New harbor zoning nears approval, again
by Mark McDermott
The word, said one longtime harbor observer Tuesday night, is quagmire.
The City Council on Tuesday night tentatively moved towards approving harbor zoning that will allow 400,000 sq. ft. of potential new development.
But the zoning, which is intended to spur a revitalization of the struggling waterfront district, is likely to face a legal challenge from the citizen’s group Building a Better Redondo. The group, which in November 2008 passed an initiative called Measure DD that requires a citywide vote on significant land use changes, has argued that the new zoning should be put to a vote.
“I think we need to let the voters decide,” Jim Light, the head of BBR, told the council. “And that is what this is all about.”
City Attorney Mike Webb has issued an opinion, however, that says the zoning took effect in June 2008, a month after the Council first passed it and six months before the passage of DD. Among the many complications that arise in the timeline since is that the zoning, along with a larger Coastal Land Use Plan intended to give the city more local control over land use issues in its harbor, was subsequently sent to California Coastal Commission for certification.
What happened at the Coastal Commission – a state agency that oversees coastal zoning to protect public access to the ocean – and what it means for the future of the harbor are subject to vastly differing interpretations.
“Reasonable minds,” Webb said, “may disagree.”
Last July, the Coastal Commission voted 11-1 to approve the city’s application “with modifications.” Webb argued that since the Commission had never certified any zoning in the city before, the zoning itself was approved and put into effect in June 2008. The Coastal Land Use Plan, Webb said, has yet to be approved and will therefore be subject to a citywide vote.
Councilman Bill Brand disagreed. Brand, a Building a Better Redondo activist, argued that the Coastal Commission actually denied the zoning, subject to modifications, and that the zoning is not in effect until the council approves those modifications. Therefore the zoning too would go to a public vote, according to Brand.
“My contention is the Coastal Commission denied zoning,” Brand said. “We are going to make modifications. We are going to approve it.”
Those modifications, which were 17 in number and included view corridor protections, the required building of a new public boat launch, and tree trimming restrictions, were technically what came before the Council Tuesday night.
But as Mayor Mike Gin noted at one point, the council also faced several decades of distrust that began with the razing of the city’s historical waterfront decades ago and the failed Heart of City, a development plan that called for up to 1.6 million sq. ft. of new development in the harbor area that residents defeated in a referendum movement in 2002.
“This is sort of that legacy,” Gin said. “And part of reason we are here tonight is to redo and fix what that created.”
It’s a complicated legacy. When the Heart of the City was rescinded only months after its passage in 2002, some of its zoning documents were left in place – including the 1.6 million sq. ft. development cap – because referendum petitions to undo the entire plan would have required four different petitions. This created a conflict with the city’s General Plan, which was passed in 1992 and included a development cap of 324,000 sq. ft.
Councilman Steve Diels said that the council’s intention was simply to remove this inconsistency and protect residents from the Heart of the City zoning.
“We’ve been working exactly on getting rid of the Heart of the City mess,” Diels said. “We’ve been downzoning and adding park space…I am proud to be a part of that. I just hate that there is a chance we could end up back in the zoning that was in the Heart of the City.”
Webb said that an unintended consequence of putting the 400,000 sq. ft. zoning amendment to a citywide vote is that if it were defeated, the zoning would revert to what was previously in place – either the Heart of the City zoning, or earlier zoning that had no density or height limitations.
Councilman Matt Kilroy suggested that the city turn to the legal system to get a definitive answer on whether the matter should go to vote. He thought the city might be able to obtain a declaratory judgment on the matter, thus preventing a lawsuit.
“I am willing to live with what the courts say,” Kilroy said.
The council unanimously voted to direct Webb to prepare the approval of the modifications, as well as look into Kilroy’s suggestion. The matter will return to the council on April 6. ER