Nearby Downtown Residents Object, Cite Thin Parking/High Density, As Council Votes 9-0 To Sell Pacific Ave./3rd to 4th St. Land To Buyer That Offered Less Than Highest Price And Envisions Two Towers, One Up 18 Stories High, For 325 Rental Units

AUDIO: "Shameful" shouts a competing developer after vote; Mayor Garcia, Vice Mayor Lowenthal chuckle as he exits (hear it) 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 15, 2016) -- A number of downtown residents cited high density and thin parking in opposition only to hear their Council representative, Lena Gonzalez, make the motion to approve followed by a supportive 9-0 Council vote to sell property along the eastern side of Pacific Ave. between 3rd and 4th Sts. to a buyer/developer, whose $6 million offer wasn't the highest offered price (details below.)

A city staff memo (full text here) recommended selling the former RDA property to Ensemble Investments, LLC, which envisions (subject to future "public outreach" followed by Planning Commission and City Council votes) building two towers of residential rental units plus some mixed uses: one building would be 18 stories high (229 units), the other 7 stories high (96 units).

[Scroll down for further.]

Parcels in darkened borders. Source: Exhibit in city staff agendizing memo

Source: Exhibit in city staff agendizing memo

Before letting the public speak, Mayor Robert Garcia gave the floor to Councilwoman Gonzalez, followed by Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal and Councilmembers Suzie Price and Stacy Mungo who indicated they would vote to approve the transaction.

Vice Mayor Lowenthal (exiting in mid-July after ten years on the Council) said that in previous years developers told her that smaller developments weren't sustainable without accompanying area density.

[Vice Mayor Lowenthal] This is what we were hoping to have...knowing that we would be a downtown one day that would be rich in that type of urbanist texture that we need," Lowenthal said. "We wanted all the things that all great downtowns had and understood that we also had to fulfill a municipal promise in order to have those things and one such promise is density and quality development...That's what the Downtown Plan calls for [invited increased density and eased parking requirements, Council approved in 2012]...This is just really the next step.



Councilwoman Price noted that city staff's agendizing memo recommended accepting a bid lower than the highest offered price but that Ensemble's project [staff memo text] "provides the best project for the City"...and Price asked city staff to discuss this. Director of Economic and Property Development, Mike Conway, replied that Ensemble's offered price is $6 million ($117/sq. ft.) while the highest offered price was $9.8 million ($192/sq. ft.) but said the highest bidder's total development costs were $71 million compared to Ensemble's development costs of $128 million "and so we had to keep in our minds the ongoing property tax revenue that will be generated by this property would be significantly higher with that higher development cost of $128 million." Councilwoman Price asked no further questions, nor did other Councilmembers on this point.

When Mayor Garcia allowed the public to speak, all speakers (with the sole exception of a representative of the developer/buyer) urged the Council not to approve the sale. Speakers variously voiced concerns about the project's height and density; several indicated that they chose to live downtown because they want an urbanized lifestyle...but said they believe the proposed project's height, density and parking impacts go too far.

An individual who indicated he represented a competiting developer, First Hill, LLC, testified in extemporanous, off-the-cuff style that he had proposed a project with specialty retail plus 123 apartment units and a higher ratio of parking to residents. He argued that city staff's choice "is an absolute disaster for the City...The City of Long Beach depends on small businesses, particularly businesses located in historic properties, that's where the vibrancy of our community comes from. When we build new projects without sufficient parking, what's gonna happen is we're going to create a traffic, environmental, social disaster where you have people driving around -- and we're all seen people do this -- looking for parking that doesn't exist because the developer didn't build enough parking...As a developer I know the way you attract good retailers is by building parking. You have to build parking...[This project] is going to be really, really bad for downtown. It's gonna kill downtown businesses. It's going to kill small businesses..."

A resident of the nearby Walker building brought a written list of concerns over impacts and sought assurance that promises of future outreach and dialogue with the developer/owner would amount to more than than just listening. "We like the idea of being in an urban environment and we also get it about density but dang, this is a lot of density in a corner of a block...Our undestanding is there can be specific mitigation [and] we don't want to participate just as window dressing...We are very concerned about the level of density and all of the different impacts it's going to have on us..."

Another Walker building resident said he was shocked to learn of the project and although he supports downtown development, he believes many in the community aren't aware of the proposed development that he said is moving too quickly; he asked what process city staff had used in its choice and said the Council should have information about competiting proposals before making a decision.

And another Walker building resident said he believes Long Beach's downtown development too often "reeks of desperation" as if the City considers itself suddenly worthy of developers' attention. He said developers should consider themselves lucky to have an opportunity to pitch their projects and "we don't have to take the first project that comes along."

A representative of buyer/developer Ensemble said the firm had been active in downtown development for roughly 30 years and looked forward to working with the City, Councilmembers and staff in trying to meet community concerns.



After public testimony, Councilwoman Gonzalez asked about the timeline; Mr. Conway indicated nearly two years of entitlement proceedings (Planning Commission/Council items) including public outreach would take place. [Councilwoman Gonzalez is up for re-election in less than two years in April/June 2018.]

Councilwoman Gonzalez asked what criteria city staff had applied in its recommended choice. Mr. Conway replied that staff applied the Council's previously-approved [2012] Downtown Plan [which invited greater density and eased parking requirements], architecture, price per square foot and total investment value.

Councilwoman Gonzalez asked Mr. Conway to describe other recent Council-approved or in-the-pipeline downtown projects that involved density (in addition to the Civic Center transaction in which the Council gave up part of the Civic Center property for permanent private development.) Mr. Conway responded: Broadway/Promenade (127 density units/acre); Broadway/Long Beach Blvd. (161 density units/acre); Ocean/Pine (up to 407 hotel rooms).

Councilwoman Gonzalez noted that the design shown now isn't set and asked "Will it have to be a max of 18 stories?" Mr. Conway said, "No it doesn't have to be 18 stories and we will work to address mitigation measures that might result in a building less than 18 stories [but] Ensemble has really put in some significant itme in analyzing the site and how best to develop the property in context of the surrounding historic buildings and in that regard they have rotated the taller building in a way to give the narrowest visual impact on the Walker Buidling..." Councilwoman Gonzalez indicated that she hopes for continued discussions about mitigation.

Regarding parking, Councilwoman Gonzalez asked city staff how many parking spaces are available in the area. Mr. Conway said he didn't have a precise number offhand but CityPlace garage is typically 50% full and there are other former RDA controlled parking spaces in the area.

Councilwoman Gonzalez asked staff to provide a "to-from-for" -- City Hall-shorthand for a memo not routinely seen by the public but providing information that incumbents can dispense -- that identifies parking in the area, "I believe that there is parking available; we just have to pay for it often times," Councilwoman Gonzalez said.

She added: "I think that if we had a good measure of how many spaces were in that adjacent area, it would be helpful for residents to identify where those spaces are going forward with this development" and made clear that she means to include not only public spaces, but also privately owned spaces that might be offered to residents [presumably for a cost.]

Councilwoman Gonzalez said issues of parking, mitigation and the like would be discussed, made no public commitments about what she would or wouldn't support...and reiterated her support for the property sale which was the subject of the Council action.

The vote was called: it was 9-0.



Moments after the vote, an audience voice [sounded like the First Hill representative] shouted "shameful!" and may have tossed some papers aside. Mayor Garcia could be heard off mike, "Shocking we didn't work with him" and the Mayor chucked. Another Councilmember (female voice) could be heard off-mike laughing...and moments later on-mike Vice Mayor Lowenthal said, "Mr. Mayor, don't we cite for littering? I mean on his way out he just littered," she said laughing. (For audio of this, click here.)

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