How Long Beach housing policy led to big changes in the city’s new political maps

Long Beach’s redistricting process is drawing to a close, and the dramatic changes proposed for the city’s political map have as much to do with population and politics as they do with zoning and patterns of housing development.

The Long Beach Independent Redistricting Commission is expected to approve a final map Thursday night that will bring big changes not only to the incumbent council members, two of whom have been drawn out, but the shapes of the city’s nine City Council districts.

The maps have shifted in ways that will bring neighborhoods that have never shared a council person into the same district, with the moves being driven by commissioners’ goals of drawing an equitable map while also meeting legal obligations to keep districts as close as possible to each other in overall population.

Some of the biggest changes are poised to happen in East Long Beach, where the majority of housing is the single-family variety, which required bigger shifts to offset smaller changes made in denser parts of the city.

The resulting maps show more densely populated districts shrinking geographically as areas with more single-family housing grew their footprints, something that could continue after the next Census due to new housing production in already dense parts of the city outpacing the rest of Long Beach.

Here’s how Long Beach could change over the next decade, which could require even bigger shifts in future maps.

Where is new housing being proposed? 

There are thousands of units in various stages of construction in the area of the city that sits west of Redondo Avenue and south of Pacific Coast Highway.

There are large projects like the West Gateway, that could add nearly 700 units between the George Deukmejian Courthouse and the World Trade Center and the “Mid-Block” development that could bring 580 units between City Hall and Lincoln Park.

There are also smaller projects like the 48-unit apartment building that could displace the popular East Village restaurant, Padre, or the new 88-unit affordable housing project at Anaheim Street and Walnut Avenue.

In parts of the city that are not currently zoned for large multi-family residential projects like these, there is room for growth. The city has seen an increase in accessory dwelling units (ADUs) being built in the backyards of single-family homes.

Christopher Koontz, deputy director of the city’s Development Services Department, said the city expects ADU production to peak at about 450-500 per year and remain at that level for five to 10 years.

Koontz said there are 59,803 lots in the city that could add an ADU and approximately 79% (47,244) are the ideal size to add one. Still, one year of ADU production could be canceled out by a variety of developments elsewhere in the city that will add hundreds of units on their own.

Is there room in East Long Beach? 

Aside from ADU production, Koontz says there is room on the city’s east side for future housing production.

Earlier this year the City Council approved the Southeast Area Specific Plan that allows for as many as 2,500 units to be built on the parcels along Pacific Coast Highway near the Los Cerritos wetlands and the 2nd & PCH retail development. However, nothing yet has been proposed.

Two controversial state laws could provide some room for added units in the city’s eastern half. Senate Bill 9, which allows homeowners to build duplexes by right, and in some cases would allow property owners with large lots to subdivide them and build four-plexes, is not expected to generate additional units in parts of the city currently zoned as single-family areas.

Senate Bill 10, which lets property owners build as many as 10 units on a single parcel, would require City Council approval and this current council has not shown an inclination to want to break up single-family zoned areas of the city.

Koontz said there still is room along the Redondo Avenue corridor from Broadway to Pacific Coast Highway to create more housing and that new housing units don’t necessarily require open parcels of land.

The city’s housing stock is old. Over 70% of the city’s housing units are over 50 years old and those could be replaced over time to ensure that the units are safe and habitable. Along Redondo, where buildings are typically between one and three stories tall, new zoning included in the Land Use Element could allow them to be rebuilt at four or five stories tall.

There’s also the possibility that housing could be added at Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College in the future to accommodate more students and various one-off projects like a proposed senior living facility that could add to the population of East Long Beach.

What’s preventing developments in certain parts of the city? 

Housing development requires both zoning to allow for the units to be built and a developer to want to build in that area and have the resources to complete the project. But the zoning issues have been entrenched for decades and wealthier, suburban residents showed up in large numbers to oppose zoning that would have allowed future density in their neighborhoods during the Land Use Element process.

Corridors across the city including Anaheim Street, Long Beach Boulevard, Seventh Street and Pacific Coast Highway can all accommodate higher-density housing because of existing zoning and tweaks to the Land Use Element will allow for higher buildings, and in some cases, residential developments over commercial businesses.

However, streets like Bellflower Boulevard, Palo Verde Avenue, Spring Street and Lakewood Boulevard, all of which have commercial areas that could support the same kind of mixed-use residential projects that city planners have promoted to increase the city’s housing stock in other areas, were not zoned that way.

Proposed residential zones were removed from the Land Use Element by the City Council before it approved it in 2018, but that doesn’t mean a future City Council can’t change that. Until that happens, Koontz said that the city will work with what was approved in 2018.

The city is currently resubmitting its Housing Element, an eight-year roadmap of where housing could be built to help it meet its regional housing goal of over 26,000 units. State regulators have told Long Beach to include more parcels in “high resource” areas like those in East Long Beach and other predominately single-family housing neighborhoods. A final version of the Housing Element is expected to be approved in early 2022.

City to allow more housing parcels in ‘high resource’ areas under revised plan required by state

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.
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