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    Council Votes 6-3 (O'Donnell, Schipske, Gabelich Dissenting) To Approve Home Depot (Studebaker/Loynes) Development (Certify EIR)

    (Oct. 3, 2006) -- Following roughly five hours of testimony by city staff, the land owner/developer, EIR appellants and the public, the City Council voted 6-3 (O'Donnell, Schipske, Gabelich dissenting) to approve the Home Depot (Studebaker/Loynes) commercial development (certifying the Environmental Impact Report).

    The vote came at roughly 11:35 p.m. after several of the appellants urged 3d district Councilman DeLong to support a moratorium on eastside commercial/industrial development until completion of a master plan...and made similar appeals to Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, citing her pressure for a moratorium on downtown matters. Both declined...and supported the project.

    During the hearing, environmental attorney Jan Chatten Brown representing Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust and "Stop Home Depot" (an ad hoc colaition) cited alleged EIR deficiencies. Several appellants urged restoration of the area as wetlands...and some urged using the site for a solar energy facility. Figures were cited by one appellant contending solar energy revenue could exceed that of a commercial development.

    Former Councilman Doug Drummond opposed the project via a letter read into the record, urging completion of a master plan first. Former LB City Manager James Hankla (now Harbor Commissioner, stating his opinion in his personal capacity as an ELB resident) supported the project via a letter read into the record.

    Following a short break, Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal swiftly moved to deny the EIR appeals, certify the EIR and "add conditions of approval requiring Home Depot to (1) demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning and Building to achieve lead certification and (2) the Home Depot will to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning and Building provide a fair share contribution to the restoration of Los Cerritos wetlands within one year of the opening of the store, provided that a special improvement district or other legal mechanism is established or dedicated to the restoration of the Los Cerritos wetlands." Councilman Val Lerch seconded.

    Councilman Gary DeLong said he would support the project on grounds something will be developed on the site, a commercial development is preferable to an industrial use and the city needs the project's revenues. Councilman DeLong agreed that an eastside master plan was needed and said he's invited residents to develop one...for the future.

    Councilman Patrick O'Donnell cited wetlands and traffic impacts and advocated sending the project back to find additional mitigation measures. Councilwoman Laura Richardson supported the project.

    Vice Mayor Lowenthal then said she then had questions, producing an extended supportive colloquy with the land owner's attorney, Doug Otto and also city staff. Vice Mayor Lowenthal concluded by saying she believes all parts of the city should be treated equally and doesn't want any more sales tax dollars going to Signal Hill or elsewhere.

    Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga indicated that as an AQMD Boardmember, she was concerned about the project's impacts...and asked city staff for its conatcts with AQMD. City staff said AQMD was satisfied that the EIR had addressed their concerns; Councilwoman Reyes Uranga said this was consistent with her understanding of AQMD's position. Councilwoman Reyes Uranga added that Home Depots near her district hadn't created negative impacts, wetlands projects weren't before the Council now and accordingly would support the project. [This made five supportive Council votes].

    Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske said she believes the project needs to be returned to the Planning Commission for further consideration, citing concerns about legal findings needed to approve a conditional use permit, the development's potenmtial to draw business away from existing ELB businesses...and problems with day laborers. She also cited a lack of analysis about having commercial project next to the AES power plant. Councilwoman Schipske said it's foolish for others to suggest that those on the Council concerned about the project are not cognizant of economic and revenue matters, but are concerned about quality of life and spot zoning.

    Concilwoman Suja Lowenthal voiced concerns about storm water management and permeable asphalt and water-conserving strategies. She then cited comments made in Mr. Hankla's letter about the need for sales tax revenue and said she was concerned about the fiscalization of land use policy...and the decisionmaking wasn't optimal but is the legacy of Prop 13. Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal said the net revenues that would result from the Home Depot project distinguished it from the downtown Plaza Development which she opposed as a grassroots advocate, saying her opposition stemmed in part from the Plaza not scheduled to produce net revenue for the city for 21 years. She indicated the city shouldn't oppose projects on the eastside that it would allow elsewhere. She said the downtown visioning process/moratorium she supported downtown wasn't meant to hold up projects.

    Concilwoman Rae Gabelich asked about AES issues and also wetlands property ownership for traffic mitigation...which staff said it was unable to conclusively answer. Councilwoman Gabelich extracted from city staff the admission that there is no guarantee in Council approval of the project that it will remain a Home Depot "design center"...and could in fact subsequently become some other kind of home improvement store.

    Councilwoman Gabelich asked Vice Mayor Lowenthal to accept a friendly amendment to her motion to specify that a special assessment district will be created. Vice Mayor Lowenthal declined. Councilwoman Gabelich then sought and won reconsideration of her previous vote supporting certification the EIR...and withdrawing her previous support for certifying the EIR.

    The EIR vote was followed by a vote to approve the site plan and a conditional use permit for the project (7-2, O'Donnell & Schipske dissenting).

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