City leaders approve storage facility where advocates wanted a park

A contentious proposed storage facility near the banks of the Los Angeles River won final approval after the Long Beach City Council voted 7-1 to allow construction to move forward despite fierce resistance from advocates demanding the privately owned site be used for park space.

The council’s vote certifies a decision made by the Planning Commission in December that approved lot mergers, zoning changes and permits for the construction of the three-story, 152,000 square-foot self-storage and recreational vehicle-storage facility that will be built at 3701 Pacific Place.

Councilman Roberto Uranga was the lone opposition vote, stating that he supported a full environmental impact report. Councilwoman Suely Saro recused herself because of her work with an environmental agency that had taken part in negotiations for the project site.

City officials had maintained that the site’s history of oil-related uses has left the soil contaminated with lead and arsenic, and it’s zoning for industrial structures had never qualified it to be a park.

“This site has been industrial use for the past 100 years,” said Councilman Al Austin, who represents the area where the project is proposed. “And for the past 14 years ever since the driving range closed it’s been a blighted site.”

But several community groups, who formed Riverpark Coalition, argued that the project was being rushed without the necessary environmental review. They say the city took away a plot of land that should be transformed into green space as part of the city’s promises made when the Los Angeles Riverlink plan was updated in 2015.

“Not only do we bear the burden of our disproportionate pollution but we are here before you humbling ourselves, practically begging, for you to follow through on your earlier votes to provide a larger park to our half of Long Beach,” said Juan Ovalle, a member of the coalition who opposed the project. “The very least you could do is to require an EIR and deny this zoning change.”

Ovalle said that if the project were allowed to go forward it would further the open-space inequity that’s been present in the city for decades, with East Long Beach residents having the most acreage per person and West Long Beach residents having to suffer from pollution produced by refineries and activities at the Port of Long Beach.

A lawyer representing the coalition said that the mitigated negative declaration, an approval that the developer sought to avoid doing a full environmental impact report, was not appropriate and deprived the public an opportunity to participate in the environmental review process.

The site’s developer, InSite Property Group, said it plans to take several measures to mitigate any ill effects on nearby residents, including using water to eliminate dust during grading, air quality monitoring and having the city and state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control on site to ensure that the conversion is done safely.

“We have to get it right; it’s simply not up to us,” said Fernando Villa, an environmental attorney representing InSite.

InSite also plans to include over 6,000 square-feet of office space that will also serve as its new headquarters.

“We’ll have a good incentive to make sure that things are good,” said Zach Rocktashel, an analyst with Insite.

InSite is also proposing a small nature preserve at the northern end of the project that it says can link to future developments on the 11-acre strip of land owned by the county that separates it from the riverbed. The developer added that a public access point to a county parcel and public parking will also be integrated into the project.

Last week, the county parcel was identified by the city in an open-space-acquisition report as the most viable site along the river that could be transformed into green space. While it will likely take years to secure funding and complete planning and construction, city officials said that the site represents a “very good possibility” for the city to create more open space in West Long Beach.

“This 11-acre site will be a win for our community and city as a whole,” Austin said.

While the project had near unanimous support from public commenters, opponents of the project allege that a lobbyist for the developer stacked the deck for public comment by gaming the city’s public comment system that only allows 20 speakers per item.

Ovalle and others allege the spots were claimed within minutes last Wednesday in a coordinated effort to block out dissent. Dozens of comments objecting to the project were included in documents submitted to the city with many echoing concerns of a lack of environmental review.

Only a handful of speakers gave live comments despite all 20 slots being reserved.

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