A Brand new Redondo Beach

Slow growth Mayor Bill Brand has big plans for the power plant, the waterfront, and the Galleria

by Ralph Doyle

Redondo Beach has long been overshadowed by its smaller, but wealthier neighboring beach cities, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach.

Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand appears intent on changing that, based on his State of the City address last Thursday. 

During the Zoom event, emceed by Chamber of Commerce president Faisal Hashmi, Brand laid out infrastructure plans that rival in scope, if not in scale, the infrastructure plans President Joe Biden laid out the previous evening in his presidential address to Congress.

Brand spoke first about the 30-acre Galleria and the adjacent Artesia/Aviation corridor, whose redevelopments are eminent. Then he spoke about the 52-acre AES power plant, and the adjacent, 50-acre SCE powerline right-of way, whose redevelopment time tables are in limbo. And he spoke about the 15-acre pier/waterfront, where improvements are underway.

Brand also touched on city social programs, including grants to businesses damaged by the pandemic, and help for the homeless.

Like the President’s, Brand’s infrastructure plans have been mired in political infighting, for decades. But unlike the President, the recent election delivered Brand the votes he needs to break the logjam. Brand received 68 percent of the March election vote, in his bid for a second term. Council allies Todd Loewenstein and Nils Nehrenheim received 72 percent and 60 percent respectively. And newcomer Zein Obagi squeaked into office on a 33-vote margin, giving Brand a supportive council majority. Redondo mayors have limited veto powers, and do not have a vote on council issues.

The proposed “lifestyle center” Galleria is being championed by Mayor Bill Brand. Image courtesy of the City of Redondo Beach

Galleria lifestyle

The South Bay Center at Hawthorne Boulevard and Artesia boulevards was built in the late 1950s, during the Eisenhower presidency. It was renamed Galleria At South Bay during its last remodel in the mid-1980s, when Reagan was president. 

Last week, Brand told Thursday’s Zoom audience, he received a phone call from Paris, from L Catterton CEO Mathieu Le Bozec , whose French-American private equity company recently acquired the Galleria.  

“He told me plans for the Galleria will be brought to the council next month,” Brand said. The council has already approved conceptual plans for the development. The “lifestyle center” is expected to include 217,043 sq. ft of commercial space, a 150 room hotel, 300 apartments and six acres of open space. 

In exchange for his support during negotiations, Brand demanded the developer designate 20 percent of the residential units for middle and low income Redondoans; to include an 8,000 sq. ft. skate park, to contributed $1 million for street improvements along the Artesia/Aviation boulevards corridor, and to contribute another $1 million for “functional art,” such as fixtures and benches, along the two gateway boulevards.

The $2 million will help fund the recently approved Artesia and Aviation Corridor Area Plan (AACAP), which Brand described as a “nuts and bolts” upgrade of the long neglected North Redondo commercial district. The “nuts and bolts” include storefront improvements and relaxed parking requirements to allow more retail and more restaurant seating. 

Activist Jim Light and then councilman Bill Brand at the AES power plant in 2009, when efforts to close the plant were viewed as quixotic. Easy Reader file photo.

Pulling the plug on the power plant

Decommissioning the AES Power Plant was unimaginable when Brand was elected to the City Council in 2009. Today, it is inevitable. 

During Brand’s first mayoral term, in 2017, the State Water Resources Control Board ordered the power plant to close by 2020, because ocean cooled power plants were being phased out. Last year, in anticipation of being closed, AES sold its 52-acre site for $28 million to a partnership headed by Los Angeles developer Leo Pustilnikov. The city subsequently reached an agreement with Pustnilnikov to buy 25 acres for $50 million, for a park. To pay for the purchase, the city obtained approval for a $4.8 million grant from the Proposition 68 Parks and Water bond proceeds; and approval from the County Board of Supervisors for a property tax district, which Brand said Thursday, “would divert $100 million back to the site.” 

Then, Brand said on Thursday, “We lost momentum.”

The Public Utilities Commission is proposing to extend the plant’s operations until 2023, deferring indefinitely the anticipated tax district revenue. Pustilnikov and partners withdrew their parkland sale offer, prompting the Parks and Water to rescind its $4.8 million grant.

Brand said his efforts now are focused on convincing the State Water Resources Control Board  not to extend the plant’s operation past 2021. Redondo and Hermosa Beach are suing the board.

Redevelopment of the adjacent, SCE right-of-way, which run east from the power plant, up 190th to the city’s Torrance border, also hinges on decommissioning the power plant.

“The right-of-way offers the only view of the ocean from Pacific Coast Highway, between Santa Monica and Seal Beach,” Brand pointed out. He said he hopes to have five of the acres dedicated for public use.

Revitalization of Redondo’s waterfront has included boat concerts. Bad Seeds performed aboard Estrella to fans starved for live music on a sunny Sunday last October. Photo by Richard Podgurski (RP-Photography.com)

A rising tide

Across the street from the AES power plant, in King Harbor, significant improvements are being made for the first time since the ill-fated CenterCal development received City Council support in 2012, over then council member Brand’s opposition.

Brand was first elected mayor in March 2017 by promising to stop the unpopular, $400 million CenterCal harbor development, which the city council signed a 99-year lease for, 35 days prior to the 2017 election.

In June, just four months after Brand was elected Mayor, both the city and CenterCal withdrew their Coastal Commission applications for the project.

“I think I’m comfortable saying that this project is dead,” Mayor Bill Brand said. “For me, this is a major, major milestone.”

Harbor leases that had been suspended in anticipation of CenterCal evicting the tenants, are being renewed, the mayor said Thursday. Facility improvements that had been on hold in anticipation of the CenterCal development, are also moving forward. Last month the council issued a Request for Proposals to build a public boat launch, rebuild the sport fishing pier and reconfigure Seaside Lagoon. The RFP also covers long deferred  improvements along Harbor Drive, from Quality Seafood on the pier, north to Portofino Way, which borders Seaside Lagoon.

Two other signs of progress on the waterfront, Brand said, are the return of the BeachLife Music Festival, over the September 10 weekend in Seaside Lagoon; and the inaugural Swim Across America — Los Angeles Open Water Swim on Oct. 16, at Veterans Park. 

BeachLife headliners, Brand disclosed even before BeachLife announced them, will include the popular Counting Crows, Ben Harper and Men at Work. The Los Angeles Swim Across America race will benefit clinical cancer trials at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The swim course parallels the Esplanade and will showcase Redondo as a potential venue for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics open ocean swim, a goal Brand has championed since he brought  the World Open Water Swim Association (WOWSA) 10K to Redondo in 2019.

Brand’s optimism for his city’s future was tempered, during his address, by acknowledgment of the financial toll the pandemic has taken. The city’s $90 million general fund lost $15 million in tax revenue during the pandemic. Declines in hotel occupancy taxes accounted for $8.5 million of that loss. The city covered the deficit, he said, by eliminating nine full time positions (though only two through layoffs), state and federal grants, dipping into the city’s reserves and staff-wide belt tightening.

“We need to thank City Manager Joe Hoefgen, Assistant City Manager Mike Witzansky and all the city employees for pulling together during this time,” Brand said.

To help businesses damaged by the pandemic, Brand said, the city issued $100,000 in grants and allowed outdoor dining on sidewalks and in curbside parking spaces. To help the homeless, the city built 14 pallet houses and established a homeless court. 

Brand described the outdoor dining in Riviera Village, and along Artesia Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, as one of the pandemic’s unanticipated benefits. He said he hopes dining decks in the parking stalls will be allowed after the pandemic, but noted approval will require a Coastal Commission waiver. The Coastal Commission has jurisdiction over parking within the coastal zone, which includes Riviera Village and Pacific Coast Highway. 

Redondo Beach Child Development teacher Sarai Cuevas receives a COVID-19 innoculation from Manhattan Beach Firefighter Tyler Wade  at the Beach Cities Health District’s AdventurePlex in Manhattan Beach. Looking on are Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn and Redondo Beach Schools Superintendent Steven Keller. Photo by Kevin Cody

Hahn’s helping hand

Guest of Honor, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, preceded Brand’s State of the City address.

Hahn acknowledged the toll the pandemic has taken on the County, but expressed confidence that herd immunity is near.

“Thirty percent of LA County and 63 percent of Redondo Beach residents have been vaccinated. That’s a game changer,” she said. Herd immunity requires 70 percent of the population to be vaccinated, she noted.

“We need to balance public safety with business needs. But we’re on track for a complete reopening of businesses in mid-June,” Hahn said.

Hahn praised Redondo for its Pallet House program, saying it, and the city’s homeless court are models for all of Los Angeles County.

Brand thanked Hahn for a $410,000 grant for the Pallet House program, and credited City Attorney Mike Webb for spearheading it, and the Harbor Interfaith Coalition for managing it.

Brand concluded his State of the City address by presenting the Mayor’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Easy Reader publisher Kevin Cody. Easy Reader began covering Redondo Reach in the early 1970s when Richard Nixon was president and Bill Czuleger was in his third term as Redondo Beach Mayor.

The lesson Cody said he’s drawn from those five decades is politicians don’t change, but they term out. The issues don’t change, either, but they don’t term out.

“It’s taken 50 years, but Redondo’s mayor and council have swung 180 degrees, from protecting the power plant to advocating it be decommissioned,” he noted.

Cody said he was accepting the award on behalf of all the Easy Reader employees over the years, not only the reporters and editors, but also the sales people, production people, photographers, office managers and distributors needed to get a newspaper out each week. ER

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Written by: Kevin Cody

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