City Council Denies Appeal, Greenlights 345-Unit Downtown Development

The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously on November 12 to deny an appeal by Supporters Alliance for Environmental Responsibility (SAFER) against a two-building residential development project and approve the proposed site plan. Councilmember Rex Richardson was absent. SAFER contended that the Ensemble Real Estate Solutions & Investments development known as Third + Pacific does not meet the guidelines of the Downtown Plan, which was adopted in 2012, and therefore requires a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. Developments that meet the guidelines of the Downtown Plan are exempt from CEQA review. City staff assured the council that the project, as proposed, meets all required standards. Located at 131 W. 3rd St., the approved site plan consists of 345 residential units in two buildings – one 23-story tower and one eight-story mid-rise. The project also includes more than 14,000 square feet of retail space. SAFER is a nonprofit organization founded in January of this year, according to The organization has filed similar appeals in Los Angeles and Chino on March 4 and Jun 28, respectively. 

Transient Occupancy Tax Increase

Mayor Robert Garcia has requested the Office of the City Attorney prepare an ordinance to permanently increase the city’s transient occupancy tax (TOT) by 1%. The current TOT in Long Beach is 12% of the room rent, paid for by guests of hotels, vacation rentals and other hospitality establishments offering overnight stays. The increase, the mayor argued, would still put the city’s tax rate below that of its nearest competitor, the City of Anaheim. The additional tax revenue would be evenly split between the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center and major arts and culture organizations, according to the mayor’s letter to the city council. The request was approved by the council in a 7-0 vote on November 12. A corresponding measure will be placed on the March 3 municipal election ballot.

Report On The Status Of Brick-and-Mortar Retail

Based on a request by 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price, the city council has asked Acting City Manager Tom Modica to prepare a report on the status of retail commerce, both regionally and in Long Beach, with a focus on brick-and-mortar establishments. “This growing role of the online marketplace is changing the way businesses operate and how local business corridors function,” Price said in her letter to the council. “The city council is requesting a report from the city manager about changes in the retail environment, and to recommend how the city may help all local small business innovate, evolve, and thrive.” The item was approved in a 7-0 vote on November 12, starting the clock on a 120-day deadline for the report.

Increased Budget For East San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Study

During the same meeting, the city council approved a request by the Long Beach Public Works Department to increase the city’s share of costs for the East San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study by $560,500. The study initially kicked off in 2005. Five years later, the city entered an agreement with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to explore potential modifications to the city’s breakwater. The purpose of any potential modifications would be to improve biodiversity in the San Pedro Bay and allow for more recreational opportunities along the shoreline, according to a staff report. An array of options identified through the study will be discussed in a draft integrated feasibility report to be published on November 22. The approved increase brings the city’s share of the study to $2.9 million dollars. It was approved in a 7-0 vote.

Ban On Flavored Tobacco Products

In a decision long-protested by vape shop owners and users of vapor products, the city council declared an ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco products in an effort to prevent the use of vape products by teens. “As we have seen decades of declining nicotine addiction in youth, there has been a spike in recent years as vaping has become more popular, leading to growing numbers of teens that are heavily addicted,” Price, who spearheaded the ban, stated in a press release following the ordinance’s unanimous passage. Price also noted that a wave of lung injuries associated with vaping products made the issue even more pertinent. “With the Center for Disease Control reporting 39 deaths and 2,051 pulmonary injuries directly related to vaping, it is important that the City Council take decisive action to ensure Long Beach residents are protected,” the release stated. The ban includes all tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigarillos, in all flavors, including menthol.

New Natural Gas Fueling Station For City Vehicles

In the prior week, the city council awarded a contract for the operation and maintenance of a municipal natural gas fueling station to Clean Energy Fuels, a fuel delivery company based in Newport Beach. Clean Energy will be tasked with upgrading the existing station that was previously maintained and operated by the Long Beach Energy Resources Department, to meet the growing fuel needs of the city’s expanding fleet of vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), according to a staff report. “The department continues its ongoing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and aims to supply 100% renewable natural gas (RNG), a net-neutral carbon emission fuel, [to the station],” the report said. The contract has a value of $425,000 with a 15% contingency.

Revisions To Ballot Measure Text On Measure A Extension

On November 5, the city council also approved a request by the city attorney’s office to change the language of a question to appear on the March 5 municipal election ballot. The question asks voters to permanently extend the Measure A Transactions and Use (Sales) Tax. The language includes a simplified description of the varying tax percentage to be levied over the next eight years, before the tax settles on its 1% permanent rate after October 1, 2027. The new text also includes a change in the listed purposes for the collection of the tax. In its initial language, the question was phrased to ask voters whether a tax should be levied to maintain libraries, among a list of other items, such as police and fire services. In the new version, the maintenance of libraries has been replaced by the purpose of “improv[ing] water quality.” Although the permanent extension of Measure A was proposed, in part, to help fund the seismic retrofitting of Community Hospital, this purpose was not mentioned explicitly in either the initial or rephrased ballot question.

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