Ban on residential development along West Long Beach corridors aimed at preserving space for future business

A new emergency ordinance will block the city from issuing new residential building permits along two corridors in West Long Beach in an attempt to save space to attract neighborhood-serving businesses to the area.

The Santa Fe Corridor, which runs from Pacific Coast Highway to Wardlow Road, and the Willow Street Corridor that runs from the 710 Freeway west to the city’s boundary with Wilmington, will not be eligible for new residential construction for at least the next year after the City Council approved the ordinance June 15.

Councilman Roberto Uranga, who represents the area and made the request, said the existing zoning in the areas is not aligned with the city’s Land Use Element that was adopted by the City Council in 2018.

Uranga said that the continued development of single-family housing along the two corridors that were identified as “neighborhood serving” in the Land Use Element is undermining the area’s ability to attract businesses, something it sorely needs.

“West Long Beach does not have a banking institution, a pharmacy, or even a popular coffee shop,” Uranga said in an email. “Residents must traverse the Long Beach Freeway and the Los Angeles River to visit these businesses and frankly, they shouldn’t have to go to these lengths.”

Uranga’s request will push his district to the front of the line of a process that city staff was already undertaking in order to align old zoning with the city’s new vision for future development.

Chris Koontz, deputy director of Development Services, said that process was expected to take five years and had already been completed in the two districts in North Long Beach, but agreed with Uranga’s concern over the lack of services on the westside of the city.

While housing is allowed and encouraged in the Land Use Element, the plan for those two corridors calls for housing developers to incorporate neighborhood serving retail like restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses at street level with housing on other floors.

Koontz and Uranga said that development of single-family homes along the corridor takes up space that could be occupied by businesses in the future. Both corridors will be zoned for a maximum of three stories of development.

“There wasn’t a lot, but it wasn’t zero,” Koontz said of applications for residential construction along the two corridors. “We’ve had a handful over the last three years. I think for a community that’s very small and doesn’t have a lot of retail, the opportunity cost of losing even one to three of those sites is large.”

The zoning process is expected to take months, if not the whole year, Koontz said. The department has to hold public meetings, adhere to noticing requirements for public participation and place items on city agendas, which will eat up months of time.

His department also has to examine data and get people out into the area to understand the issue before it can create a solution.

“It’s 90-120 days of staff work to do this work, but I don’t have anyone to assign to it today,” Koontz said. “That’s why the councilman is giving us the full year to get it done and we’re committed to get it done by the end of the year.”

Tony Bell, president of Westside Elevate, a neighborhood group dedicated to revitalizing the local economy and other quality of life improvements, is in full support of the moratorium.

Bell explained that there are no banks and limited shopping options west of the Los Angeles River, which means his family must make the trek east to go grocery shopping or go to a pharmacy.

With a family of three kids sometimes you need supplies quickly, and that’s not always possible given the current options, Bell said. The issue was further highlighted for him when he recently had surgery and neither his partner, who doesn’t drive, or Instacart, could bring him the medical supplies he needed while he was recovering.

“I was basically having to beg people when they got off work to pick up medical supplies for me from the Walgreens way over on Long Beach Boulevard,” Bell said.

Bell said that a grocery store would be an ideal addition to either corridor, but so would a bank, something the community has called for for years.

“We’re not against having other people coming into the area and living here, but we need it to be balanced,” Bell said. “And that’s what zoning is supposed to do.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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