Growing pains

City’s plan for more housing is at odds with residents’ concerns over congestion and decreased property values

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune
Robert Fox was one of the residents who was particularly vocal at the fourth community workshop on the proposed update to the General Plan Land Use and Urban Design Elements on Oct. 18.

At the forefront of four community workshops in recent weeks has been a conflict between the City of Long Beach’s efforts to provide more housing for a growing population and a pushback from current residents– particularly homeowners– against those developments.

After the City had hosted three workshops on the proposed update to the General Plan Land Use and Urban Design Elements, residents from throughout Long Beach showed up at Scherer Park on the night of Oct. 18 for the fourth– and last– such event to provide their input on the proposal.

The General Plan is a broad, long-range policy document– that City officials say is required by State law– that guides future development and conservation while establishing the goals, policies and directions the City will take to achieve the “vision of the community,” which is garnered through the various community workshops.

Judging by the pointed questions and critical comments made during the public-input portion of the Oct. 18 workshop, one would be hard-pressed to find a citizen who is even content with the proposal. However, not all the criticisms were related to the plan itself– many were about City staff’s responses to questions from residents.

(Because of technical issues with the microphone provided for residents, some of the statements– including when they provided their names– were cut off.)
One of those residents who was particularly vocal at the fourth event was Robert Fox, who was critical of the Development Services staff for their handling of feedback from the community at the three previous workshops.

“And now we’ve gone to four meetings, and here’s the problem: [at] all the meetings, the conversation is controlled by Development staff,” Fox said. “They will twist, they will deflect, they will tell you half-truths […] We stand up, and we say no. We are citizens of the country, let alone Long Beach. They even tried to arrest me last week.”

Fox said that City staff had tried to quell his ability to participate in the discussion at one of the workshops, but 4th District Councilmember Daryl Supernaw stepped in and walked him “through the police line [so] that I got to be part of the community.”

“This is not what we should be getting from the City of Long Beach,” Fox said. “They have told you lies– we are not required by law to do this particular plan.”

Before the public-input portion of the workshop that night, Linda Tatum, Planning Bureau manager, had indeed stated that the State mandates an update of the plan.

“Essentially, we have to update the General Plan because State law requires it,” Tatum said. “Not only is it a good idea, because the purpose of a General Plan is to really look at the city’s future, for the community and the residents to decide the vision for the future, and you can’t do that if you have a General Plan that’s too old, that doesn’t address the changing conditions in your community.”

Tatum added that the State recommends that cities update their plans every 10 years– but that’s only a guideline.

“If circumstances and conditions in the community change more frequently than that, then you update your General Plan based on those changing conditions,” Tatum said. “And just a point– given that it’s been 38 years since the City last updated its General Plan– this city has grown significantly, we didn’t have the Blue Line during the last General Plan update, we didn’t have online shopping during the last General Plan update. So, as you can see, things have changed significantly in this community, and we are in dire need to get an updated General Plan to reflect the current and modern environment that we live in today.”

Another resident who spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting criticized development staff.

“They say that you guys receive $24 million-plus from developer fees,” the man said, addressing the Development Department staff. “Thirteen-something million [dollars] is going towards your salary and benefits of your department […] Someone asked a question at the Golden Sails meeting about developer fees, and you couldn’t give a ‘guesstimate’ on what your department receives. Do you have that figure yet or still don’t know?”

Tatum responded by saying the developer fees are unrelated to the land-use element.

“But the City’s budget document, which is online, it would have all the developer fees, and that would be a part of the City’s budget that gets adopted every year,” Tatum said. “So, no, I do not have those fees.”

Another man who spoke at the microphone during public comment said that the City’s General Plan will have a detrimental effect on residents’ property values.

“When I look around this room, I see many hard-working Americans– people who have worked all their lives to earn a house, who have a dream to give this house to their children, maybe their grandchildren even, to have this house in their family for generations to come,” he said. “And your development project is going to lower the value of their properties. It’s the basic principle of capitalism. If you add more housing, the value of property is going to go down because of supply and demand. You are going to take away all these people’s dreams because– what? Why would you do that?”

Tatum began to respond but was interrupted by boos and yelling from some in attendance.

“So, the purpose of the plan, as we covered in the slide presentation, is that the land-use element is intended to accommodate the growth in the community while at the same time maintaining or improving the quality of life for people who live here as well as people who may move here,” Tatum said, amidst interruptions of people yelling that what she was saying was not true. “The plan is not just for current residents. It’s for people who might move here. We know that, even if we don’t adopt a new land-use element, people will continue to move here because it’s a great community.”

Amidst increasing yells from the audience, Tatum continued.

“So, the reason we’re proposing this land-use element is to try to attract new jobs for the people who do live here,” she said, as the din from the crowd became louder. “I’m going to ask for civility here.”

Then a man screamed, “Tell the truth,” which prompted others to yell the same demand.

Tatum again asked for calm during the discussion, but the frustration and anger among residents was palpable.

One woman’s comment regarded “PlaceTypes,” which are the physical features and traits that define unique places, such as the size of a structure in relation to other buildings in the area, development patterns, accessibility, infrastructure and streetscape design. PlaceTypes involve how a development looks, as well as how it relates to the streets, sidewalks and neighboring buildings, which is an aberration from the former approach of regulating structures based only on their height and square footage, according to City staff.

The woman expressed concern about how a multi-level housing structure would alter the character of the neighborhood in which it is intended to be built.

“I live right behind Bellflower and Spring, and I’ve noticed on the PlaceType maps you have five-story apartment buildings where the K-Mart lot is, across the street from where the 24-Hour Fitness lot is, and across the other street,” she said. “So, three of those corners, where the post office is […] are going to be built up with multi-story apartment buildings. And, as you say, you’re not going to be changing the character of single-family-home neighborhoods, but that will. If you’re placing apartment buildings in front, behind, to the side, in our back yards, it is going to change the character of our neighborhoods.”

She added that City staff will be creating “a nightmare– not for citizens that might move here, but for citizens and residents that live here already.”

Like others who spoke out against the plan, she emphasized that Development Department staff should be prioritizing current residents over prospective residents.

“They have made a huge investment in their homes and this city, and we want to be heard before you start doing things for people that don’t live here,” she said, garnering a round of applause from the audience.

Now that the community workshops have concluded, the Planning Commission will review, comment on and make recommendations to the city council on the Land Use and Urban Design Elements prior to its being presented to the council for deliberation and input before adoption. For more information about the General Plan update and next steps, to view the Land Use and Urban Design Element drafts or to take a short survey, visit longbeach.gov/lueude2040.

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