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Planning Comm'n Votes 4-0 (Three Absent) To Certify Studebaker/Loynes ("Home Depot") EIR With "Statement Of Overriding Considerations" For Negative Impacts; Appeal to Council And Possibly Court Loom
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(August 20, 2006) -- After a four hour proceeding with speakers stretching beyond the upper rail in the City Council Chamber, LB's Planning Commission voted 4-0 (Yes: Jenkins, Winn, Rouse, Gentile. Absent: Greenberg, Stuhlbarg, Sramek) to certify an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Studebaker/Loynes ("Home Depot") development...along with a "Statement of Overriding Considerations" that effectively accepts negative traffic impacts acknowledged by City Hall.
The August 17 action by City Hall's non-elected Planning Commission (Council-approved appointees of former Mayor Beverly O'Neill) is virtually certain to be appealed to the City Council...with some opponents indicating publicly that they're prepared to pursue the matter in court if necessary.
Opponents (in the majority at the hearing) included homeowners and environmental advocates...who cited traffic impacts (some acknowledged as significant by city staff), threats to the adjacent wetlands and possibly diminished property values.
Supporters included city staff, the developer and some consumers and supportive homeowners who cited the benefits of removing the current tank farm eyesore on Studebaker at Loynes plus additional mitigation on and off site, a forecast of $600,000+ in annual City Hall revenue and shopping convenience as reasons for supporting the Home Depot "Design Center."
The Planning Commission vote capped a four hour proceeding in which the developer was represented by attorney/advocate Doug Otto, Esq...a former LB Planning Commissioner, now a member of the elected LB Community College Board of Trustees.
Mr. Otto introduced CSULB Economics Dept. Chair/Professor Joseph Magaddino who presented supportive testimony:
Prof. Magaddino [transcribed from remarks as prepared for delivery]: About a year ago, [CSULB Econ. professor] Lisa Grobar and I completed a study of the Economic Impact of the Home Depot Design Center and related businesses proposed for the Studebaker site...
From the perspective of economic development, a big box retailer like the Home Depot is an attractive acquisition to the city not only because it generates quality jobs but it also improves the city's general fund. In its first year of operation, we estimate that the City of Long Beach's general fund will capture $500,000 in taxable sales revenues from the [Home Depot] Design Center alone. The other business establishments add another $50,000 in taxable sales revenue annually. In terms of property taxes, another $100,000 is captured by the city's general fund. So, in the aggregate we are forecasting over $600,000 in new general fund receipts to Long Beach.
Prof. Magaddino indicated the development would produce 218 new jobs (163 conservatively estimated at the Home Depot). He noted that without a change in zoning (requested by the applicant), the 20 acre site would readily serve as a container yard; Home Depot has options to locate elsewhere, potentially including the Seal Beach Boeing site; and failure to develop the Studebaker/Loynes site "would remove over $2.5 million in traffic mitigation measures" accepted by the developer.
"As one who studies the Long Beach economy, I believe that this proposal adds to the vibrancy and strength of our local economy," Prof. Magaddino's testimony indicated.
Prof. Magaddino has previously and separately produced a report citing contended economic benefits of locating an 80+ million gallon Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility in the Port of LB roughly two miles from downtown LB. He has also separately produced a report citing claimed economic benefits from LB Airport.
To view Prof. Magaddino's remarks as prepared for delivery, click here.
Among those present for much of Home Depot Planning Commission hearing were LB Harbor Commission president James C. Hankla (retired LB City Manager) and Sea Festival chief Chris Pook. Neither testified personally...but in his rebuttal to opposition testimony, Home Depot attorney Otto indicated Mr. Hankla was unable to stay through the entire lengthy proceeding but supported the project [drawing audible jeers from parts of the audience]. Mr. Otto attributed to Mr. Hankla the view that "in every single retail development that has been proposed has been objected to by citizens, every single one. He [Mr. Hankla] said and invariably when those developments are built, the people use them."
Attorney Otto continued, "I remember personally the outcry about Marina Pacifica. I remember further back than that the outcry about the development of the shopping center at the corner of 7th St. and Bellflower, where the Ralphs supermarket is and the Longs Drug, and everybody had placards up from the neighborhood saying you can't put this in there. If you tried to take that away from them now, they'd scream bloody murder. This is a good project. We ask you to support it."
As with the EIR to expand LB Airport's permanent terminal area facilities, the Planning Commission advanced the EIR despite specific alleged EIR deficiencies cited by opponents.
Among those testifying in favor of the Home Depot project was Theresa Bixby, who indicated that she and her husband are eleven year residents of the immediate area.
Ms. Bixby: I'm here today as a resident, as a project neighbor and as the past PTA president of Kettering [Elementary School]. The Home Depot project was presented to the Kettering PTA...They [Home Depot's project team] listened to our concerns and our request for a pedestrian-friendly shops, for a family restaurant and nice retail in our community. We have also worked with the Home Depot project team on providing a landscape barrier between 7th St. and Kettering, which is a much-needed sound and traffic barrier for the school...The site adjacent to our neighborhood will be developed and I think Home Depot's proposal is a superior alternative to what we could end up with.
Ms. Bixby's spouse is Mark Bixby, who testified in support of certifying the EIR to expand LB Airport's permanent terminal area facilities on behalf of the Airport-boosting entity "Long Beach Alliance."
Ms. Bixby was followed by retired 3rd district Councilman/former Vice Mayor Doug Drummond. With newly elected 3d district Councilman Gary DeLong monitoring the proceedings (in the distance along the Council wall), Mr. Drummond testified:Mr. Drummond: I oppose this project with all my heart, and believe me from my point of view, I'm very supportive of business. This is a mistake. Everything market-driven is not good. For example, if we had to do it over again, WalMart would be at about Anaheim and Long Beach Blvd. [applause] It didn't do much for downtown...
To me, this project is a true problem because it's spot zoning. We have an opportunity today to look at that entire region as a package. Unfortunately, your Commission doesn't have the responsibility to ask for that. That will have to be asked for by City Council. The former Councilman [Frank Colonna] didn't take steps in that direction. It needs to be looked at as an entire area, including the lower San Gabriel River wetlands, the Long Beach and Los Cerritos wetlands, the next door Seal Beach wetlands, all the traffic that comes through there and the potential of doing two things that are really important to this city.
One, we need to improve areas coming in and going away from the city and beautifying them. Second, we need to enhance neighborhoods. Here we have an opportunity to study the entire area come up with an entire package that it is absolutely outstanding that benefits everyone...
This is about a better Long Beach. It seems to me that we look back at Planning Commissions and City Councils over the decades that have failed to look at the true improvement of Long Beach. [applause] We need a moratorium and we need a real study of the entire thing with all of the players at the table. [cheers].
The EIR and city staff acknowledge that the Home Depot development will create a number of negative significant impacts it calls unavoidable, including traffic and circulation impacts at Studebaker/SR 22 (westbound), PCH/7th, PCH/2nd and Studebaker/2nd Street. And when the Seaport Marina development is added to the cumulative analysis, the impact would also be felt at Studebaker/SR22 eastbound.
That drew stinging testimony from Lee Whittenberg, City of Seal Beach Planning Director, who said the EIR didn't adequately address traffic impacts at the 22 freeway and Studebaker Rd. Mr. Whittenberg said that if the project were being built in Seal Beach, his city would have imposed $2 million in additional fees on the developer to deal with regional traffic impacts.
Mr. Whittenberg: We understand there are coordination issues with CalTrans. We have dealt with those same coordination issues at Seal Beach Blvd. and the 405 freeway. We have been able to work those coordination issues out and with imposition of traffic impact fees on our developers in our city. We have $6 million to help take care of improvements at Seal Beach Blvd. and the 405 freeway. We strongly urge your body today to impose an additional mitigation fee from this development to help fund and fast-forward future improvements at the 22 freeway on and off ramps, both east and west, at Studebaker Rd.
Mr. Whittenberg added that Seal Beach plans to raise the similar issues with LB City Hall regarding the advancing Seaport Marina project at 2nd St./PCH.
Hayley Brandt noted that Prof. Magaddino's analysis cited benefits...and she proceeded to cite costs
Ms. Brandt: [W]hen you look at this, you really need to look at the cost-benefit analysis," she said, pointing out that in addition to traffic, destruction of the environment and police resources, "these [new Home Depot] revenues are going to be coming from other places, such as Billings Hardware, Ace Hardware on Spring Street, Ace Hardware on Anaheim St., Ace Hardware on 4th St., Anderson Paint, Bay Hardware...[T]hese are all Long Beach sources of revenue that will be taken away just to go to a Home Depot. Furthermore, we'll see possibly home values decreasing...I know my parents are planning on selling our home if this Home Depot is put in place.
Melinda Cotton opened her testimony by noting she's a past president of the Belmont Shore Residents Ass'n, served on the Mayor's Transportation Task Force, and as a 23-year LB resident has been part of many community and planning efforts, including the General Plan update that began two years ago. [W]e have no updated plan for this area which is a major, major problem and that's why I oppose [the Home Depot] development," Ms. Cotton testified, and continued:
Ms. Cotton: If you allow a big box retailer, Home Depot, onto prime land on the edge of the wetlands at the eastern gateway of Long Beach, it will signal to other developers that they too can expect spot zoning to be allowed to build big box retail on other prime open spaces on the edge of the Los Cerritos wetlands at the gateway to the City. [applause] Your decision will have a huge impact on traffic and transportation on the eastside. Nine intersections are currently operating at LOS level E or F, the worst possible at peak commuting hours. The EIR for Home Depot states that they will add more than 5,700 weekday car and truck trips to this area and that on Saturday and Sunday there will be an additional 8,500 car and truck trips each day on the weekend...
Ms. Cotton said Home Depot's representatives have contended that the EIR's traffic mitigation efforts to rebuild and upgrade traffic signals at seven locations are improper, wouldn't help traffic, and the 2nd/Studebaker mitigation measure to add westbound-through lanes is infeasible and improper because it would require third part consent to contribute private property to the mitigation effort. She noted that Home Depot asked to have those mitigation measures rejected and removed from the EIR, which Ms. Cotton said "leaves the City of Long Beach and its residents and visitors with horrific traffic conditions through this eastern gateway to the city. We ask that you reject this EIR and this project until there's a proper plan for this area of the city."
California Earth Corps president Don May testified that he's among the third parties that own part of the property which city staff suggests might be used for traffic mitigation. "This property is not available. It cannot be by deed restriction," Mr. May said. "There is no way that you can mitigate the traffic impacts of this project. That is a flat statement. You cannot do it. And that's the reason they're asking you to adopt the Statement of Overriding Considerations. We will get no mitigation for adverse traffic impacts, make no doubt about it...I would suggest that this Commission look at what other cities do...They require that if a developer does not meet their conditions of approval, they're reviewed once a year, it brings it back for a de novo hearing on a conditional use permit."
To view written testimony submitted by Mr. May on behalf of California Earth Corps, click here.
Some opponents noted that the project basically requires using bridges for ingress and egress, infrastructure that could not be easily widened. Still others said PCH/2nd Street already backs-up in parts of the day even without the added impacts of the Home Depot and Seaport Marina developments.
In his rebuttal, Home Depot lawyer Otto and City Traffic Engineer Dave Roseman said the EIR's traffic forecasts were conservative...and using the methodology used by other government entities many of the intersections would be rated higher.
City staff said the Home Depot project would replace a heavy industrial use with a community-serving retail development, remediate a contaminated site, provide an attractive site design, add voluntary green elements, contribute to Loynes Drive maintenance and create off-site open space at 7th Street.
This didn't impress veteran LB environmental advocate Ann Cantrell. "You can build a Home Depot anywhere. There's only one place left for a wetlands," she told the Planning Commission.
During the hearing, observer Chris Pook shares a word with Home Depot attorney/advocate Doug Otto.
Retired LB management-level planner/demographer Jack Humphrey was among those testifying in support of the project...and against the concept of a moratorium (backed by some project opponents) to create a master plan for SE LB. "In my opinion, both city staff and the applicant are to be commended for providing assurances that upon its completion, this project will be everything that it is promising to be: a higher and better use for a property currently in serious need of redevelopment," Mr. Humphrey said, adding that the entitlements requested are consistent with the required findings set forth in LB's zoning regulations.
Later in the hearing, 2nd district resident Bry Myown took aim at Mr. Humphrey's testimony: "In my twenty years in Long Beach, I have been before this body repeatedly as every last bit of open space was devoured for big box retail...[T]hat so many speakers this afternoon have told you this will serve an economic need the city needs to ameliorate its bad financial condition argues that your predecessors have equally failed to protect the city's environment or its economy...This city needs a big box and a wetlands moratorium...Otherwise you will make our coastal plan as big a joke as our name 'Long Beach' has become," Ms. Myown said.
Other salient testimony:
Mike Lanterman: ...I'm also part of the Kettering PTA, Kettering Elementary School Foundation and I'm on the board of directors with Los Altos baseball and youth softball. I represent about a dozen University Park Estates families that could not be here today...We support the Home Depot project...[cites remediating sewage problem and removing unsightly tank farm]...Big box, small box, design center, I just want to go get my home improvement supplies near my neighborhood. I want to walk with my family across that open space on 7th down the channel and over the bridge and to have dinner with my wife and two young boys...
Mike Kowal: [With this Planning Commission] it's always an approved deal. You send it on the Council for their vast knowledge, which really creates lots of bigger problems. At some point in time, I think this Commission has really got to step up and start listening to the residents that come before you in large numbers like you've seen today, and siding with them, and let the project people that want it, let them appeal it to the Council, and let them spend their money and go forward with a project that the residents don't want to see.
Gabrielle Weeks testified on behalf of the LB Greens in opposition to the project, noting that minimum legal standards don't mean the project has the support of the community.
Thomas Marchese, Los Cerritos Wetlands & San Gabriel River Study Group, VP & Legal Liaison for University Park Estates, compared the proposal to the 1970s-80s idea to turn 7th St. into a crosstown freeway: "If justice, fairness and common sense are here in this noble here today, this wetlands Home Depot will join its rightful place in zoning commission infamy. If this bad idea doesn't serve as precedent of what a community and its commissioners can say no to, then no such precedent exists."
Members of the public wishing to testify were required to sign cards, then told stand in line in some cases for well over an hour...only to be told midway through the proceedings by the Commission chair that they'd be limited to two minutes instead of the usual three minutes.
When the Planning Commission made its unanimous votes to certify the EIR and add a Statement of Overriding Considerations, comments such as "big surprise" could be heard from an audience area with opponents.
Project supporters smiled and shook hands.
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