Speakers line up to address city staff regarding proposed lane use changes in the city's new land use element. Photo: Jason Ruiz
In what was the last scheduled public workshop to address concerns from the public regarding Long Beach’s new land use element (LUE) hundreds of residents from around the city filled a tent erected in the parking lot of the North Patrol Division’s police station outside Scherer Park to ensure that their message was clear; the current land use element and its proposed building heights and density allowances are a non-starter.
Wednesday night’s meeting was the last of four public meetings that have been held in a host of sites around the city with each garnering an increasing amount of attendees, most of whom echoed the sentiments of their neighbors. The LUE, they said, will bring increased traffic and crime with its increased density while it threatens the character of their neighborhoods and the homes they’ve invested so much in.
The turnout for the meeting located to the east of Scherer Park and just moments from Virginia Country Club saw a contingent of older, white, homeowners square off with the city’s development services staff in voicing their objections to changes city staff says are needed in order to compensate for expected population growth in the coming years.
While a majority of attendees of the land use element meetings have identified as homeowners it stands in contrast to the city’s demographics as a whole. Nearly 60 percent of Long Beach is comprised of those who rent.
The LUE, which projects for that greater population, would change zoning for certain parts of the city to allow for the just over 7,000 units of housing the city needs to build by 2021 to meet state laws. City staff projects that by 2040 the city will grow by another 18,000 people and have set a goal of building up to 28,000 units citywide.
“We are attempting to create a housing opportunity, not a requirement, but the opportunity for new housing to be built to meet the city’s state requirements and the city’s regional housing allocation requirements,” said Linda Tatum, the city’s planning bureau manager.
Currently, the city has about 12 percent of its population experiencing overcrowding, defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development as more than one person per room.
Still, the idea that new housing could be built near existing homes has not been popular with homeowners in the city who claim it will devalue their homes, or worse.
Robert Fox, a property owner and executive director of the Council of Neighborhood Organizations (CONO), has been an outspoken critic of the plan and was on-hand last night passing out literature to attendees outlining the concerns that CONO feels have yet to be addressed.
Fox had taken to Facebook earlier in the week alleging that he was nearly arrested at the request of city staff at a separate LUE meeting earlier this week for handing out the same pamphlets he passed out Wednesday night.
The CONO handouts listed 35 suggested questions for residents to ask staff if they wished to step up to the microphone during the meeting and about 20 reasons why CONO was not supporting the LUE. Among other things, it warned that the LUE may create a higher crime rate stating that “poverty and high density always create forbidding consequences.”
It also referenced the high rise housing projects in Chicago as evidence of what could happen in Long Beach if the LUE was implemented and taller buildings were able to be built within the city. While the CONO handouts warned of poverty and crime, the LUE does not mandate that any units built would be for low-income, in fact, city staff has on multiple occasions stated the opposite, that the units would likely be market rate.
A 2006 study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University visited the opposition to such developments and the misconceptions that may fuel them. The publication states that fears of falling property values are not supported by research that shows the contrary, that property values go up when density increases. Citing a macro analysis of property values, the study also found that “houses with apartments nearby actually enjoy a slightly higher appreciation rate than houses that don’t have apartments nearby.”
And if the housing is built how will these people pay to live here? How does increased density equal increased job opportunities?
That was a question posed to Tatum and her staff multiple times but did not receive a clear answer. The modest density that the LUE is proposing could certainly help alleviate the overcrowding that the city currently experiences as well as put a dent in the statewide housing deficit that currently sits at about a million units but will it bring jobs?
Ryan Avent, a correspondent for The Economist and author of the book “Gated City” says yes.
In a 2011 op-ed in the New York Times , Avent argued that economic growth and job creation depends on cities creating density. He cautioned that density was not a “magic elixir” but it does provide for interaction, however, those interactions need to be between an educated population accompanied by local institutions that support businesses and entrepreneurs.
While one speaker last night hit on this idea, stating that Long Beach lacked the skilled workers to fill the jobs needed to be able to afford living in the city, Avent argues that new housing opportunities will draw talented workers to cities where there are places to live.
“The ‘Not in My Backyard’ philosophy sometimes, though by no means always, supports a high quality of life,” Avent wrote. “Yet the effect is to raise housing costs and make rich cities more exclusive. Real trouble occurs when the idea-generators in cities with that NIMBY approach become so protective of their pleasant streets that they turn away other idea-generators, undermining the city’s economic role. And that is happening.”
Whether Long Beach will become a gated city or one that lowers the drawbridge could be decided in the next few months.
A final meeting to discuss the LUE before the planning commission has yet to be scheduled. The document itself could change considerably as city staff takes into account the concerns and suggestions made by the public before the city council will have an opportunity to weigh in on possible changes to zoning in the city with their own augmentations, and possibly a vote.