Tom Dean Speaks On Wetlands Deal

Tonight, when the City Council votes on whether or not to approve a swap of 13.4 acres of a City-owned public service yard with 37.7 acres of wetlands, many different factions of the public will hang with baited breath. With an environmental desire to restore the land back to the wetlands habitat it once was, dreams of a thriving ecosystem danced in the heads of the public.

As time has passed, however, questions were raised about the possibility of a full restoration (as well as the cost), and about how much the City is giving up to get the land. The vote has been delayed and renegotiated several times, but that will end tonight as the Council will vote on the deal currently on the table. It will be the City’s last chance to acquire the land, according to developer Tom Dean – owner of the 37.7 acres of wetlands – who says he will pull his offer from the table if the Council does not approve the deal tonight.

“Today is the last day,” Dean said in a phone interview with the this morning. “We have worked very hard to bring this to the City. The controversy and the amount of legal fees that we’ve spent have just gotten ridiculous. And so we have put a letter out that we are concluding one way or another tonight.”

The proposed land trade has received hopeful feedback from the public, but as time has passed many questions have arisen that have yet to be answered. For starters, no one is quite sure how much the wetlands property is worth (a recent Press-Telegram article tagged the value of the originally proposed 33.7 acres between $9 million and $36 million, while City Auditor Laura Doud estimated similar land five times that size at $14.25 million), and critics of the plan say that the City is giving away too much. In the terms of the deal, the City would not control rights to oil drawn from the area, while at the same time it is not apparent how much of the land can possibly be restored as wetlands. Conversely, it is not clear how much can possibly be developed. Still, Dean says the Council must make up their minds tonight.

“We are very hopeful that it will come to a successful vote tonight, but either with a ‘No’ vote or a ‘Delay’ vote, we are pulling our offer and stepping away, and we’re going to pursue other opportunities,” he said.

Dean would not expand on possible future opportunities that he may explore, but explained that the land is zoned as developable.

While it may be zoned as developable, it may be much more difficult to actually build on the land. With Dean hinting that he will pursue other opportunities (after his last attempt was unsuccessful), it is unclear exactly what opportunities Dean would have if he kept the land.

Dean insists that his ultimate goal has always been to put the property in the hands of the public, and see that the property be used for recreational purposes. According to Dean, he and longtime partner Jeff Berger would like to see it used as a park.

“[Berger] and I have always thought it would be a good piece of real estate to somehow deliver to Long Beach so they could control it, and frankly I live here with my family and we would be honored to be the team that finally got it to the City,” Dean said, stressing that his predecessors have attempted to bring the land to City control for the last thirty years, and that he’s always felt such a move was the right thing to do.

“Let’s hope that this all goes the right way, and let’s hope that our kids are playing on that land in six months, because that’s what’s on the table.”

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