Planning Commission postpones vote on Fire Station 9 demolition, seeking clarity on future of the site

The Long Beach Planning Commission indefinitely postponed a vote that would have allowed Fire Station 9 in Los Cerritos to be demolished, with commissioners wanting to wait for a more detailed plan that could include reusing the building instead of tearing it down.

Fire Station 9 has been closed since June 2019 after recurring mold that was originally discovered in December 2017 could not be fully removed, according to the city. Station 9’s crew had been split among two other fire stations across the city but now operates at a temporary site at an old Boeing facility near Cherry Avenue and Wardlow Road.

The station sat between the Los Cerritos and Bixby Knolls neighborhoods. The city started negotiations earlier this year to buy land less than a mile north of Station 9 to potentially build a new station closer to its old home.

The city on Thursday sought the approval of environmental documents that could have allowed for the demolition of the building to eliminate any nuisance activity or health hazards while it tried sell the land, but without certainty of the city’s intentions, the commission opted to delay the vote.

“I was just curious about approving something and then hoping that what we don’t want to have happen, happen down the road,” Commissions Richard Lewis said of demolishing the building. “It just doesn’t seem like the right way to move forward to me.”

Approving the documents last night would not have necessarily led to the demolition, but would have allowed for it and other options for the building in the future, explained Chris Koontz, Long Beach’s deputy director of Development Services. 
Koontz said that by approving the worst case scenario it would allow for a staff-level decision down the road if a purchaser wanted to keep the building and carry out the estimated $1.5 million in mold remediation in order to safely reuse the building.

“We would not be starting from scratch because that analysis [the EIR] would already be done,” Koontz said. “And in this case, we’d be refining the project to be less impactful than more impactful.”

While the station is considered a historic resource due to its construction in 1938 under the federal Works Progress Administration, it has not been designated as historic. The city argued that the extensive work required to remove the mold would negatively alter the potential historic status of the building, and not removing it would make it uninhabitable.

The commission wrestled with alternatives like approving the environmental review documents but not the site plan review, something that a city official said would make it difficult to market the property to a potential buyer, as well as approving the documents with a suggestion to the City Council that the building not be destroyed for a pre-determined amount of time.

However, Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais said that the council could ultimately ignore that suggestion.

The commission voted 5-0 to postpone a vote on the future of the building until more options can be presented, including a potential buyer of the property and their plans for the site.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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