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Council Approves "Downtown Plan," Inviting Increased Density With Less Environmental Impact Review Required For Approval

(Jan. 11, 2012, 3:05 a.m.) -- After more than four hours of polarized discussion, the City Council voted 7-2 (Gabelich, Neal dissenting) on Jan. 10 to approve a "Downtown Plan" that invites increased downtown density via a "Program EIR" that will let developers avoid -- for as long as the next 25-30 years -- having to undergo full Environmental Impact Reports if their project is within development standards specified in the Plan.

City staff agendizing memo for Jan. 10, 2012 meeting

Ass't City Att'y Mike Mais said some level of environmental review, such as an Initial Study checklist and potentially other items, would still be required. Among the Plan's design standards and specifications are reduced parking requirements for new developments.

Supporters of the downtown Plan included Downtown Long Beach Associates and the LB Area Chamber of Commerce. Opponents (appellants) included Housing Long Beach, Legal Aid Foundation of L.A. and NRDC, who sought inclusion of items they described as "mitigation" including requirements for low income housing, project labor agreements and right of first refusal for residents displaced by new developments in the downtown area.

In Council colloquy, Councilwoman Rae Gabelich noted that the Plan's Program EIR rated downtown traffic as already congested prior to the installation of (now temporary, possibly permanent) bicycle lanes that consume one lane of downtown traffic. If the bike lanes are ultimately made permanent, does that mean the increased density will mean traffic and congestion will be worse than indicated in the EIR? LB Development Services Director Amy Bodek said that would require additional study.

Councilman James Johnson said density can be environmentally friendly, by encouraging people to use public transportation and bicycles as alternatives to cars.

Following the appellants' testimony, Mayor Foster said he supports Project Labor Agreements but argued that other items sought by the appellants would hurt jobs and deter development. Councilman Steven Neal made a motion to approve the Downtown Plan and EIR with items sought by the project appellants/opponents.

Councilman Garcia and Vice Mayor Lowenthal said they opposed including requirements that apply only to downtown and said the requirements should be considered citywide.

Councilman Garcia moved, Vice Mayor Lowenthal seconded, and Council ultimately voted 7-2 (Gabelich, Neal dissenting) to approve the Downtown Plan (and also have staff return within 45 days with an implementation plan applicable citywide for Project Labor Agreements, local hiring requirements and right of first refusal for residents displaced by new developments, items central to some opponents of the Downtown Plan.)

Immediately prior to Garcia's motion, the Council voted 3-6 to defeat motion by Schipske to take steps that could lead to inclusionary zoning requirement for very low income housing units in downtown area.

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