Redondo Beach council votes to reserve waterfront decision

A rendering of the proposed waterfront redesign. Photo courtesy of CenterCal
An initial rendering of the proposed waterfront redesign. Photo courtesy of CenterCal
A rendering of the proposed waterfront redesign. Photo courtesy of CenterCal

An initial rendering of the proposed waterfront redesign. Photo courtesy of CenterCal

For the second time, the Redondo Beach City Council has voted to postpone a decision – an action item the mayor referred to as “the big kahuna” – about whether to approve developer CenterCal’s blueprints for a 200,000 square-foot, $300 million revamp of the city’s waterfront.

“I changed my schedule to be here on the 29th, I changed my schedule to be here tonight,” Mark Hansen, who represents the boaters of King Harbor, told the council Tuesday night. “It’s like we’re chasing this agenda item.”

Rather than rush the process, Mayor Steve Aspel explained, the council would seek further information. It voted, 4-1 with District 2 Councilmember Bill Brand dissenting, to contract Jeff Green Partners – an Arizona-based firm specializing in “shopping center research” – to conduct a market feasibility study and analysis of the project before this weekend.

The firm will explore the existing retail market and the competitiveness of nearby shopping centers, the target area’s worker population and its potential tourist base, the anticipated patron’s expenditure patterns, the project’s achievable sales, and its projected growth over a five-year period.

The city’s bill for Jeff Green Partners’ services will be $16,000. Taxpayers will also cover the company’s travel costs, which are not to exceed $20,000.

Harbor, business, and transit director Pete Carmichael said the city, not the developer, will pay for the study so as “to ensure a measure of independence,” but added that the total cost can easily be incorporated into a reimbursement agreement at a later date.

“Even if it costs us in the neighborhood of $20,000,” said District 1 Councilmember Jeff Ginsburg, “it’s a very, very small investment for a very, very important project.”

Brand argued that the study should have been completed months ago, rather than several days before the council moves to approve or deny CenterCal’s plan. The council expects to make its decision on Tuesday. Jeff Green Partners initiated its research on Monday.

“I feel like it’s just a rush job and really just BandAid-ing something that is more important,” Brand said.

Other residents echoed his concerns regarding the study’s compressed timeframe, and urged the council to demand a more thorough analysis.

“I’m not a study kind of guy, I’m a seat of the pants [kind of guy],” said Steve Shoemaker, who owns a business on the Redondo Beach pier. “But… this is a pretty big step… The boardwalk is probably 50 percent vacant. If you look at the top deck, that commercial development failed. You drive down Pacific Coast Highway and it’s almost like a warzone, vacancy-wise. The Redondo Shores shopping center over here went bankrupt a few years ago… I think you have to look at these kinds of things and I don’t know that you can do it in five days.”

“How can you in your right mind even give it the right attention and time it takes to even analyze this?” echoed Al Meissner.

District 4 Councilman Steve Sammarco suggested that the proposed feasibility study is too limited in scope.

“I’m just in a bit of a quandary over – and I’ll say it right now – the lack of sophistication when it comes down to making deals like this,” he said of his experience being on the City Council thus far.

Discussion branched into whether the revitalization project would in fact benefit Redondo Beach.

Brand argued that the project is “way too big,” and noted that it is separate from the redevelopment of the Redondo Landing, the Shade Hotel project, and the forthcoming $2 million cycletrack on Harbor Drive.

“You’re looking at a mall larger than Plaza El Segundo on an area that’s about half the acreage and with two very large parking structures… [Some people are saying] we’ve got to give $25 million anyway as part of this deal, why don’t we just do a local bond, redo the infrastructure and save having to build a mall and go a different direction?” Brand said. “And we can certainly do that, and it makes a lot of sense.”

Tom Butts implored the council to reserve its decision before seeking alternative visions for the waterfront.

“It’s extremely distressing to me that you have been poorly served by the omission of alternatives,” Butts said. “You will be making decisions not just for my generation but for my children and my grandchildren, you know. This is a weighty responsibility and you deserve better… In this case haste may doom the best. How can we know if we have the best if we don’t know what else is possible?”

A visibly agitated District 3 Councilman Pat Aust disagreed.

“It’s all old and stagnant and we’re trying to make this something that will pay for itself so that we don’t have to pay the bills,” he said. “We’re going to have to do it no matter what in next four or five years, for sure, at a cost of about $50 million dollars. And we would have to float a bond to do it – this will be rolled into that project.”

Aspel reminded a riled-up crowd that the Jeff Green Partners contract would not decide the future of the waterfront, but would rather give the council a firmer grasp on data it needs to inform its impending vote.

“Next week, the big decision is to be made… This is actually going fairly slow, I believe. No one’s down there with jackhammers or bulldozers doing anything, no leases or anything have been signed… There are benchmarks, there are things we have to hit to move to step four, step five, step six, so it just takes time.”

Later, he added: “Democracy’s a lot of work.”

The council is expected to make a decision next Tuesday at its meeting. Before the meeting, you can access the council’s agenda here.

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