City faces harbor zoning conundrum

The City Council has a difficult determination to make in the wake of the city’s loss in court to Building a Better Redondo over a public vote on harbor zoning: figuring out what exactly the current zoning is.

Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien’s ruling last Thursday stripped the city of its current zoning assumptions, and in requiring a public vote as soon as this November, left the council scrambling to discern what exactly is in place. The city faces a deadline with the County Clerk this Friday if it is to put the matter to a public vote by Nov. 2. Under the requirements of the sections of the City Charter implemented by the passage of Building a Better Redondo’s Measure DD, sample ballot language must both describe the existing build-out in the harbor and current zoning.

The problem is nobody knows quite what the zoning is now.

City Attorney Mike Webb told the council that it essentially comes down to two choices – the Heart of the City development plan zoning passed in 2002 (and rescinded the same year in the face of a public referendum movement) that allowed up to 1.6 million sq. ft. of commercial development, or the relatively unlimited 1964 zoning that predates the Coastal Act, which was passed in 1976 and created the California Coastal Commission.

“The interesting thing with the 1964 zoning, and I think this is the absolute truth…if this is pushed back to 1964, then the lawsuit has created the greatest upzoning in the harbor in nearly 50 years,” Webb said.

BBR chair Jim Light suggested to the council that it could ignore the provision of the Charter requiring a description of current zoning.

“We realize you are in a quandary,” Light said. “Based on this ruling, there basically is no effective zoning…We won’t pursue a lawsuit if you leave that provision out and just leave that reason for not doing it.”

Councilman Steve Diels and Light engaged in a heated exchange as Diels repeatedly asked Light what he believed the current zoning was. Light said he couldn’t make that determination and argued that it was largely irrelevant. Diels took exception to his suggestion that the Charter provision could be ignored.

“It’s interesting…that you are so concerned about the law now but you were willing to push this [zoning] by the people until the lawsuit,” Light said.

“I think you just said you will not sue us for violating the Charter,” Diels said.

Councilman Steve Aspel – who made his return to the dais after surgery for colon cancer and who a month ago charged that BBR and its supporters were “more toxic than the cancer in my rectum” – said Light could not be trusted not to sue again.

“Let’s say, God forbid, it did win and people voted for 400,000 sq. ft.,” Aspel said. “…BBR would say, ‘Oh, they left out the ‘and part’ and didn’t vote for current zoning, and we are going to sue.’”

BBR activist Dave Wiggins, who is also a lawyer, said he believed the council could simply put on the ballot that current zoning is not known.

“It’s obvious to me, and anyone sitting out here right now, is you don’t know,” Wiggins said. “And that is what you need to inform the voters.”

Councilman Matt Kilroy said that some zoning had to be in place, and that voters needed to know what that zoning is in order to make an educated vote.

“I want them to understand what they are voting for,” Kilroy said.

BBR lawyer Frank Angel suggested that the two outside law firms hired by the city should have been able to answer the question long ago.

“You have had these outside lawyers for two years,” Angel said. “This question should have been resolved.”

The council continued the matter to a newly scheduled meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday. The city is waiting on a determination from Judge O’Brien on whether the election will be required, in the terms of BBR’s victory, on Nov. 2. City staff is uncertain a traffic study required for the ballot could be prepared by an Aug. 16 deadline and is considering a possible special election in December.

Mayor Mike Gin said that the city could not proceed without a clear determination of its harbor zoning.

“Zoning matters,” Gin said. “You could say that if this is voted down in November or December and the 1964 zoning is in place…that is our land use plan. With such broad rules, I think that it leaves us ripe for someone who wants to build four story timeshares. Four stories is not unrealistic with 110 ft. height limits, for example.”

“This is why we have rules,” Gin added. “This is why we have zoning – to control developments.” ER


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