by Mark McDermott
Following a Superior Court decision and two contentious council meetings in the space of five days, the City Council crafted a ballot measure Tuesday night that will put new proposed harbor zoning before voters at the Nov. 2 election.
Measure G, as the council designated the ballot measure, comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by activist group Building a Better Redondo against the city.
The group won a legal victory two weeks ago when Judge Robert O’Brien ruled that zoning ordinances adopted by the City Council amounted only to “contemplated legislation” and could not take effect without California Coastal Commission certification.
O’Brien last week ordered that the zoning face Nov. 2 voter approval under the requirements of the City Charter.
Councilman Bill Brand, a BBR supporter who helped fundraise for the lawsuit, said at a special council meeting last Thursday that voters need to have a say over the 400,000 sq. ft. of commercial development allowable under the proposed zoning.
“Views are a big deal,” Brand said. “Traffic is a big deal. And this level of zoning is a big deal. It’s a very big deal.”
City Attorney Mike Webb, however, warned of the “unintended consequences” of BBR’s legal victory. The judge’s decision, Webb said, essentially invalidates all harbor zoning the city has adopted since the state passed the Coastal Act in 1976. This means, according to Webb, that current zoning – and the zoning that would be in effect should Measure G lose at the ballot box – could revert to the nearly limitless zoning adopted by the city in 1964.
Webb argued that a lawsuit intended to curb development could therefore end up as the largest upzoning in nearly 50 years in the harbor.
“It’s become apparent to me that they did not consider the end results of their lawsuit,” Webb said.
Judge O’Brien declined to opine as to what current zoning should be in effect. The council, therefore, had to made a judgment regarding current zoning, which for “purposes of comparison” will be included on sample ballot sent to voters, along with the current “as built” conditions in the harbor.
BBR leader Jim Light and lawyer Frank Angel both argued that that the city could either state on the ballot that no zoning is currently in effect or refer to an existing planning document called a “Specific Plan,” which includes a building limit of 324,000 sq. ft.
Angel was adamant that the 1964 zoning not be used. He said the zoning was out of compliance with state law and included such outdated provisions as limits on the cohabitation of unmarried people.
“You will be the laughing stock of the coastal zone, and you don’t want to be that…” Angel said. “This is absolute insanity for this city to use a base zoning that is completely antiquated and outdated.”
“It’s a total farce to put that in front of the public,” Light added.
But Webb said that neither option would comply with Charter requirements – requirements implemented, in fact, through BBR’s Measure DD.The initiative approved by voters in 2008 calls for a public vote on significant land use changes in the city. Webb said both the judge’s order and the Charter necessitated that the Council make a determination of the current zoning.
“You can’t pick what is convenient,” Webb said. “…That is why, my recommendation is, you are stuck with the 1964 zoning.”
“The irony does not escape me that the people that wrote the language of the Charter are now asking us to ignore the language of the Charter,” said Councilman Steve Diels.
Councilman Matt Kilroy called BBR’s legal triumph “a pyrrhic victory” in that it may have won the battle, but lost the war.
“It’s clear to me that the 1964 zoning is the only zoning in effect,” Kilroy said. “I cannot logically or legally come up with any other zoning that makes any logical or legal sense.”
The council voted 3-0 on Thursday night to order a Nov. 2 election. Councilman Steve Aspel was absent and Brand abstained. On Tuesday night, they voted 4-0 to approve ballot language, with Brand again abstaining.
The ballot language approved by the council for Measure G reads:
“Shall the Coastal Land Use Plan and the Zoning Ordinance for the Coastal Zone for the AES Power Plant, the Catalina Avenue corridor and Harbor/Pier areas of the City of Redondo Beach be amended to provide for major changes in existing policies and development standards including: affirming Coastal Commission recommendations, limiting total development, height limitations, floor-area-ratio limitations, permitting parks on the AES site and gaining additional local authority to issue coastal development authority.”
Brand argued that the language should include a mention of the 400,000 sq. ft. of allowable additional development.
“I think leaving it out is really going to look kind of silly, because that is what this has been about,” Brand said. “It just doesn’t pass the smell test.”
But Webb said putting specific numbers in the ballot language isn’t a simple matter.
“You could probably say you are reducing the zoning by a million square feet, in reality, from the 1964 zoning,” Webb said. “To start to put numbers in there invites controversy.”
The city has filed an appeal to O’Brien’s decision. Webb said the intent of the appeal was not to prevent a vote – an appeals court is unlikely to make a decision that promptly anyway – but rather an attempt to prevent the “unintended consequences” of an upzoning should voters reject Measure G.
Councilman Steve Aspel said that the appeal is an attempt to protect the city.
“This backfired on BBR, so we have to appeal it,” Aspel said. “We want to keep 400,000 [sq. ft.] and not revert back to 1964. As far as I am concerned, we are the ones trying to keep zoning down.” ER