The proposed Land Use Element, the city’s blueprint for its goals and policies, has stirred up controversy in Long Beach. Concerns of both residents and city leaders center on a possible increase of building heights in certain neighborhoods.
Provisions in the Land Use Element must factor in the construction of 7,048 residential units by 2021 to accommodate for an estimated population growth of 18,230 by 2040. These are state projections and requirements.
“They would have Bluff Park surrounded with five-story mixed-use buildings,” local realtor and community activist Robert Fox said. “That would box in this historic neighborhood.”
Long Beach Development Services Communications Officer Kevin Lee clarified that the city would consider instating transition areas as a buffer between residential neighborhoods and larger buildings.
Fox established the Council of Neighborhood Organizations (CONO) as a forum for leaders of the neighborhood associations to discuss their concerns with the city. He said he started it in 1993 in response to the economic downturn following the military downsize in Long Beach. While the group disbanded at the turn of the millennium, Fox said he decided to reactivate it nine months ago when friends began expressing concerns about the Land Use Element.
Fox and others from his organization usurped a September 30 community meeting that the city hosted at the Veterans Park Community Center. It was intended to provide answers on the Land Use Element in an informal, workshop-style setting. But Fox accused the city of lacking transparency and demanded a town hall-style format.
Third District Councilmember Suzie Price also disagreed with the way the development services department is approaching community engagement.
“I think the outreach and education is something that should’ve been a priority a long time ago. I’ve been conducting Land Use Element meetings with my constituents at different community meetings for over three years,” she said.
As for the plan itself, Price said that, while she is open to hearing feedback on increasing density in certain areas, such as the 7th Street Business Corridor, there are changes proposed for her district that she “will absolutely not support.” These mainly regard residential areas with a high concentration of single-family homes.
Fourth District Councilmember Daryl Supernaw and 5th District Councilmember Stacy Mungo have also expressed discontent with the Land Use Element.
“The General Plan update is required by the state and it’s our opportunity to plan for our future, but that doesn’t mean one size fits all as far as density is concerned,” Mungo said in an e-mail statement to the Business Journal. “It makes sense to allow some increased density in areas that have the infrastructure to support it, but it doesn’t make sense for the 5th District, which was developed as low profile residential neighborhoods. I’m going to fight to protect our neighborhoods and keep increased density in areas that are already zoned for it. The people have spoken loud and clear on this, and I agree with them.”
Supernaw wrote in an e-mail response that, while he does not support the proposed zoning changes for his district, he does want to respect the planning commission process.
Former 8th District Councilmember Rae Gabelich voiced concern about parking in an already congested area.
“I manage two properties on Carson Street, a duplex and an eight-unit apartment building, and parking has always been a problem,” she said. “When I was on the council we kept working to change it because of the overflow. The eight-unit has only four single-car garages. Now they’re talking about allowing a 30% increase in the number of residential units without any additional parking required.”
Although Price does not approve of all the proposed changes in her district, she reminded Long Beach residents to consider the layout of the entire city and to view the changes in a holistic context.
“Although it might be popular to say, ‘not in my backyard,’ I don’t know if that’s realistic or smart policy,” she said. “The reality is, in addition to people moving into the city, the primary source of population growth is growing families and we need to accommodate for that.”