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Hear What Happened At Councilwoman Mungo's Community Meeting When ELB Resident Tries To Tell Her (Accurately) That City Hall Staff Is Proposing Increased Density With Three Story Comm'l Bldgs At Palo Verde/Spring Plaza Area (Where There Are Now Mainly One Story Bldgs)


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(May 1, 2017, 10:52 a.m.) -- Corliss Lee lives near ELB's Plaza (Spring St./Palo Verde Ave. shopping quadrants), just north of Millikan High, where streets are filled with cars and kids on school days and Plaza parking lots are busy during business hours.

Ms. Lee attended an April 24, 2017 public meeting at the El Dorado community center organized by 5th district Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who's been in office since mid-July 2014 and recently filed paperwork to seek a second term. Ms. Lee is a retired professional manager for an aerospace firm. She came to the meeting well-informed and concerned about an advancing effort by City Hall staff that could have long-term impacts on residents and property owners in her neighborhood.

[Scroll down for further.]

Background

In May 2015, City Hall staff publicly proposed, and will now ultimately seek City Council majority approval, to re-write the City's "Land Use Element" to its General Plan. The Land Use Element is a legally significant, 200 page document listing all allowable land uses citywide and City Hall's rationales for allowing them. Part of the now-proposed rewrite would allow three story commercial buildings at the Palo Verde/Spring Plaza commercial area where there are currently only one story commercial buildings (with the exception of one three story medical building allowed many years ago.) The current Land Use element allows up to two stories.

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City staff's proposal first came to LB's non-elected (Mayor chosen, Council approved) Planning Commission. In 2015 and 2016, the Commission held several non-voting "study sessions" on the proposed rewrite, and during this period city staff also provided summary presentations of its proposed re-write for some neighborhood groups, In response to comments received, city staff made some tweaks/changes and issued a now-pending rewrite draft, dated Feb. 2017, that can be viewed in full at this link.

City staff set a Feb. 2, 2017 hearing date to seek Planning Commission voted approval that would send the Land Use rewrite to the City Council for any final tweaks and ultimately final voted approval. LBREPORT.com (which reported release of the Land Use Element re-write's in May 2015) ran two stories previewing the Feb. 2 Planning Commission hearing: one on January 31, 2017 at this link and another in February 1, 2017, the latter focusing specifically on the re-write's potential ELB impacts at this link..

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On Feb. 2, LBREPORT.com carried LIVE VIDEO of the Planning Commission hearing on our front page. A number of Wrigley area residents attended and opposed city staff's proposed density increases along Pacific Ave. and LB Blvd., citing multiple challenges already faced by their neighborhood. City staff responded that state legislation directs cities to allow increased density along transit corridors but also noted that these could include bus routes. The net effect led the Commission to vote 5-1 on Feb. 2 to schedule at least one more study session for an iterative process to examine the possibility of allowing increased density and height along some Mixed Use corridors in areas that city staff hadn't designated for increased density. Some Planning Commissioners indicated they wanted to see density allocated in what they called a "more equitable" manner citywide, not overly concentrated in Wrigley or on the westside. Commission chair Donita Van Horik suggested increased density might be appropriate for areas near ELB's LBCC campus along parts of Lakewood Blvd. and Bellflower Blvd.

About this time, these developments came to the attention of Corliss Lee, who learned about them from a friend who alerted her to what LBREPORT.com had been reporting. Ms. Lee read our coverage, independently researched the issue and submitted written comments to the Planning Commission, objecting to allowing three story buildings at Palo Verde/Spring. When the Commission scheduled its April 6 study session on shifting possible density increases eastward (at a meeting scheduled at a NLB library), Ms. Lee attended and testified personally. So did Ann Cantrell, who said that although she now lives in ELB, she has lived in other parts of LB and [paraphrase] is saddened to see neighborhoods fighting against themselves over density that few residents anywhere seemed to want.

Ms. Lee understood that with city staff already recommending three story buildings at Palo Verde/Spring, and with residents in other parts of town urging moving more density into ELB, it would be helpful to have her Councilwoman's support in opposing the density-push. That's what brought Ms. Lee to the April 24, 2017 community meeting organized by Councilwoman Mungo.

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April 24, 2017 meeting organized by Councilwoman Mungo

Roughly 80 people attended the meeting at the El Dorado senior center, organized by Councilwoman Mungo. Among those attending were veteran Long Beach community advocate Ann Cantrell, Neighborhoods First leader Joe Sopo...and Corliss Lee.



The subject of the approaching Land Use Element ELB changes wasn't on Councilwoman Mungo's agenda for discussion at the meeting. Much of the meeting was spent discussing City Hall's rationale for reducing some traffic lane widths along Studebaker Rd. (to slow traffic/reduce speeding) and install bicycle lanes (not asking if residents approved these measures, simply declaring this were being done.) A police sergeant discussed traffic issues but didn't discuss ELB crime statistics. Councilwoman Mungo also discussed some sidewalk repair issues.

Ms. Lee waited patiently, hoping for an opportunity to raise the Land Use re-write issue during Q & A. Councilwoman Mungo called on Ms. Lee last (shortly before the meeting ended by which time many people had already left.) We summarize in text form below what took place and also provide on-demand audio (link below) so readers can hear for themselves exactly what occurred.

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Ms. Lee began by accurately stating that maps accompanying the draft Land Use Element show three-story commercial buildings at Palo Verde/Spring. Councilwoman Mungo interrupted her: "No, that wouldn't be the case," Mungo said, inaccurately.


"That is the case," said Ann Cantrell (accurately) from the audience. "Well, we'll look into that," Councilwoman Mungo replied, adding "There was a specific location on Spring that was supposed to get that but it was over by the freeway, so if there is a GIS error, we'll look into that."

When Ms. Cantrell pointed out that "it's part of the [proposed] general plan," Councilwoman Mungo said there's already building on Palo Verde and Spring that's three stories, which is true but misses the point that the proposed Land Use Element rewrite would apply to all land uses in the Palo Verde/Spring commercial quadrant.

When Ms. Lee tried again to explain that what's planned could expand building heights to three stories, Councilwoman Mungo replied: "In my talks with the landlords and the property managers, they do not have a desire for that," which is also off point, because City Hall staff DOES have a desire for that and HAS formally proposed it.

Councilwoman Mungo then said, "We saw the General Plan before it was posted and before it was before the Planning Commission and that was not there" which is irrelevant even if true, because it IS being proposed NOW. Councilwoman Mungo continued "it is not final until it has five votes, so we'll look into that and you can follow-up with our office..." But the Land Use re-write had already reached the Planning Commission for voted action on Feb. 2, averted only because residents of other areas objected. [To our knowledge, Councilwoman Mungo didn't notify her constituents of city staff's advancing Land Use Element re-write changes for ELB.]

Ms. Lee tried again. "I wrote them [the Planning Commission] a letter and I went to their last meeting," she said. "Particularly the problem there is that you have Millikan High School, and there's a tremendous amount of traffic there now. If you tripled the businesses in there, first of all you wouldn't be able to park in that parking lot; those are three-quarters full now. So before this gets finalized, and I'm really afraid of the Planning Commission blessing it and it going forward..."

Councilwoman Mungo acknowledged each of Ms. Lee's sentences with a quick "right" but then interrupted Ms. Lee again, "And you can meet with the Planning Commission; they are independent of the City Council." But ordinary residents can't ordinarily "meet with" the Planning Commission; most taxpayers (not lobbyists) get three minutes (sometimes less) at the public speakers podium...and Ms. Lee had already done that and put her views in writing to the Commission.

Ms. Lee tried a final time: "I've been there but I was looking for you to get into it too" to which Councilwoman Mungo replied: "It's not on my radar yet but I'm happy to look into it as I mentioned, it's important to me, and when it gets to my level, I'm happy to do that..." But if it's not on the Councilwoman's radar by now, one wonders when it would be; it already reached the Planning Commission for voted action on Feb. 2, averted only by public push back elsewhere. When it next returns to the Planning Commission -- one vote away from City Council approval -- it could be nearly a done-deal for ELB.

Councilwoman Mungo concluded, "...I also know that there's a lot of back and forth and changes along the way, and when we saw it, it was not there, so I can tell you that and I will continue to look into it" And with that, Councilwoman Mungo concluded the meeting.

To hear an audio recording of the exchange, click here.

Not Noticed...Yet

As LBREPORT.com also reported in February 2017, the Land Use Element re-write classifies the large ELB residential area (stretching from basically Lakewood Blvd/Clark Ave. to the eastern city limits, and from Atherton St. to Carson St.) for "single family and low density housing." But an accompanying table listing "PlaceType, Density and Intensity Levels" (p. 65) indicates it would allow residential densities ranging from 7 dwelling units per acre up to 18 dwelling units per acre.

For a rough idea of how dense 18 dwelling units per acre would be, consider that the controversial "Riverwalk" residential development (allowed by the City Council on the former Will J. Reid scout park site adjacent to the L.A. River north of Del Amo) sought only roughly 13 dwelling units per acre and the Crown Point development built in the late 1970s near Los Cerritos Park allowed a bit over 14 dwelling units per acre. [LBREPORT.com presumes allowing up to double-digit residential densities is meant to invite townhouses, condos or the like, depending on future Council approved zoning.]

Afterward

Following her April 24 meeting, Councilwoman Mungo sent an email thanking those "who were able to attend our recent community meeting, as we had a great turnout and a very productive dialogue." Her email mentioned the "General Plan" update in another context, saying it "balances the needs of all modes of travel; promotes walking, bicycling and transit" but didn't mention the impending update of the Land Use Element on which Ms. Lee sought her help.

And a final note: during Q & A at the meeting, another resident stated (accurately) that Long Beach residents now pay a higher sales tax than other surrounding cities [as a result of Long Beach City Hall's June 2016 "Measure A" ballot measure, sought by Mayor Garcia, that Councilwoman Mungo didn't oppose but nearly all 5th Council district precincts voted against.] Councilwoman Mungo interrupted him, telling the meeting that LB residents don't pay a higher sales tax than others. "We're all equal now. Those others cities, they raised theirs too," then added "but we are the highest in the state" (and chuckled.)

The facts are visible on the State Board of Equalization website at this link, listing sales tax rates for every CA city.

As of April 1, 2017, Long Beach = 9.75%; Signal Hill = 8.75%; Lakewood = 8.75%; Seal Beach = 7.75%.

In July 2017, a 0.25% sales tax increase goes into effect in most of L.A. County (Measure H for the homeless) but it won't affect Long Beach because Long Beach (with its Measure A sales tax hike) has already reached the state legal limit. Since Long Beach won't pay the Measure H 0.25% sales tax increase for at least six years (until LB's Measure A is scheduled to drop in half), as of July 1, 2017, the sales tax rate in LB's will remain at 9.75%;while in Signal Hill and Lakewood will become 9.0%, and in Seal Beach and adjoining OC cities, the difference will greater (Seal Beach at 7.75%, other OC cities about 8.0%.)



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