Long Beach is beginning the process of updating its land use plans for Downtown and the nearby shoreline area, a swath of land known as “PD-6,” where the city says it hopes to increase housing production and create an attractive destination for tourists.

The original Downtown Plan was approved in 2012 and paved the way for 5,000 housing units and nearly 2 million square feet of office space and retail. The plan faced resistance from groups who said it would lead to displacement.

Revisioning the PD-6 south of Ocean Boulevard, which includes the space between Alamitos Avenue and the Los Angeles River along the city’s waterfront, has been a point of focus, but plans to update it were derailed by the pandemic.

It includes the 13-acre “elephant lot”—the large parking lot next to the arena—where city officials had preliminary discussions about building a baseball stadium in 2019. In the coming months, the city will host meetings to learn what people would like to see prioritized in both new zoning plans.

“One of the primary goals of this initiative is to meet the great need for more housing units for our residents in the parts of our city that are near high-quality public transportation and filled with wonderful walkable areas,” Mayor Rex Richardson said in a statement.

Richardson said that the PD-6 update provides an opportunity to “capitalize” on the city’s waterfront through economic development to benefit residents and visitors.

Over the past decade, the city has seen housing production in the Downtown area exceed that initial mark of 5,000 units laid out in the Downtown Plan while office space, retail and other uses have lagged behind.

The City Council recently approved additional housing developments through a conversion program that would allow 3,260 additional housing units to be built by trading space approved for other uses that were unrealized.

A massive 900-unit development at the former City Place site was approved by the City Council earlier this year.

While meetings have yet to be scheduled, the new Downtown Plan will likely have big differences from the current one.

A city website said the plan will be updated to align with state laws as well as the city’s land use rules that have been updated since 2012.

One thing city officials could look to eliminate or lessen is the requirement that Downtown housing developments have ground-floor retail. The current plan largely required it, but now the city is working to navigate retail vacancies in the Downtown as shopping habits have shifted.

The pandemic changed how work is done for a lot of industries, and the ability to work remotely has left some existing Downtown office buildings empty, leading the City Council to vote in November to look at incentives to draw in new businesses or convert those buildings to housing.

The city’s announcement on Tuesday said that the update for the Downtown Plan would focus on preventing tenant displacement and building housing for all income levels.

Long Beach’s current inclusionary housing law, which requires 11% of rental units and 10% of ownership units to be set aside as affordable for lower-income residents, primarily applies to Downtown and new developments along the Long Beach Boulevard corridor.

An update for the PD-6 is long overdue, as the zoning for the city’s Downtown shoreline hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Then-Mayor Robert Garcia said in 2018 that the city was launching a visioning process to develop the elephant lot, but that plan was delayed.

Now, the city will finally move forward with those outreach meetings, according to Tuesday’s release.

The area includes the Convention Center, the Long Beach Arena, Shoreline Village and the Outlets at the Pike. The empty lot provides space for the annual Grand Prix race to fit in the Downtown area.

In 2021, the city said it was going to explore its options for the site but said it did not know how much the land was worth because there had not been a formal appraisal.

It’s also unclear what the land, which is made of infill, could physically support in terms of future developments.

Because the land is in the Tidelands area, housing could be difficult to build. State regulators have generally held that private housing units do not meet the rules of the public land trust that governs the area. Public uses like restaurants, hotels, airports and stadiums do, though.

However, city officials have said that given the state’s housing crisis, it could be easier to develop housing in the PD-6 area in the future if regulators loosen rules that currently require a land swap or a waiver from the state to move forward with private housing developments in the Tidelands area.

The city has yet to release a schedule of the upcoming meetings, but the announcement Tuesday said that residents, businesses and other organizations would have a variety of ways to participate in the meetings city planners will host over the next few months.

Sign up here for updates on the process.

How a developed Elephant Lot and the Grand Prix can coexist

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