David Mendez

Council breaks Galleria hearing until Oct. 23

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Councilman Christian Horvath questions appellant Doug Boswell. Photo by David Mendez

by David Mendez

When the Redondo Beach City Council drew up new rules for appeal hearings two weeks ago, Councilman Todd Loewenstein repeated an old maxim: No good decisions are made after midnight.

While the clock rolled past 1 a.m., the City Council voted to continue its appeal hearing against the South Bay Galleria redevelopment project’s entitlements to a later date. The hearing is planned to resume on Oct. 23.

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Redevelopment of the Galleria has been a city priority for years, especially after anchor tenant Nordstrom left for Torrance’s Del Amo Fashion Center. Sales tax revenue from Redondo’s “economic engine” has fallen off, costing the city nearly $1 million annually. But the redevelopment plan includes building housing alongside commercial space, angering locals.

“We’ve been building out for more than 100 years,” said lone appellant Doug Boswell to hypothetical Galleria residents. “There’s no more room. You have to live somewhere else.”

On April 19, the Redondo Beach Planning Commission approved the Galleria’s redevelopment project in a 6-1 vote, after a five-hour hearing. The project includes adding 217,043 square feet of commercial retail space, a 150 room hotel, and 300 apartment units. Commissioners also approved a maximum of 175,000 square feet of office space, which would replace the same amount of new commercial retail.

It was also announced on Tuesday that QIC, the Galleria’s parent company, applied for an affordable housing density bonus, adding 15 to 30 affordable housing units without opting to increase residential density. The project also includes offering 15 units with preferential housing to military or RBUSD employees.

Redondo Beach resident Doug Boswell was the night’s only appellant, out of four original appellants. The Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance’s appeal was deemed invalid soon after it was submitted in April.

On Monday, one day before the hearing, two of the three scheduled appellants withdrew their objections to the project.

The City of Lawndale approved a settlement agreement with the Galleria on Monday night, during its Oct. 1 City Council meeting. According to the agreement, Lawndale will receive $2 million to design and build roadway improvements if the Galleria wins project approvals from Redondo Beach.

Labor union UNITE HERE Local 11 withdrew based on a promise from QIC, the Galleria’s parent company, to provide career training for hotel workers, and ensure that neither QIC nor the hotel’s operator would interfere in attempts to unionize the hotel.

Redondo Beach Community Development Director Aaron Jones said in his presentation that, though the Galleria project can mitigate most of its environmental impacts, three intersections would be significantly and unavoidably impacted, and the project would generate at least 8,000 new car trips daily.

“That’s not astronomical, but that’s already a situation where these intersections are pretty highly utilized,” Jones said.

A city study said that the Galleria project would create a 23.75 percent increase in nearby traffic. Boswell argued that Redondo’s traffic consultant used outdated numbers from 2014 when the mall was at capacity. The project’s traffic would increase by 56 percent against present traffic, he said.

Consultants argued in favor of using those figures based on a 2015 appeal court ruling, which said that assuming full occupancy in a traffic study is legal if it’s based on historical data.

So the numbers, Boswell said “are legal, but not valid.”

Galleria representatives cheered for adding affordable housing, though some, such as South Torrance resident Bruce Szeles, felt they should include as many as 150 affordable units.

Others challenged the Galleria for not promising to build maximum office space to attract tech companies. QIC representative John Alderson replied, saying they wouldn’t build “speculative office” space.

“The intent is to build as much as the market will hold,” Alderson said. “I’d love nothing more than to bring [Silicon Beach] to Redondo, but the market isn’t here yet.”

Councilman Nils Nehrenheim noted that the project is speculating it will attract retail tenants. Alderson said, “We already have a large retail building. We have a mall.”

Boswell repeatedly butted heads with council members Christian Horvath and John Gran over suggestions that most arguments in his appeal were based on opinion rather than fact. He argued, as well, that it was acceptable to wholly copy language from appeals against other projects to get his own appeal submitted in time – which city staff said broke a clause requiring specificity in an appeal complaint.

At one point, Boswell also feigned snoring and broadly checked his watch as City Attorney Michael Webb answered a question from Mayor Bill Brand.

“This isn’t what I do for a living,” Boswell said. “I think it’s an opportunity to come here and speak about the deficiencies that actually exist, as opposed to the ones that are legal to gloss over.”

Brand applauded Boswell’s initiative, saying that the city’s California Environmental Quality Act appeal procedures are too restrictive for common citizens to meet.

Around 1 a.m., Council members realized they had a decision to make: Carry on even later or continue the meeting to a later date.

Councilwoman Laura Emdee argued they should continue, saying another meeting also lasted until after midnight.

Nehrenheim argued that many issues – such as QIC’s plan to split the project into 59 separate lots for financing purposes – still needed to be discussed.

Brand also threatened to veto any approvals that took place in the dead of night.

The item continued in a 3-2 vote, with Horvath and Emdee against, and the meeting ended soon after.

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