As the city continues its work toward rezoning Santa Fe Avenue on Long Beach’s Westside, residents are urging staff to consider changes that will bring more commercial uses than the city’s current proposal.

During a virtual community meeting Thursday, city staff outlined the current zoning proposal that is slated to go before the Planning Commission in March or April, which will be followed by City Council consideration in April or May. Part of the plan includes a new zoning designation, MU1-B, which would require all new developments to include commercial components.

Many of the parcels near the intersections of Hill Street, Spring Street, Wardlow Road and Willow Street would have this new zoning designation, according to city planner Alejandro Sanchez-Lopez, who led the meeting. Most of the remainder of the Santa Fe corridor would fall under the MU1-A zoning, which allows for any combination of residential or commercial use.

Following the presentation, staff fielded questions from community members. Tony Bell, an outspoken advocate for the city’s Westside, asked if the new MU1-B designation could be expanded to areas farther away from the intersection along the stretch of road.

“The Westside is disproportionately residential and suffers from commercial inequities,” Bell, who is part of several advocacy groups including Westside Elevate and the Westside Long Beach Alliance, and who also leads the Greater Westside Long Beach Business Association, said during the meeting.

One of the purposes of the rezoning is to encourage community-serving commercial uses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and more. The MU1-A zoning would allow for 100% residential projects.

“If there is not a mandatory commercial component to more of the designated zoning, it could further perpetuate the commercial inequities that the Westside currently experiences,” Bell said in a message to the Business Journal Friday.

If the vision is realized and more commercial activity comes to the Westside, though, residents also voiced concerns over crime and safety in the area. Susan Lopez noted the surge in property crimes across the city since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which includes a recent string of break-ins into more than half a dozen restaurants.

Another resident who identified themselves only as Ryan, a 3rd District resident, noted that increased commercial uses for the surrounding community should go hand-in-hand with making the area safer and more walkable for pedestrians.

“Traffic speeds and pedestrian walkability are at odds,” Ryan said. “The higher the speed of traffic, the less likely it is that somebody’s going to feel safe walking. And the safety of walking is paramount when you’re looking for foot traffic.”

While some residents pushed for more commercial space, the purpose of the rezoning is also to help the city meet its state-mandated housing production goals. According to the most recent Regional Housing Needs Assessment, Long Beach must approve the construction of over 26,500 residential units between 2021 and 2029.

The zoning proposal identifies 36 parcels along Santa Fe and Willow, totaling 10 acres for residential redevelopment that could provide 338 units, 205 of which are designated as affordable, according to the staff presentation. Those units account for 1.3% of the city’s RHNA requirement.

The MU1-A zoning, which will make up much of the area, meanwhile, allows for developments that are 100% commercial, which Sanchez-Lopez said is necessary, as some parcels are simply too small to pencil out for residential developers.

While more commercial tenants would be a win for people like Bell, Sanchez-Lopez said the city does not anticipate many proposals for 100% commercial projects as there has been a shift over the last several years in commercial development. Mixed-use developments that include both residential and retail are more likely.

“The number of 100% commercial projects that (the city has approved) over the last few years is less than a dozen. So even if we allow for it in theory, in practice we don’t necessarily expect that to be the case,” Sanchez-Lopez said.

“That being said, … if we start to see only commercial projects coming in, or we start to see a lot of our sites not developing as residential to the units that we had projected, then we have to proactively identify new sites and maybe adopt new policies to make sure that we’re meeting our RHNA requirement,” he added. “So it’s kind of a moving target.”

City could update West Long Beach zoning to encourage retail development

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.