Mark McDermott

BBR attacks Measure G, AES power plant

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Building A Better Redondo's Jim Light make his case against Measure G Monday. Photo by Mark McDermott

Building A Better Redondo on Monday launched its most comprehensive attack yet on Measure G, arguing that the city’s proposed zoning would cause traffic gridlock and block views throughout much of South Redondo by allowing the equivalent of more than two Galleria malls in the harbor area.

At a press conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, BBR chair Jim Light outlined his case against Measure G. Light called the ballot measure “unbalanced zoning” that would essentially erect a wall between residents and their harbor. He said that the zoning would add a total of 940,000 square feet to the existing 1.3 million square feet of development along the Catalina Corridor and the in the harbor.

“The total development cap, when you add all this up, is over 2.2 million square feet, and that is the equivalent of two and-a-third Galleria malls,” Light said.

Light also suggested that any proposed rezoning should take the opportunity to rid the city of the AES power plant. BBR has increasingly tied the power plant’s future to Measure G. Light said that Measure G would allow AES to dominate the city’s waterfront indefinitely. If it is defeated, he said, new zoning should be developed that takes away power generation as an accepted use at the AES site.

“If we are going to vote on zoning the harbor, it ought to include the phasing out of the power plant,” Light said. “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Measure G on the Nov. 2 ballot includes zoning that was actually approved by the City Council more than two years ago and then later submitted for certification to the California Coastal Commission, the state agency that governs coastal development issues.

The commission last year approved the zoning with modifications, requiring a public boat launch and additional view corridors; the council approved the modifications in March and that matter was over. But BBR successfully sued the city in August, arguing that harbor zoning should be subject to a public vote under Measure DD, a charter amendment that BBR passed with a ballot initiative in late 2008. Measure DD requires a citywide approval of significant land use changes.

Measure G proponents, including four out of five city councilmen, say it represents a drastic down-zoning in the harbor area from the 1.6 million square feet of commercial development and 2,998 residential units allowed under zoning passed in 2002. They argue the only new zoning is 400,000 square feet of allowable commercial development in the harbor itself – including no residential – and say that such additional capacity is necessary to spur economic revitalization of the struggling area.

“There is no question about it,” said Councilman Steve Diels. “If you go from 1.6 million square feet down to 400,000 square feet, that is down-zoning. Only Jim Light could possibly argue otherwise. It’s laughable. It’s a red herring.”

The largest harbor leaseholder, Marina Cove, says that the defeat of Measure G would stymie its efforts to reinvest in its properties. Mike Zislis, the developer of the proposed new “boutique” 54-room Shade Hotel – designed with the new zoning in mind and expected to be a lynchpin of revitalization – has awaited the outcome of Measure G to submit his final plans.

Light said he sympathized with those who have been waiting for resolution.

“But we shouldn’t be voting for bad zoning just because it took us 10 years to get to this point,” Light said.

Light argued that the zoning represents a blank check for developers at the expense of residents and has been cobbled together without any fiscal analysis regarding whether demand even exists for more commercial development in the harbor area. He pointed to the “top of the pier” development, built by the city two decades ago, that sits largely unutilized.

“What I am afraid of personally is something like the pier plaza…You build it, and nobody comes, and it becomes a blight on the city,” Light said.

Light points to other communities as better models for how to zone harbors and marinas. Marina del Rey, he said, does not allow new developments to increase traffic to a point where they are at “E” or “F” levels of service – i.e., full congestion. He said the city’s own traffic studies show Measure G would bring 11 such intersections to “E” or “F” while producing 30,000 new traffic trips daily.

“Do [Measure G supporters] think it’s alright to impact the residents of Redondo Beach at the expense of the developers to the extent where there is gridlock throughout our arterial system?” Light asked.

But Marina Cove vice president Sean Guthrie argues that Marina del Rey is hardly a model.

“What Building a Better Redondo and Jim Light never tell you is that the Marina del Rey Coastal Land Use Plan approved by the Coastal Commission permits far greater building densities, not to mention hotel/office buildings up to 225 feet tall, or five times what Measure G permits,” Guthrie said. “Also permitted are residential buildings up to 140 feet tall, or three times what Measure G permits.”

The AES power plant has become increasingly central to BBR’s campaign. The group has been holding demonstrations along Catalina Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway, agitating for the city to rezone the AES site so that power production is no longer a permissible use. Light, along with Councilman Bill Brand, has long advocated a public park at the AES site.

Light accused AES of being secretive regarding its future plans. He said AES is in negotiations with the West Basin Municipal Water District to possibly build a desalination plant on part of its property, but has not divulged how large such a plant would be. He also questioned AES’s threats of litigation should the city change zoning to disallow a power plant.

“They are posturing,” Light said. “We need to call their bluff. I mean, it’s our city.”

Light also said that AES Southland president Eric Pendergraft last year publicly stated that if the plant had to rebuild, it would not repower.

“Now he is reneging on that,” Light said.

In an interview, Pendergraft said that in recent years AES has consistently said that it intends to repower and remain on the Redondo waterfront the next 100 years. Pendergraft speculated that Light misunderstood his statement a year ago that the company had no intention of retrofitting to a new cooling system.

“I think he is confused,” Pendergraft said.

Pendergraft said that Light has been using “scare tactics.” He said the reason AES hasn’t released plans regarding West Basin and desalination is that they don’t have any plans yet as talks have not concluded. And he said that if the city were to rezone the power plant, it would come at a cost.

“We have to be compensated, not only for our land, but for the fact we would not have the opportunity to earn any ongoing economic benefit,” Pendergraft said. “So I would ask Mr. Light, where does that money come from? It’s on the order of $400 million to $450 million. Who pays for that? I just don’t get continuing to promote a vision that will just cripple the city financially and cost the taxpayers huge amounts of money, potentially. It just seems infeasible to me.”

Pendergraft said that AES intends to modernize, thereby shrinking the plant’s size and possibly allowing for public uses, such as a park or cultural center. He said Measure G is the only option on the ballot that allows park use at the site.

“Measure G is about so much more than the AES power plant, but we are such a lightning rod, BBR is using us in their campaign,” Pendergraft. “In reality, either a yes or a no vote still allows power generation. The yes vote actually allows parks and recreation as an added use, which is what they want to do. So they are just using us.”

Light also criticized the process the city used to arrive at its proposed zoning. He said no public meeting has been held since 2004 that took serious public input regarding harbor area zoning. And at that time, he noted, a consensus-building process arrived at alternatives that each included a park at the AES site.

“You don’t see that reflected in Measure G zoning in any way, shape, or form,” Light said.

BBR supporter Councilman Brand said that the Measure G zoning document derived from a task force appointed by City Manager Bill Workman that did not have public meetings.

“Basically, the city has been operating in a closed door situation,” Brand said. “This zoning, to me, came from a private process.”

The result, Brand argued, is zoning that does not respond to residents’ concerns.

“So in my view, Measure G is a disaster for the residents of Redondo Beach,” he said.

Diels scoffed at the argument. He said that the park zoning that Brand and Light have argued is actually included in Measure G. If it is voted down, Diels said, the City Attorney’s analysis is that zoning reverts to what was in place in 1964 – which includes few development limits and no park zoning at the power plant site.

“They are for what they are against, and against what they are for,” Diels said.

Diels also argued that zoning has included extensive public input. Even the task force, he said, met publically.

“I would remind people Jim Light lost two elections [for city council]. Our land use plan has been through all these very public approvals, including the coastal commission, the city council, the harbor commission, the planning commission,” Diels said. “The only person that vehemently disagrees with it is Jim Light, and he doesn’t even know what the current zoning is if you ask him.”

Light argues that the notion that 1964 zoning applies should Measure G fail is absurd since the Coastal Act passed in 1976. He said the city’s own Harbor Specific Plan would be more applicable, but at any rate, a new “visioning process” could be established after Measure G’s defeat – which he said BBR would partly fund, depending on whether it is successful in its attempt to obtain up to $355,000 in legal fees from the city relating to its lawsuit against the city – and that a consensus for new, more reasonable and responsive zoning could be reached.

“We should really come together, and I think you could do it pretty quickly,” Light said.

Diels said that Light has lost all credibility and does not appear capable of compromise. He said Measure G, in fact, is a reasonable compromise.

“This is restrictive zoning,” Diels said. “There is no mall, and no proposal to remove the power plant on this ballot. All the stuff he is saying is just outlandish and distracts from the real issue, and he gets airplay. People hear this stuff and they say, ‘Yeah, we want a park.’ Okay, so we zone for a park, and the guy who says he wants a park is actually arguing against it….He is drawing people down into this maelstrom, deeper and deeper, and they have lost sight of what the real issue is – the issue is that the harbor is in dire economic straits, and we cannot do anything if the local coastal plan is not in conformance with the zoning, and we have taken years and years of public input. And that is it. That is the big picture. Everything else they are doing is distraction and fear-mongering.”

Light scoffed at the notion that Measure G is in any way restrictive. He noted that the power plant site alone contains no restrictions on development.

“Councilman Diels attempts to spin Measure G’s unlimited development cap on the power plant site and over two and-a-third Galleria Mall’s worth of development over the rest of the area as ‘restrictive,’” Light said. “When even Marina del Rey has tighter controls on traffic and views, this posturing becomes laughable. But then, Diels has stated there are no harbor views worth protecting. The City’s own study shows Measure G creates traffic gridlock. Overdevelopment doesn’t guarantee revitalization….The City has taken years of public input and ignored it. Redondo deserves better. Measure G is bad zoning.” ER