A screenshot of the proposed heights and place types for council district three taken from the Long Beach Development Services’ presentation to city council.
UPDATE | Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia released a statement Friday afternoon in support of the Planning Commission’s 4-1 vote to recommend halting the Land Use Element (LUE), which Garcia called “an important community document that will guide development and building across Long Beach for decades to come,” from moving forward until more community input could be gathered.
Thursday night the Commission voted after hearing public comment from dozens of concerned citizens, who expressed worry that the LUE, which currently allows the maximum building height to be increased along certain city corridors, would increase density, impact parking, and irreparably change the “character” of the community.
Despite the Commission’s recommendation, Director of Development Services Amy Bodek stated that the LUE would be moving forward as scheduled, to the City Council’s October 3 meeting.
Mayor Garcia’s full statement:
“The Land Use Element is an important community document that will guide development and building across Long Beach for decades to come. City Staff has been working very hard on presenting their recommendations to the community and the Planning Commission. It is important that there is adequate community input before the Land Use Element is presented to the City Council.
“I support the Planning Commission’s recommendation for more community input and have asked staff not to present the Land Use Element to the City Council until there has been more community input over the next couple of months. In addition, I have asked staff to go back to the Planning Commission,after additional public input has been received,to make a recommendation for consideration by the City Council. I don’t intend to schedule a City Council hearing on the Land Use Element until the additional public comment period and Planning Commission recommendations are finalized.”
PREVIOUSLY: Despite Commission’s Vote to Halt Process, Land Use Element Heads Back to Council
8/18/17 10:15AM | Long Beach is looking to the future, and with its proposed land use element (LUE) is planning for a city that will include tighter retail spaces and taller residential developments to help ease the growing burden of California’s housing crunch.
However, the proposed changes to the allowable heights and place types of some neighborhoods has not sat well with some residents and they turned out to have their voices heard at Thursday night’s Long Beach Planning Commission meeting.
A few dozen Long Beach residents were on hand to defend their neighborhoods from what they said would be disastrous developments that would irreparably change the character of where they live. Seemingly their voices were heard.
The Planning Commission, after nearly three hours of discussion, voted not to recommend that the city council approve the place type and height proposals, instead, it asked staff to re-engage with the community to develop a more palatable plan. However, with the council as the final vote on the matter, development services staff alerted the commission that the plans would still advance to a council hearing in the coming months.
“I’m telling you that I am taking it to city council October 3 with or without your recommendations on the land use maps itself,” Development Services Director Amy Bodek told the commission.
Bodek’s comment came before the commission voted 4-1 to send the maps back to staff with instructions to conduct additional community outreach and make changes to areas of the Midtown Plan—some portions currently zoned as 10 stories were expanded by a few blocks in the proposed allowable heights—while creating maps that were more in line with “preserving the integrity of the neighborhoods and the communities.”
The LUE, something that has been under construction for over the past decade, sets land uses into policy in a sort of “constitution” as the city’s advanced planning officer Christopher Koontz referred to it during a study session in June. It codifies what can be built, how much of it can be built and where it can be built. The last land use element was adopted in 1989.
It does include some proposed height changes, of which city staff said would be felt by approximately 12 percent of the land in Long Beach. Much of it is concentrated on large corridors like Long Beach Boulevard, Seventh Street and the areas around the Traffic Circle. But neighborhoods currently zoned as single-family residences will remain largely the same, with those communities having a flat proposed maximum height of two stories.
In an interview prior to the meeting, Koontz pointed out that while these proposals are being spoken about Thursday, the changes that it could provide the zoning for are likely years away from taking place, if at all.
“Most properties, the property owner, in at least the short term are going to continue to operate what they have,” Koontz said. “In the future they may choose to redevelop and they’re going to do what works for them economically. That height might be six stories but it might be five, it might be four, it might be more height on one part of the site and less on another. The plan does look forward 23 years. None of these changes are going to happen over night.”
The plan looks out to 2040 and tries to anticipate how neighborhoods might function and how the needs of a 2040 Long Beach might differ from its contemporary needs. It makes assumptions based off the city’s recently passed mobility element that calls for less parking with the premise that more people will use mass transit, and proposes higher allowable building heights to help combat the state’s growing housing shortage.
That did not not stop the crowd who came to protest the land use maps from speaking with urgency about how the proposals were out of step with their neighborhoods and how, if passed, their neighborhoods could be sold down river to developers trying to make a quick dollar with no regard to the quality of the developments or how they would impact existing homes.
Nearly every member of the public that spoke was from the Wrigley neighborhood in west-central Long Beach and from eastern council districts which are largely single-story, single family residences with generally more affluent residents than other parts of the city.
Kim Toscas, a Fifth District resident, said she and a few other east side residents were in the process of starting a group to oppose the land use element as a groundswell of anger has pushed people into action over what she characterized as reckless and irresponsible planning. The maps, she said, would lead to traffic gridlock, parking scarcities and crime and said the “anemic outreach” by staff had left much of the community in the dark about the process.
“Quality of life, not increasing density with a ‘pack em and stack em’ mentality should be at the forefront of the planning commission’s mission,” Toscas said. “Keep Long Beach vibrant and livable.”
Adam Wolven, president of the Wrigley Association, questioned the building densities being based off of Metro ridership, asking if there were any studies supporting that current developments were flush with people using the Blue Line as a primary mode of transportation.
“Of every single person I know in Long Beach I know one person who rides the Metro,” Wolven said. “And he drives his car to and from the Willow Station. I think we just have to operate in reality.”
Corliss Lee, a Fifth District resident who helped organize many of those who turned out to speak against the LUE, said that she’s not anti-density but wishes it could be put somewhere where it would make more sense, like at the Long Beach Town Center—the Town Center is slated for a six-story limit under the proposed element.
“Long Beach is already built out so trying to go back in and slip these things in and try to get them to fit into a neighborhood is not an easy do,” Lee said.
Like many Fifth District residents, Lee is concerned about large buildings changing the character of their neighborhoods. With a shopping center at Spring Street and Bellflower Boulevard set for a three-story increase in allowable height and some parcels along Los Coyotes Diagonal being proposed for four-story limits they fear that “cracker box” developments will soon chip away at their neighborhood’s charm.
Online chatter and has done little to assuage those concerns.
Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said that a lot of the talk is preliminary, and as Bodek stated, the maps won’t even come before the council for a vote until October with a final passage not even anticipated until early next year at the soonest. But because the LUE, once passed, will be in place for a long time she feels it’s important to make the best possible decision for the constituents and the long-term health of district.
“We’re just talking about what is in the future that makes sense,” Mungo said of the corner of Spring and Bellflower. “Because big boxes like K-Mart are not in our future. Amazon is taking those away and we don’t want to sit with a vacant property for years and we need to protect our neighborhoods’ interests.”
What’s best for individual neighborhoods varies on which neighborhood you ask. But for a city with nearly 50 percent of its renters—about 60 percent of Long Beachers do not own their own homes—being rent burdened, the best decision will include more housing options.
The council directed city staff in February to seek out opportunities to increase the city’s housing stock, both affordable and market rate. Much of downtown is being built out but the city is barely producing enough units to keep it in view of the target it needs to produce in order to keep up with population growth.
Koontz said the city cannot continue down the path that the current land use plans lays out and expect its housing issue to go away. To get over its current production rate of about 300-600 units per year Koontz said the neighborhoods will have to accept modest changes throughout the city in order to adapt to the future that’s projected for Long Beach.
“We need to produce a little over 700 [units] just to keep up with population growth and if we wanted to address the shortage we’re going to have to produce more than that,” Koontz said. “Without increasing height somewhere in the city there’s no physical ability to keep building more housing.”
The city council will revisit the issue at its first October meeting.
Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.
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