For A Green-Light Measure In Long Beach: Letting The People Decide Density And Parking Impacts In Their City, Not Politicians And Development Interests

Newport Beach residents did this. So can Long Beach residents. is reader and advertiser supported. Support independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.
(June 18, 2017, 7:30 p.m.) -- In November 2000, savvy residents of Newport Beach, faced with traffic-congesting proposed projects at the hands of a City Council deaf-to-residents and beholden-to-developers, took action.

They collected signatures and put a "green light" measure on their city's ballot to require a vote of the people to approve -- to give a "green light" -- to certain amendments to that city's General Plan.

Development interests and their favored Council incumbents waged a six-figure opposition campaign. Newport Beach voters approved the "green light" measure by a sizable margin and for good measure ousted a few Council incumbents who opposed the green light reform.

Today, Newport Beach's citizen-initiated green light measure is the law in that city. Newport Beach is a healthy, prospering city. The green light measure didn't stop development, as critics predictably claimed. It allowed development in ways that the people of Newport Beach now control instead of politicians, non-elected planners and profit-driven developers.

In our view, Long Beach needs a green light more than ever.

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Long Beach neighborhoods citywide are currently facing a proposed revision of the city's Land Use Element to LB's General Plan. If approved by a Council majority, it will spell out how land can be used citywide. As currently drafted by city staff, it proposes to allow higher building heights and increased commercial densities (some with mixed-use residential uses) in varying intensities at various locations citywide. In its most recent revisions released on June 15, it proposes more intense commercial and mixed-use residential density and higher building heights than it originally proposed for parts of ELB. Some examples include:

  • Bellflower Blvd. (east side) at north and south of Spring St. (KMart/Lowes center and 24 Hour Fitness area): Five stories.
  • Bellflower Blvd. (west side) at Spring St. (USPS office and fast food location): Three stories.
  • Bellflower Blvd. (east side) at Stearns St. (Target/Sears/Los Altos center): Five stories.
  • Bellflower Blvd. (west side) south of Stearns St.:: Four stories.
  • Bellflower Blvd. (west side) north of Stearns St.: Three stories.
  • Bellflower Blvd. (east and west sides) at Atherton (near CSULB): Five stories
  • Bellflower/7th ("Iron Triangle"): Four and three stories immediately but with subsequent revisions if CalTrans allows reconfiguring the intersection.
  • Lakewood Blvd./Willow St.: Four stories.
  • Willow St./Stearns St.: Three stories.
  • Los Coyotes/Clark: Three stories.
  • Los Coyotes (east side) south of Spring St.: Three stories.
  • Los Coyotes (east side) north of Spring St. (Pavilions plaza): Four stories.
  • Los Coyotes, south of Wardlow Rd. (Ralphs center): Four stories.
  • Los Coyotes, north of Wardlow Rd. (BigMistas BBQ): Three stories.

City staff's Land Use Element revision doesn't discuss parking. It doesn't say how or in what ways developers must provide sufficient parking, and what that means, to match the increased density/building heights that it invites. It also doesn't say how or in what ways it will correct previous neighborhood-impacting injustices that invited "crackerbox" density that damaged neighborhoods and left some with nearly no readily available parking in some parts of town.

The record is that the city Council has failed for the past two years to explicitly direct city staff to deal with parking as part of the advancing Land Use Element revision. That alone is one (of many) good reasons why Long Beach needs a greenlight measure. Based on history and experience in land use and other issues, it would be foolhardy for LB residents to let Councilmembers approve density and building heights with binding legal consequences but with no binding legal protections that Council decided future zoning will somehow address parking issues through zoning later.

While Newport Beach residents no longer have to worry about what politicians will do to them on an issue like this, Long Beach residents remain utterly dependent on what transitory Councilmembers (with or without developer campaign contributions or "officeholder account" donations) may or may not do on major land use issues

City staff released its first proposed Land Use Element revision in May 2015, and has since amended/tweaked it in response to public comments, producing a version released in Feb. 2017 at this link.

The Feb. 2017 version drew push-back on density from some Wrigley residents, and LB's non-elected (Mayor chosen/Council approved) Planning Commissioners recommended that city staff send some of the density eastward.

The result was a 22-page June 15 revision memo that details additional building heights and increased density mainly in ELB. And the process is now picking up speed, with staff stating in its June 15 memo: "Staff has been directed by the City Manager, City Council and Mayor to complete this project by the end of the calendar year." [Source: Bodek/Tatum/Koontz June 15 memo to Planning Commission, p. 22]

Although we dissent on some specifics, we believe there is much to like in city staff's proposed Land Use plan. We like the fact that it offers a cohesive, logical framework with orderly planning standards. We acknowledge that it's a major planning accomplishment for a city that developed in a basically haphazard fashion.

However we dislike the Plan's underlying coercive assumptions, its embedded view that it's acceptable -- even desirable -- for city government to change land use to erase the quality of life that a neighborhood's residents chose, to treat Sacramento's desires or other prevailing political correctitudes as somehow superior to what residents themselves invested in and clearly want. In a city whose biggest stationary pollution source and greenhouse gas emitter is a city government entity (the Port), it is particularly absurd to hear LB officials pretend that residents are somehow enemies of the planet if they prefer to drive cars instead of ride bicycles.

At an April 2017 Planning Commission study session, Ann Cantrell (a progressive thinker who in her roughly 80 years has lived in various LB neighborhoods) said she found it disheartening to see residents of one neighborhood fighting with other neighborhoods as residents of each area struggle to protect their quality of life. She's right. We urge residents from variously impacted parts of town to grasp that there should be a common goal here: to work together to get greenlight measure on the ballot that when passed will protect all of us with a democratic check and balance over major land use decisions citywide.

It's not unreasonable for residents to expect city officials (to paraphrase a 200 year old phrase) to respect obtaining the consent of the governed. With five Council incumbents and the Mayor seeking re-election in April 2018, it's not unreasonable for voters to ask these incumbents if they support or oppose putting a Newport Beach style greenlight measure on the ballot. The truth is, a greenlight measure will protect Long Beach neighborhoods regardless of who's in office.

Democracy is a word formed from two Greek roots: Demos (meaning people) and Kratos (meaning power). People power.

It's time to apply people power to enact a green light measure in Long Beach.

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