BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
In the near future, developers planning projects in Long Beach will probably have to ramp up their efforts to notify residents of public hearings pertaining to their construction plans. City planning staff is working on changes to the noticing requirements that could include distributing notices of the hearing to all residents within 1,000 feet of a proposed development, printing notices in English, Spanish and Khmer, and notifying citywide organizations of proposed developments. Those changes- in the form of an ordinance- will be considered sometime in the next few weeks by the Long Beach Planning Commission and later by the city council.
On October 1, Derek Burnham, officer with Long Beach Community Design and Development Division, met with community leaders in a City Hall conference room to get their input on how developers should inform people who could be impacted by their projects. Burnham told the audience of six that many people had complained to the city about insufficient noticing. “People say they live a block away from a planned development and don’t know what’s happening,” he said. “Or they tell us they rent a place and no one told me about this.”
Burnham said city staff had made recommendations pertaining to notice requirements to the planning commission in August, but the commission directed staff to get more input from the public. “We are open to your suggestions,” he told the attendees. He explained that the Department of Development Services wants to increase the effectiveness of the methods now used to notify residents of upcoming hearings.
Joe Sopo, a long-time community activist and current vice president of a citywide group called Neighborhoods First, said that so far the city has not done a good job of letting people know about upcoming public hearings, and he gave a recent example. “Right now, there are a lot of people up in arms over the city’s plan to develop a facility for the mentally ill homeless at the corner of Grand and Burnett,” he said. “The city council approved that plan in December and many of the people that live in the vicinity knew nothing about it.”
Sopo said that by not notifying homeowners in the area, the city created a big problem for itself. “Providing care for the mentally ill homeless is not a bad thing, but the problem was that the community was not involved in the process,” he said. “That happens too often in Long Beach.”
For many years, developers were required to mail notices to all addresses within a 300-foot radius of a proposed project. Sopo said that meant that only two duplexes received notices of the planned facility for the homeless.
Burnham said that staff had proposed expanding the radius to 500 feet. The people attending the meeting said that was not enough.
“One of our challenges is making sure the entire neighborhood knows about a new development,” said Jack Smith, a founding member of Better Balance for Long Beach, another citywide organization.
He explained that the organization is trying to empower neighborhoods to better themselves and has done a lot of work in the area of 14th Street Park and Washington Middle School.
“Most of the people in that area are renters, but the city only sends notices of hearings to the property owners, most of whom are absentee landlords,” he said. “You have to make sure that renters are given notice of what is being proposed in their neighborhoods. They, more than the landlords, are the ones who are impacted by new developments.”
Burnham said one of the problems with sending out notices was that many are mailed to apartment residents and returned due to insufficient address. “We will work to build a better database, but it is imperfect at this point,” he said. “But we do have to take into account the cost of all that.”
“There is another cost for not properly notifying the public,” Sopo said. “When people feel that something is done behind their back,that results in anger and in a lot of distrust of our public officials.”
Burnham said everything discussed at the meeting would be considered by staff, which would then make recommendations to the planning commission. He said he did not know when the commission and the council would be considering the ordinance changing noticing requirements.