A group challenging the development of an old oil waste facility in Long Beach along the Los Angeles River from becoming a storage facility scored a win earlier this month when a judge ordered that an environmental impact report must be completed before the project can move forward.

An Oct. 19 ruling from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff called on the city to set aside any approvals for the project until the city complies with the California Environmental Quality Act, which would require a lengthy environmental impact report.

The 32-page order cited the city’s failure to provide an adequate analysis of the project’s effects on air quality, land use or policies and whether it could negatively affect special status species and biological resources and create transportation safety issues.

“This week’s ruling is a solid win for the LA River and for all of Los Angeles,” Bruce Reznik, Executive Director of LA Waterkeeper, said in a statement. “Instead of adding more concrete along the LA River, we need to be adding green spaces, especially in park poor neighborhoods such as western Long Beach.”

The Riverpark Coalition and LA Waterkeeper, a nonprofit environmental watchdog for inland and coastal waterways, filed a lawsuit against the city in May 2021 claiming that the city approved the project without an accounting of the environmental effects of the project.

Members of the coalition had sought to block construction of the storage facility on the parcel of land along the river just north of the 405 Freeway. Members claimed the city had been promised this parcel to West Long Beach residents as a future nature preserve and park.

The site, located at 3701 Pacific Place, was formerly used for oil production wastewater where oil-brine would be evaporated in pools where toxic sludge would accumulate. Oil operations ceased at the site sometime in the 1950s and the city had said the levels of contamination of the site had limited the viable options for future development.

“Now that they’re going to have to do an EIR, which is going to open a big can of worms for them,” said Ian Patton, a board member of the Riverpark Coalition, who is also running for the City Council’s 5th District seat.

Patton said having to complete an environmental report doesn’t necessarily guarantee the project won’t go forward, but it could present problems for it, specifically by adding to the timeline while the developers complete the report.

“It’s a big hurdle for them now,” Patton said. “They wanted to avoid that hurdle.”

When reached Friday, City Attorney Charlie Parkin said his office had not yet reviewed the order so he couldn’t comment on what the city might choose to do, including if it would challenge the ruling.

Last month the Planning Commission approved a 226-unit housing development directly south of the freeway from the proposed storage site. Coalition members objected to that project as well, but the developers of the housing project completed an environmental impact report as part of its proposal, which the City Council still needs to approve.

The city released a report ahead of the City Council’s April 2021 vote to approve the storage facility that showed potential parcels of land along the riverbed that the city could potentially acquire to turn into parkland or open space.

It identified an 11-acre parcel of land near the proposed storage center as a leading candidate but developing the site could cost $27 million, not including the cost of purchasing it from Los Angeles County.

Park equity has been a focus for city officials in recent years as they try to balance the different levels of access to open space between East Long Beach and the rest of the city, which has a fraction of the amount of green space.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.