California Coastal Commission certifies Redondo Beach’s Measure C
by David Mendez
There were checks and subpoenas, yelling and shouting, low faces and waved signs – and at the end of the day, cheering.
Thursday, was a long, strange day in the Redondo Beach Public Library’s second-floor meeting room. But around 10 p.m., 13 hours after the meeting began, the California Coastal Commission approved of Redondo’s harbor-rezoning Measure C, closing a six-year-long chapter in the waterfront saga.
“The people won one,” Mayor Bill Brand said afterward, as both Redondo Beach and Coastal Commission staff ushered out, hugging, high-fiving Measure C supporters.
The Coastal Commission decisively chose to accept Measure C as it was passed by the voters in March 2017, disregarding recommendations by Coastal Commission staff to amend the measure’s language. Had the commission voted to add the amendments, the modified measure would have needed approval by Redondo Beach voters before taking effect.
The 2017 election to pass Measure C was cast as a battle for Redondo’s future. In 2012, the Redondo Beach City Council chose CenterCal Properties as its development partner to rebuild the city’s waterfront and pier area. Proponents believed the city would have benefited from additional tax revenues and improvements to the pier infrastructure.
Opponents saw CenterCal’s 523,939 square feet development over 36 acres of waterfront as paving over Redondo Beach’s crown jewel, replacing harbor-serving uses with shopping and dining.
Measure C was meant to quash the project. Its language legislated out an on-site parking garage, needed to replace surface parking, and positioned a state-mandated boat ramp near key project elements.
The campaign played out in public and online, pitting neighbors against one another. Though CenterCal’s “No on C” effort spent more than $500,000, their efforts were trampled by the “Yes on C” effort, which drew creative support – songs, videos and posters – from its backers. Measure C won 57 percent of the vote, a relative landslide for Redondo Beach.
In the year and a half since, Redondo Beach and CenterCal have severed ties, engaged in extensive legal battles, and withdrawn the project itself from Coastal Commission consideration.
But among neighbors, name-calling and accusations of evil intent still continue to this day, more than a year after the vote.
“Having to vote on it again was the most horrific prospect,” Councilwoman Laura Emdee said after the meeting. Earlier, Emdee asked the commission to deny Measure C outright and allow Redondo to restart waterfront development with a clean slate. “I would rather have the Commission accept as is than accept with modifications,” she said.
Those modifications would not have fundamentally changed Measure C, but they would have altered key aspects in favor of the measure.
One Coastal Commission staff recommendation would have allowed for the construction of a parking garage on the land southwest of Beryl Street and Harbor Drive. The garage would offset parking lost to new development in the harbor. Measure C’s proponents argued that a parking garage there, as proposed in CenterCal’s Waterfront redevelopment plan, would obstruct ocean views and create a “concrete canyon.”
The second major Coastal Commission Staff recommendation would have removed a restriction against building a boat ramp in King Harbor at either mole A or B, to give the city more leeway in its selection process. Both locations, man-made outcroppings on the harbor’s north end, were repeatedly derided by Measure C backers as unsafe and too small for a boat ramp.
Mole A, the current home of the King Harbor Yacht Club, is adjacent to the breakwall, and sees significant storm surge during the winter. Mole B is the home of Moonstone Park, three outrigger canoe clubs, and access to King Harbor Marina boat slips. Both moles are also in highly-trafficked areas of the harbor, leading to crowding and crash concerns.
Moles C and D, conversely, are adjacent to the harbor channel and a wide turning basin. Though development at either may be held up by lease issues, both are considered safer options due to lower vessel traffic.
At the end of the day, Commission Chair Dayna Bochco said that the argument that most swayed her was one made prominently by Measure C proponent Jim Light and repeated throughout the evening: that the Coastal Commission would still be the final arbiter determining whether or not a project abided by the Coastal Act.
“That’s what’s important to us,” Bochco said. “We want the project, whatever it ultimately will be, to be in compliance.”
People had shown up bright and early for the Coastal Commission’s 9 a.m. meeting on Thursday, for an agenda that was packed, even by the statewide commission’s standards.
Locally, Manhattan Beach was scheduled to have its Downtown Specific Plan heard, potentially putting an end to more than three years of work. But the first big ticket item was an enforcement action against a $25 million oceanfront home in Laguna Beach that drew attention both from the commission and regional media outlets.
As the hours dragged on, locals grew restless. The commission spent five hours on a decision that produced a $1 million fine for the Laguna Beach home on Victoria Beach remodeled without necessary state permits.
Discussion about Manhattan Beach’s Downtown Specific Plan then followed. When that ended around 5 p.m., the commission decided to trail Redondo’s hearing as the final item of the meeting, behind 10 smaller items.
Redondoans revolted. Many began shouting, while others poured outside to vent.
“I think it’s a travesty that they put five hours of deliberation on a single home, when the homeowner wasn’t here, ahead of a whole community sitting here waiting to talk about 155 acres of harbor and zoning, voted on by 14,000 voters,” said Measure C proponent Jim Light.
Each allowance of extra time drew groans of protest. Faces began to sag to the floor, or drop disbelievingly into hands. The day’s saving grace may have been the meeting’s location. Savvy audience members were seen cracking open recently checked-out books.
Finally, at about 7 p.m., the discussion began. After a short presentation by commission staff, Chair Bochco waved a stack of papers. There were, she said, more than 100 speaker slips.
“Everything I see here is in opposition to the staff report,” Bochco said. “Whether it’s to leave it, or they want to get rid of Measure C altogether, I don’t see anything in support.”
What followed was three years worth of impassioned statements for saving King Harbor — either through maintaining Measure C as is, or by throwing it out for a clean slate — condensed into about two hours.
Supporters of the measure begged the commission to not disenfranchise Redondo’s voters. Opponents derided the Measure’s provenance as an anti-CenterCal zoning effort, which was intended Then, about 45 minutes in, Rescue Our Waterfront President and Measure C proponent Wayne Craig stepped to the podium and waved an envelope.
“There’s an attorney here harassing and intimidating every witness that’s spoken in favor of Measure C. His name is Bradley Hertz, and he works for CenterCal Properties, and he’s handed out about a half-dozen subpoenas to people that have come up and spoken,” Craig said.
Before long, a crowd gathered in the hall outside the meeting room. Jim Light pulled aside a policeman, reporting that Hertz had pressed a subpoena into Light’s chest as Light walked past him.
“I didn’t know who the guy was,” Light said, confirming that he wasn’t interested in “pursuing anything” against Hertz. “He had some paper in his hand, and I just tried to avoid him.”
Hertz is the attorney for residents and Measure C opponents Chris Voisey and Arnette Travis. Voisey and Travis are suing Brand, Nehrenheim and Craig, accusing the candidates of illegally coordinating with Craig’s Rescue Our Waterfront political action committee.
Hertz later confirmed that he spoke to Redondo police as well, and said that Light walked into his hand as Hertz attempted to serve a subpoena.
In total, seven people were served with subpoenas, including Redondo Councilman Todd Loewenstein and a number of residents Hertz believes “have relevant information ROW PAC, its formation and its operation.”
Hertz also confirmed that he wrote $35 witness fee checks to those he subpoenaed while there in the Coastal Commission chambers, as required by state law.
“I’ve been coming to public meetings like this for 20 years, since before I worked at Coastal Commission, and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s the intensity,” said Sarah Christie, the Coastal Commission’s Legislative Director, who kept finding herself unable to tear away from the proceedings as they continued into the night.
“People care about the coast. They cherish the places they live, and thank goodness they do, because if people didn’t love places deeply enough to fight to save them, this would be an impoverished place, and we wouldn’t have the Coastal Act,” Christie said.
Chair Bochco made similar remarks after public comment ended.
“Though I sometimes get impatient and tired, I realize that this means so much to you and it’s an important part of your life and your city, and I respect that,” Bochco said. “The fact that we feel like we landed in the middle of the Hatfields and the McCoys is just another fun part of our job.”
The decision came down to one question for Commissioner Erik Howell.
“We have a city with a Local Coastal Plan amendment they’re asking us to certify,” Howell said. “I’ve read over Measure C over and over again, and I don’t see anything in it that conflicts with the Coastal Act.”
Staff’s assessment of Measure C’s flaws – that it was too restrictive against boat ramp sites and on-site parking garages – didn’t pass muster with Howell, nor with Commissioner Donne Brownsey.
“I hold staff in extremely high regard but I think in this instance, emphasis was placed overly on some minor areas where we can still easily reconcile with the Coastal Act,” Brownsey said.
Commissioner Roberto Uranga disagreed, and seemed to oppose the measure itself based on opponent arguments that Measure C supporters misled the public with propaganda.
“There have been historical precedents for people putting something on the ballot and it’s been wrong and rejected in court,” Uranga said. “I think this is one of those situations where the electorate, while they did vote, I think it was under a premise where people were being misled.”
His concerns weren’t echoed throughout the commission, which voted 8 to 2 in favor of certifying Measure C as submitted, leading to a standing ovation and whoops among Measure C supporters.
Craig and Nehrenheim, two of Measure C’s original proponents, were elated.
“Fully vindicated all the way through, by judges, the coastal commission, by third parties – the community has been right the entire time,” Nehrenheim said.
“It proves what we’ve been saying all along,” Craig said. “We can finally move forward and do something with the harbor that the whole city does want. We want reasonable revitalization and development that makes sense. Measure C is not only legally correct, but Coastal Commission-certified. Couldn’t ask for a better answer on that.”
Light, who slapped hands with Brand immediately after the decision was read, was elated. He went into the meeting expecting Measure C to be altered, rather than approved in its original form.
“This has been a battle going on since 2002, if you think about it,” Light said the following morning, and looking to the future.
“I’m hopeful. I think with the right leadership and balance in mind, developers won’t come up with wild schemes that end up getting balanced by initiatives and referendums and appeals and things like that,” Light said, alluding to the history of lawsuits, appeals and referendums he’s backed to fight developments in King Harbor.
“We’ll get balance from the start, because they know they won’t have the support of the city,” Light said