(Sept. 10, 2004) -- LBReport.com has learned that LB's new North LB Police Dept. facility -- located on part of Scherer Park land taken with a City Hall promise to provide a replacement park of over double the size on 55th Way -- has begun initial operations with staff moving in slowly and an official "grand opening" planned for mid-October.
However, LBReport.com has also learned that the CA Department of Parks and Recreation (CA DPR) is currently considering LB City Hall's response to a bluntly worded letter from the state agency that sought answers from City Hall on a number of issues involving federal requirements for replacing park land, a matter administered by the state agency
LBReport.com has learned that representatives of the U.S. National Park Service and CA DPR staff made an unannounced visit to the 55th Way replacement park site -- an abandoned industrial location -- which led to a subsequent exchange of correspondence between the state agency and the LB City Manager's office.
In a June 15, 2004 letter to City Manager Jerry Miller, the CA DPR's Chief of the Office of Grants and Local Services, Charlie Willard, wrote in pertinent part:
LBReport.com posts a copy of City Manager Miller's letter verbatim on a link below.
A CA DPR spokesperson told LBReport.com that the state agency is currently evaluating LB City Hall's response.
LBReport.com also invited City Manager Miller's office today (late in the day) to provide a response for us on the Certificate of Occupancy issue. Barely ninety minutes after we left a voice mail message with the City's Public Information Officer, Mr. Miller responded with the following email quote for inclusion in this article:
"Public Safety is the Number 1 issue in Long Beach and I will not stand idly by without assigning the necessary resources to fight crime. We need officers to be deployed in the North Long Beach area and that is why we invested the time, energy and money to make this new resource available to the community," City Manager Miller told LBReport.com.
A LB Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Marine, Planning & Development Quarterly Report for projects as of May 2004 indicates the 55th Way Park is "Supported by N.L B Redevelopment Project and Environmental Protection Agency Grant" and its status is, "Plan completed for approval of landfill closure. The EIR was certified. Construction design under way. Completion -- summer 2005."
The Scherer Park issue has became a federal and state matter because LB City Hall previously accepted federal funds for Scherer Park improvements. Under federal law, if parkland improved with federal tax money is subsequently used for other purposes, the grantee (in this case, City Hall) must replace the lost park land on a one-for-one basis and comply with federal requirements in doing so. The requirements are administered for the feds by the CA Department of Parks and Recreation.
The issue first arose over three years ago during the heated controversy over City Hall's plan to take roughly 2.2 acres of Scherer Park at Atlantic Ave. and Del Amo Blvd. Park protection advocates, including "Friends of Scherer Park" led by Gigi Fast Elk Bannister and Reggie Bannister, decried the plan, but a number of prominent LB neighborhood activists in the vicinity backed the Scherer Park site.
As approved by LB's Planning Commission and City Council, the use of the Scherer Park land included a requirement that one for one park land replacement be provided that has comparable characteristics and size, that it be located in the area that would allow for use by generally the same persons who use the existing park land that is being lost, and that the substitute park land shall be acquired and improvements funded prior to the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy for the new police facility.
City Hall staff also announced plans to replace the 2.2 acres of Scherer Park land on a more than a "two for one" basis...with 5.83 gross acres at a currently abandoned industrial site on 55th Way. The two for one pledge was cited repeatedly during the Council debate on the Scherer Park plan...which was approved on an 8-1 vote.
The Bannisters questioned whether City Hall's plans to replace the lost parkland met federal requirements...and also filed suit via Friends of Scherer Park (which they founded) with CA Earth Corps to halt the taking of the Scherer Park land (citing CEQA and other grounds). A lower court and Court of Appeal sided with City Hall.
Meanwhile, the issue of taking park land for non-park uses -- which previously arose over City Hall plans to build an "Emergency Communications and Operations Center" in Stearns Park, abandoned amid public pressure -- had grown so contentious that 5th district Councilwoman (now Vice Mayor) Jackie Kell publicly vowed never to let it happen again. In 2001, she agendized, but then removed prior to its discussion, a proposal to put a Charter Amendment on the ballot to prevent future Councils from easily taking LB park land for non-park uses.
In July 2002, City Hall's Planning Commission recommended two for one replacement of parkland taken for non-park purposes...and urged the City Council put a Charter Amendment on the ballot letting the public approve or quash such projects. The Charter Amendment was never put to a public vote.
More recently, shortly before recent 2004 city elections, the City Council dedicated LB "parks in perpetuity," an action that could theoretically be overridden by subsequent City Council actions.
In his August 6, 2004 letter to the CA Dept. of Parks and Recreation, City Manager Miller strongly reiterates City Hall's plan to provide more than a two for one replacement of Scherer Park land lost.
Meanwhile, on 2.2 acres of what was once Scherer Park land, an expanded permanent police facility is now operating. On the 55th Way site, a park is not.
To view verbatim the recent exchange of correspondence between LB City Hall and Sacramento in pdf form, click:
CA Dept. of Parks and Recreation letter dated June 15, 2004 to City Manager Miller
City Manager Miller August 6 letter to CA Dept. of Parks & Recreation.