for conditions on commercial recreation uses:
22.214.171.124 Commercial recreation uses.
OLD VERSION: The following conditions shall apply to open commercial recreation uses:
A. Such uses shall be located on-site in a manner which prevents noise, night lighting and visual impacts from adversely affecting adjoining, abutting or adjacent residential uses; and;
B. Such uses shall be located and designed to prevent interference with traffic circulation around or near the site.
NEW VERSION: The following conditions shall apply to commercial recreation uses:
A. The use is consistent with the intent of the Park District, General Plan, and any applicable specific plan; and
B. The use does not permanently remove or impinge encroach upon any significant public
more than 5% of any existing park open space which may be developed within the site
coverage restrictions, or and the use does not impede public access thereto to the park; and
C. The use provides a needed public recreation service which otherwise would not be available
to the public; and
D. The use cannot reasonably be located to provide comparable public recreation service on
private land appropriately zoned for such use.
City staff also proposes specified definitions for "community service" uses allowed in the park district. The staff proposal allows non-regional, city staffed community service uses in parks. As for non-city staffed community service uses (bracketed material included by us for clarity)
"Community service use" is a service provided by a non-profit entity for the health and welfare of the individual receiving the service. Such uses in parks do not include the permanent provision of food, shelter or medical services except for counseling, health fairs, medical screening and the like. Non-regional community service uses [non-profit, conditionally allowed; for profit, not permitted] serve the local community -- the neighbors nearby who require the service . Regional-serving community service providers [not permitted] serve a much wider constituency.
City Hall's Draft Open Space & Recreation Element [caveat: 1.8 MB, long download] can be viewed in pdf form at: Draft Open Space Element, July 18, 2002.
City Hall's zoning code amendments can be viewed in pdf form at: Proposed zoning code amendments.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to address these issues on July 18, 1:30 p.m. at City Hall (Council chambers).