Terry Jensen
Common Sense / Opinion
A continuing series

Facing A De Facto Precedent Proposed at 2nd/PCH

(April 12, 2011) -- I watched the video feed of Councilman Gary DeLong's 3rd district Neighborhood Associations meeting (March 24) that focused on the 2nd and PCH development and a few thoughts came to mind.

At the outset, let me make it abundantly clear that I strongly favor the redevelopment of this parcel. I believe the existing hotel is an eyesore and our Eastern Gateway is in desperate need of a makeover. Although I like the architectural design of the proposed project and find the multi use plan suitable for the neighborhood, I have concerns about the density and height of the buildings and the resulting traffic impacts that may result.

One question and answer exchange at the meeting should have caught the attention of proponents and opponents alike. An audience member (a resident of the Marina Pacifica condo complex) asked, "What about the precedent of granting zoning beyond three stories, will that affect the future plans that may occur for Marina Pacific shopping center and The Marketplace?" Councilman DeLong responded:

Councilman DeLong: I'm going to have to defer to Craig [Craig Chalfont, city staffer in charge of EIR, present at the meeting] for the city perspective, but my own personal answer is: whatever is supported here by the community, I don't naturally assume that it creates a precedent for anything else either way. If the community says, no, let's not go over the existing height I wouldn't immediately assume that they wouldn't support greater heights tomorrow, and if the community says we'll support some height increases, I wouldn't assume that that means the community would support additional height across the street.

Councilman DeLong then turned the mike over to city staffer Craig Chalfont, who at first avoided the thrust of the audience member's question, which prompted DeLong to press him for a answer. DeLong reiterated the audience question: "Her question was, does it create a precedent? If the city allowed the height increase, how does that impact...Marina Pacifica or what somebody else wants to do...?...If we allow the height here [does that mean] we'll automatically allow the height there?"

City staffer Craig Chalfant: I think the short answer would be, we look at sites. We look at project specific sites. This is a very unique site. The Marketplace is a unique site. They're divided into [SEADIP] subareas. So what fits for this particular project site might not fit for other subareas.

I'm not a mindreader, but I presume this exchange warmed the hearts of the nearby property owners of the Marketplace, the Marina Pacifica retail center and Hof’s/Albertson/City National sites. In my opinion, it is self evident that amending SEADIP to allow the density and height being sought for the 2nd and PCH development (SeaPort Marina subarea) would set a de facto precedent. It may not be a legal precedent or otherwise binding, but in my view it would without question create a real-world invitation to the owners of properties in sub Areas 11b, 16, 18 and 19 -- who like any property owners have an understandable interest in increasing the value of their properties -- to at some point seek greater density and height for their parcels.

The draft EIR clearly admits that the development now proposed will create some significant traffic impacts that cannot be mitigated. From this, it necessarily follows that if similar increased heights and densities were allowed on the adjacent parcels, these too would create traffic impacts that cannot be mitigated.

Would these cascading, cumulative impacts create total gridlock at 2nd and PCH? Would traffic be backed up beyond Loynes Drive and west of the 2nd Street Bridge? Would the negative impacts, that would be encountered daily by residents and commuters for decades to come, outweigh the positive impacts of the amenities provided by the development?

Based on Councilman DeLong's attempt a few years ago to dramatically amend SEADIP (pushed back by area residents), I believe he'd like to see more density along the 2nd and PCH corridor. What ultimately happens on the 2nd/PCH project won't be decided by non-elected city staff. At a City Hall level, it will be decided by a majority of currently elected City Councilmembers. That Council majority has the capacity to make things better at 2nd and PCH or to make them worse for decades to come.

It's time for Long Beach City Hall to do what it has failed to do over and over again: perform elementary master planning that carefully considers the long term impacts of development decisions. Residents deserve all the facts on traffic and visual impacts that could be generated if all four corners at 2nd/PCH were redeveloped. That would invite an informed decision on long term impacts based on facts, not on a carefully crafted PR campaign or the lure of a few free iPAD2's for Facebooking CSULB students who may not live here and won't be permanently affected by the consequences.

Belmont Shore, and much of Long Beach, is replete with examples of poor zoning and planning decisions. I would hope that when this development is approved, it won't end up as the latest example of elected officials and city staff failing to consider the long term consequences of their decisions.

Previously on Common Sense by Terry Jensen (continuing series):

  • No. 6: Put Redevelopment In Council's Hands, Make LB Elected Officials Accountable (For A Change)

  • No. 5: Suppose Our City Officials Had Applied These Efforts To Assure World Class Kroc Center Instead Of For This, This & This

  • No. 4: Council Majority Either Didn't Know, Or Knew But Didn't Disclose, Amount Of Taxpayer Dollars Potentially Up In Smoke On Med MJ Vote

  • No. 3: City Hall & Its Boosters Created Budget Mess (Quit Blaming Recession); Proposed Proportional Cuts Don't Prioritize; Council Needs To Define Core Items & Cut Others

  • No. 2: Costs vs. Benefits: Council's Costlier-Than-Necessary Seawall Fix = Decaying Belmont Pier & Other Shoreline Assets

  • No. 1: Santa, Call LB City Hall: Taxpayer Leased Vacant Bldg. (New Home To Daisy Lane Xmas Displays) Invites Annual Public Review of All City Owned/Leased Properties And Zero-Based Budget

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