UPDATE: The city's video of the The Planning Commission study session Thursday is now online. Apparently you need to click on "City Council Online" then on Video Archives then to April 7th meeting. But link below should work.
Installing balloon models of 12-story and six-story structures for a sense of the actual scale of proposed 2nd and PCH buildings was but one suggestion that came from Thursday night's Long Beach Planning Commission meeting on the 2nd and PCH condo tower and hotel project.
More than 100 people showed up and more than 35 expressed views or ideas or concerns about the long-planned project at what was the first study session on the redone and thick draft EIR--the summary of which is 50 some pages long.
For those interested yet unable to attend, the Planning Commission is accepting written statements up until April 25, and will provide a written response for comments received during that period. This is the second crack at the draft environmental impact report--DEIR--which is required by law but which does not bind the government agencies to heed its conclusions. The public has time to comment on the ''draft'' and then the city staff reviews those, and a final version will be considered after that.
A DEIR on the 2nd and PCH project a year ago was pulled by the developer after widespread criticism including that of the developer over its adequacy.
The current DEIR addresses the developer's plans for the 11-acre site, and it cited three significant unavoidable impacts, which drew the nost attention at Thursday night's study session:
1)Decreased air quality due to construction and then operation of the large complex of a hotel, residential condo building and theater and restaurants.
2) Traffic congestion at 2nd and PCH, as well as at Studebaker and Westminster, the pivot point for freeway-bound East side drivers.
3) Land use that is not allowed according to the South East Area Development and Improvement Plan (SEADIP), the binding zoning for the project area. Developer David Malmuth, who heads the effort, has said he will pursue having SEADIP modified or rewritten to permit the project.
The final EIR is expected to be completed mid-summer, with another public hearing late summer or early fall.: Many voiced that this area should be developed in a way that is truly fitting to a seaside community rather than making another downtown.
Alan Pullman, the architect for the project, offered virtual scenarios that he said were meant to retain the character of the city, encourage connections through spaces meant for pedestrian, bike, boat and bus access, encourage views, and provide an "iconic east gateway into the city." There would be an open space area of unknown size, possibly a shuttle for hotel guests, and the tallest buildings would be constructed closer to PCH than to Marina Dr., which runs along the edge of a large bot marina.
Traffic has long been a major concern for residents and workers in the area who fear their daily drive to freeways and work and Trader Joe's will be slowed even more with a new population of people living and working on the 11 acres in the 12-story condo building, hotel and restaurants. Dave Roseman and Rich Burletti, city traffic engineers, provided some statistics. At the current time, the average delay at the intersection of 2nd and PCH is calculated to be 40-45 seconds, and on average, the proposed development plan would increase this wait by about 15 seconds, or roughly between 5% and 12% for various peak hours.
When questioned by the chairman about what seemed like a short wait compared to real time, they clarified by saying "on average" meant that some people will arrive at a green light and zoom through, making their wait time virtually zero, while some may arrive at a line of cars at a red light and have to sit through two cycles, making wait time more like 2 minutes.
Also, they compared residential and retail traffic on a 1,500-square-foot space, concluding that traffic increases about seven times from residential to retail, or from about 6-10 one-way trips per day in a residential area to about 40-50 trips per day for the same space in retail.
"Further research is necessary," according to Commission Chair Charles Durning and agreed by the city traffic engineers, to reach an accurate and comprehensive conclusion on how various uses of signal lights would impact traffic flow in this area. They said three driveways are proposed on PCH, and then more on Marina Dr.
The first citizen to speak, who identified himself as Joe, said, "this corner needs development, but this is the wrong project. It is too big, too tall, too dense -- it would be an 'iconic gridlock.' " This sentiment of developing the space, but less massively, was echoed throughout the rest of the meeting.
The next speaker, Toddy White, called the Seaport Marina hotel a "broken window," referring to the broken window theory that once one building in a community falls into disrepair, the rest of the area follows. She spoke in support of the project, saying that she "is willing to sacrifice a couple of minutes in traffic for my community."
Another, David Hine, resident of 10 years, said, "Traffic is a reality and development is necessary."
Seal Beach residents attended the meeting, speaking on behalf of their area, and disapproved of increasing stoplights and vehicle congestion they see the project bringing, saying traffic will back into their city along P.C.H., where their city border begins a few blocks south of theproject.
Building height was another major concern. Many opposed the possibility of making an exception to SEADIP, a planning law meant to limit the height of buildings in the area to 35 feet in height. The hotel would be about 150 feet high, or 115 feet higher than currently allowed. A few criticized the height of the building for aesthetic purposes, valuing the ocean view.
Chairman Charles Durnin proposed the idea that the developing agency erect a temporary tower, or tall piece of machinery, with balloon markers at the 12-story height, and also at a six-story height, so that residents may see at the site itself what such a building would look like.
Some spoke enthusiastically in favor of the plan, like Dorothy Kissler, who said, "It's about time!"
One local resident and consultant for the development agency, Chris, (last name couldn't be heard and does not yet appear on the commission's online minutes), reported that the response from the public was, overall, positive, and that a smaller project is not financially feasible. Apple, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, Morton's and Lazy Dog have all expressed interest in starting business on this property.
About two-thirds of the speakers present, however, spoke either against the current plan in general or raised concerns about how to improve upon the proposal.
Jeanine Pierce, member of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, spoke to the fact that Long Beach has a 22% poverty rate and raised questions concerning who the hotel will be benefiting, if the jobs provided are for retail workers who will probably not be able to afford to live in the surrounding high-income areas. She said that a comprehensive economic analysis was missing. (The DEIR factors in traffic decreases based on the calculation that residents of the condos would not drive but use on-site services. Critics have complained that the traffic study does not factor in the added traffic likely from the workforce of hotel maids, restaurant cooks and waiters and retail sales clerks who would be driving daily because they can't afford the condos or nearby rents).
Natalie Tabor, student at Cal State Long Beach, who was attending the meeting for a political science class, said, "I am just learning about the issue, but what about improving the areas around Long Beach that are not doing well? And if they build upwards, won't that make the wetlands sink even lower?"
Environmental concerns about the wetlands, air quality, chemical pollution and waste--which are addressed in the DEIR--were voiced.
Others commented on the lack of information available to the public, lamenting that the Appendices to the EIR were not available online, and that an economic analysis was not available. One speaker called for facts rather than rhetoric. A planning commissioner questioned whether it was realistic to consider the proposed science center, 99-seat theater and a bike shop, considering a partnership with CSULB would be poorly funded in current state budget woes.
One man, 48, remarked upon the lack of young 20-something voices at this hearing, even though they are the ones who will feel the effects of such a long-term proposal. His sons, he said, "don't believe in the system and think we are lying to them, so we have to go to them."
Elizabeth Lambe, Executive Director of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, said after the meeting, "This was great for the community to voice their concerns, but we still need to make sure that information is available to the public."
The study session adjourned with Chairman Durnin calling for a hearing on land use at a later date.
Other issues on the agenda:
- A recommendation to adopt revised findings for a Conditional Use Permit for alcohol sales at 5400 Cherry Ave.
- Recommendation to approve Site Plan Review for conversion of the closed theater space from the AMC Pine 16 movie theaters into 69 residential units.
- Recommendation to receive and file proposed zoning amendments relating to the City's regulation of wireless telecommunication facilities, and recommend approval of proposed zoning amendments.
- Recommendation to approve amendments to the Planning Commission's bylaws.