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Gathering Storm: Council Will Confront Developer-Desired Density's Neighborhood Impacts Within Weeks As LB Citizens For Fair Development (Formed By Warren Blesofsky) Hires Law Firm, Appeals Planning Comm'n Approval Of Proposed Seven-Story Alamitos/3rd Residential Bldg.
|(Aug. 26, 2017, 7:50 p.m.) Long Beach Citizens for Fair Development, Inc., a grassroots taxpayer-founded entity led by LB resident Warren Blesofsky, has hired a law firm and on Aug. 25 filed an appeal that will require the City Council to confront a developer-proposed, staff-supported, neighborhood-opposed seven story residential building at 320 Alamitos Ave.
The appeal will bring the Council some of the first consequences of a 2012 Council vote (motion by then-Councilman Garcia) to approve a "Downtown Plan" that allows increased downtown density and higher building heights with less parking than the City previously required.
But the appeal also raises citywide issues...since city staff has proposed a sweeping revision to LB's Land Use Element that, if approved by the Council, would increase density and building heights beyond downtown into multiple neighborhoods citywide.
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The Planning Commission voted on Aug. 17 to approve the proposed Alamitos/3rd St. development despite testimony by multiple Alamitos Beach neighborhood residents, who pleaded with the Commission not to worsen already scarce parking (made scarce in part by City Hall-enabled "crackerbox" residential density in the 1980s.)
Testifying on behalf of LB Citizens for Fair Development, Mr. Blesofsky framed his argument in different terms. "Everyone's talking about parking here and they're wrong because it's not about parking. It's about money. And whose money it's about is the developer's money...[S]omebody is going to make a pile of cash off of this at the expense of the people that live in the neighborhood." [applause] He added: "There's a land use coup d'etat going on in the city of Long Beach right now. And if you want to know why there's so many speakers up here and why these meetings are taking so long, it's because California Environmental Quality Act is not being followed."
The law firm hired by LB Citizens for Fair Development, the Channel Law Group, states in its opposition filing that the proposed project would violate the CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA.) To view the law firm's filing in full, click here.
The same law firm was retained by an Alamitos Beach grassroots group -- TAPS (Transportation and Parking Solutions) -- and challenged the Council's 2012 adoption of the "Downtown Plan" on CEQA grounds and won a settlement that requires the city to perform a professional parking study that may propose parking solutions...but with no guarantee of the outcome. Among those testifying at the Aug. 17 Planning Commission hearing in opposition to the proposed project was TAPS leader Deborah Dobias.
Residents from a number of neighborhoods also testified in support of the Alamitos Beach residents. Among them were representatives of the newly revived grassroots Council of Neighborhood Organizations (CONO), veteran ELB community advocate Joe Sopo (Neighborhoods First), longtime Wrigley neighborhood leader Alan Tolkoff and Los Altos Center Neighborhood Adjacent (LACAN) leader (4th district) Joe Mello. Mr. Mello, whose group is part of CONO, noted that he'd been active for a long time on issues including the Airport and said:
"I can tell you I have not seen this in years, but there is a upswelling of people who are very upset at the utopian vision trying to be pushed on because we saw this happen on the west side of the 4th district years and years and years ago. And it is a travesty. That is the part of our district that has crime. That is the part of our district that is just not functioning. And this is what you're trying to bring to many parts of the city." He added, "The developers don't care from my perspective about parking. They don't care. And the neighborhoods and the residents are not going to put up with it. This is just the beginning of what you're going to see here, over and over, because this city is becoming united in wanting to not have this pushed down our throats." [loud applause].
Many of the other neighborhood group representatives were present to speak in opposition to the next agenda item which dealt with city staff-prepared maps proposing to increase density and building heights citywide as part of a re-write of the city's Land Use Element.
A representative of the Downtown Long Beach Alliance (whose leadership can be viewed here) testified in support of the proposed development. Adam Carillo, DLBA's Economic Development Manager, expressed DLBA's "full support for this project" and urged the Planning Commission to approve the site plan review and lot merger. "As a key initiative set forth in the Downtown Plan, it's truly to create a downtown urban core that builds upon density and derives from foot traffic. The 320 Alamitos project...enhances the foot traffic by creating density along the Alamitos Ave. corridor. The project also encourages sustainable practices and public transportation through the inclusion of a full service bicycle kitchen, providing bicycle repairs, maintenance and storage. In addition, the Metro bus lines are located immediately adjacent to the project and the site is within a ten minute walk to the Metro Blue Line station...The project exceeds the minimum parking requirements set forth in the Downtown Plan by providing 1.36 parking ratio of the planned number of parking stalls."
Also testifying in support was the project's hired design firm, accompanied by supportive testimony by city staff.
The developer proposes to provide 105 parking stalls for 77 residential units, which exceeds the Downtown Plan's minimum of one parking stall per residential unit plus one additional parking space for every four residential units.
Alamitos Beach neighborhood residents said that amount of parking won't likely accommodate all of the building's residents (presuming many residential units would have two residents, not one), plus guests, who'd end up using already scarce street parking. In addition, the building would replace an existing surface parking lot with about 50 spaces, currently used by residents of the adjacent parking-impacted neighborhood.
City staff said it supports the proposed development because it complies with the Council-enacted Downtown Plan, meets and exceeds the minimum amount of parking indicated in the Downtown Plan and advances the goals of the Downtown Plan. [For details on the Jan. 2012 Council vote that enacted the Downtown Plan, see LBREPORT.com's "Amnesia File" below.]
Soon-to-exit Planning Commission chair Donita Van Horik (whose resignation Mayor Garcia announced without explanation in July, effective Oct. 1) asked staff if the Downtown Plan could be changed. Yes, city staff replied; the City Council could amend it...but city staff wouldn't support doing so.
The Commission went on to approve the proposed development without dissent. Following the vote, members of the audience could be heard saying "shame, shame."
On Jan. 10, 2012, the Council approved a density and high rise inviting Downtown Plan on a split vote after more than four hours of polarizing testimony. The motion to approve was made by then-Councilman (now Mayor) Robert Garcia (seconded by then-Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal.) The motion carried
As part of its 2012 Downtown Plan approval, the Council certified a "program EIR" that says the City accepts nearly all significant environmental impacts of future developments within a specific geographic area, effectively making it harder for residents impacted by a proposed development to use state law (CEQA) to object to each project as it arises and thereby gain compromises/moderation/changes from developers. For LBREPORT.com archival coverage of the Jan. 10, 2012 Council action, click here.
As previously reported by LBREPORT.com, city staff has proposed to use a "program EIR" in connection with density/height increases citywide as part of its Land Use Element revision.
Five Council incumbents (Gonzalez, Price, Mungo, Uranga, Richardson) plus now-Mayor Garcia face re-election in April 2018.
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