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Cantrell & May File Council Appeal Over Water Dept. Plan To Take Chunk of El Dorado Park Land for Filtration Facility

(February 18, 2002) -- As first reported by, City Hall could be headed for another confrontation over use of LB park land for non-park purposes.

LB open space advocates Ann Cantrell and Don May (of CA Earth Corps) have filed a City Council appeal over the Planning Commission's recent action concerning a plan by LB's Water Dept. to take a chunk of El Dorado park land (1,600 sq. ft.) for construction of a one story, 25 x 50 foot building plus two parking spaces, plus a service road occupying 8,000 sq. ft. for a water filtration facility (details below).

The facility would be near the Police Academy, north of Wardlow Rd, in the park's northwest area. The Water Dept. wants to replace costly, potable drinking water, now being used to replenish El Dorado Park's lakes, with filtered, reclaimed water, purified through the filtration facility. This would also conserve water now taken from the well's aquifer to be used for other needs.

Park protection advocates May and Cantrell applaud using reclaimed water but bristle at allowing construction of another building on park land.

Mr. May says there are better, more environmentally friendly ways to produce filtration results, including using wetlands techniques, that could avoid constructing a building on park land.

El Dorado Water Dept. areaThe site is described as "located at the southern boundary of the Police Academy next to the existing chain link fence" although the final location may be somewhat flexible. Accordingly, our photos don't indicate a precise location, just the general vicinity for reference.

On February 7, after hearing testimony from Ms. Cantrell and Mr. May, the Planning Commission passed a motion directing city staff to limit City Hall's Mitigated Negative Declaration (of non-significant environmental impacts) to applying for the grant...but without precommitting to approving the Water Dept.'s specific plan (transcript excerpt below).

This allowed some room to find common ground, but a Feb. 12 meeting involving Mr. May, Ms. Cantrell and LB Water Dept. staff (attended by Tim Patton, staff aide to 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell) was unable to resolve the issue.

Accordingly, Mr. May and Ms. Cantrell filed an appeal to bring the matter to the City Council.

Among other things, Mr. May's appeal alleges the Planning Commission's attempt to limit the Mitigated Negative Declaration to the funding application, but not the project itself, does not conform with CEQA (CA Environmental Quality Act) and the "taking of park land, both structure and paved road, are significant adverse impacts."

In a letter to the Mayor and Councilmembers, Mr. May states, "CEC [CA Earth Corps] does not believe that you can Certify a Neg Dec or any CEQA document for a request for funding without committing to the Project Described."

The Water Dept.'s Plan

City Hall's Mitigated Negative Declaration describes the Water Dept.'s project in pertinent part as follows:

El Dorado Water Dept. area #2

The project is the construction of a one-story, 25-foot by 50-foot, prefabricated building to contain a Nanofiltration facility to purify recycled water for the lakes in El Dorado Park West and the installation of subsurface pipelines to receive recycled water and to transmit purified water to the lakes...

A 800-foot long, 10-foot wide, paved service road is proposed to the Nanofiltration facility...Two paved parking spaces are proposed for service vehicles. Screen landscaping of the facility is proposed as provided under the City Site Plan Review procedure.

The City of Long Beach Water Department will file for a $1.5 million State Water Quality Control Grant to fund the project.

Construction is estimated to take approximately 7-months, December 2002 to June, 2003.

Facility Operation:

Currently the Park lakes are filled from an existing water well located in the northeasterly corner of the Park...The proposal is to filter reclaimed water to a quality better than the existing "potable water" standards...

The filtration facility consists of a series of filters that the reclaimed water is passed through. The system's noise is hardly detectable at a distance of 3-feet. The filtration facility rejects approximately 20-percent of the water called "brine," which will be discharged into the sanitary sewer system.

The Mitigated Negative Declaration described anticipated recreational impacts in pertinent part as follows:

The proposed project will provide a continuous, quality water level of the existing freshwater lakes. The project is considered an enhancement of the park.

El Dorado Water Dept. area #3The Nanofiltration plant and two-space parking lot will occupy an underdeveloped, relative [sic] small geographic area of the park (1,600 sq. ft.) The proposed location abutting the Police Academy will minimize the area of the park needed for the facility. The access road will cover approximately 8,000 sq. ft. of undeveloped land. The project building and paving will occupy an insignificant amount of park area.

No significant environmental impacts are anticipated.

Regarding aesthetics, the Mitigated Negative Declaration states in pertinent part:

The [one story, 25 foot by 50 foot] building is proposed to be located at the southern boundary of the Police Academy next to the existing chain link fence.

The Water Department proposes to landscape the area next to the proposed structure. The proposed development will be subject planning Site Plan Review and Parks, Recreation and Marine Approval. Aesthetics and landscape improvements are primary considerations during the required Site Plan process.

The Site Plan review of the relatively small project will enhance aesthetics and prevent significant adverse impacts.

The Planning Commission's Feb. 7 hearing

At the Planning Commission's February 7 meeting Ms. Cantrell brought photos showing parts of the park that might be taken in the Water Dept. plan, and Mr. May proposed using wetlands techniques he said could provide filtration and accomplish the desired result without taking parkland for a building.

Planning Commissioners voiced support for protecting parks but indicated concern about jeopardizing an opportunity to apply for a $1.5 million grant for the project.

Trying to find common ground, Planning Commissioner Chuck Greenberg made the motion (ultimately approved by the Commission) to OK a Negative Declaration for the grant application...but not precommitting to the specific Water Dept. plan. Transcript excerpt follows:

Commissioner Greenberg: ...I'd like to make a motion to approve the Negative Declaration but only for the purpose of applying for the grant, and understanding that the City is not precommitted to a specific construction project and understanding hopefully that we may use some of the grant money to look at the environmental impacts that may occur one way or another in carrying out the intent of the project, if that makes any sense.

The Planning Commission vote may let City Hall apply for the state grant and then (after the grant is approved) ask the state to approve a modified project (perhaps more environmentally friendly) that would still accomplish the same result.

However, the Planning Commission action doesn't guarantee this. For example, City Hall could get the state grant money, and the Water Dept. could then say changes were impossible, or the state could balk at approving changes. Under those scenarios, would LB City Hall really turn down $1.5 million and not do the project?

"To this City Hall, money speaks louder than parks," Ms. Cantrell said after the Planning Commission vote.

[Attempts by to get the Water Dept's view are unsuccessful as of this posting. We intend to post its responses, if forthcoming, as newsworthy.]

Current lack of City Charter protection for park land

How could a project offering an outcome that City Hall and environmentalists both say they want careen into a trainwreck?

One reason may lie in the City Council's own actions..and inaction on park land.

City Hall's insistence on expanding its NLB police facility into roughly two acres of Scherer Park land (promising replacement parkland elsewhere in NLB) has convinced a number of local activists that it's time for a Charter Amendment that protects LB parkland by preventing future Council, Planning Commission or Recreation Commission approval of non park uses in parks.

After last year's bruising City Council debate over the NLB police facility in Scherer Park, 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell vowed not to have this repeated. She agendized discussion of a ballot measure to preserve park land (details were left unspecified), but then pulled the item off the agenda at the last moment. It has never returned.

Instead, City Hall has recently tried to refocus public attention on a new draft Open Space Element to its General Plan, but despite the gravitas conjured up by its name, it will not legally bind future City Councils in the way a Charter Amendment could.

Likewise, a misnamed "parks in perpetuity" item, floated over a year ago by Councilman (now 2d time Mayoral candidate) Ray Grabinski, never had the power to protect parks from future Council action in perpetuity or otherwise. As a simple Muni Code amendment, it could not control future Council actions. It would allow the public to attend more meetings and voice more objections before City Hall could again vote to do as it wished.

A City Charter amendment, which would require a vote of the people, would be binding on future City Councils.

At the August 29, 2000 City Council meeting, Councilman Grabinski lectured Ms. Cantrell as follows in justifying his lesser proposal:

"[T]his is not going to be what some people wanted...Ann Cantrell would love to have all the voters decide once and for all what goes into parks. And that may happen. That may happen. It's not gonna happen this week, or this month."

Councilmembers have the power to put a park protective Charter Amendment on the ballot with five supportive Councilmembers' votes.

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