Rendering of the proposed Waterfront Revitalization Project in Redondo Beach. Courtesy of CenterCal.
One of the simplest tasks on a City Council agenda is a motion to receive and file a report. A report is made by an official or agency, and then council votes simply to file it, to have it taken into official record. But at the Tuesday, July 1 meeting of the Redondo Beach City Council, a motion to receive and file took an hour and fifteen minutes to get through because it involved the city’s most polarizing issue, the Waterfront Revitalization Project, and the chambers were packed with citizens ready to speak their piece.
The discussion began with brief report made by Aaron Jones, Community Development Director, explaining the next steps in the Environmental Impact Report process which developer CenterCal began on June 19. The process is slated to last until the summer of 2015.
The EIR details the effects the proposed project would have on factors such as traffic, sewage, sea level, infrastructure, waste, views and noise.
“The scoping phase for EIR is where we are now,” Jones said. “We announced on June 19 that there is an open comment period that runs until July 21 at 5 p.m. The current task at hand now is to solicit maximum public input on issues particularly that should be addressed in the EIR.”
Jones announced the ways in which the public can express their opinions, including email, mail and attending public outreach meetings, the first of which is on July 9.
What came next was a series of 26 speakers that came to the podium to express their support of or objection to the CenterCal project, a project that would that would raze 221,347 square feet of existing commercial buildings as well as the pier parking structure and build 523,732 square feet of new development. The Waterfront Project includes, among other things, a 100 room boutique hotel where the Pier Plaza office development now exists, an indoor/outdoor “market hall,” new retail shops and restaurants, a park and amphitheater, a fountain, and a “specialty” cinema.
Twelve people spoke for the project, twelve spoke against it and two were on the fence. The state of the waterfront and the proposed revitalization has left Redondo Beach a city divided.
Three times during the public comment period Mayor Steve Aspel tried to remind everyone that the issue on the agenda had nothing to do with moving the project forward; that is was simply an update on the EIR process. The public was not deterred.
“I fear the meeting where we actually vote on this thing based on how this meeting is going now,” Aspel said.
At one point, the mayor had to ask the crowd to quiet down.
“Time out,” he said. “Hush. I let you do a few cat calls and applause but this is not the proper decorum…if anyone starts getting out of line, I’m going to have an officer come down and talk to you.”
Plenty of familiar faces came to speak about the Waterfront Project. Those in favor spoke of economic growth and city pride. Those against warned of overdevelopment and an unsustainable mega mall. Steve Goldstein, 28 year Redondo resident, spoke briefly about his unwavering support for the project.
“Whatever it takes to get this project done as proposed, I’m in favor of it,” he said. “I think lots of people are. I think it’s good for RB and good for local economic development…and will turn us into a world class destination once again.”
“I think it’s way too big,” Gretchen Lloyd said. “Looking at the Utah developments CenterCal did they’ve very nice, they’re beautiful, but they’re out in the desert with lots and lots of land. We’re up against the ocean.”
The word “mall” has become the war cry of the dissenting side. From the November 2013 meeting where protesters held signs with the word mall crossed out, to the ongoing rhetoric of Bill Brand, Jim Light and others, “mall” has come to represent what the opposition thinks citizens should fear the most.
“I do admit that the pier needs a lot of help, but not a mall,” said Jody Wilkinson, 25 year Redondo homeowner. “We need the kind of help that the average income family and maybe senior citizens on fixed income can enjoy with resources that they can afford.”
“People want to see that coastline,” she said. “They don’t want all upscale expensive restaurants they can’t even afford a cup of coffee in…Mother nature gave us a gift, this beautiful waterfront and coastline. It will be destroyed with this massive white elephant mall.”
Don Szerlip, who supports the project, takes offense to the use of the word mall. At the meeting, he pointed out that the CenterCal plan allots only 22 percent of its development for shops.
“Now I really take exception to the misuse of the English language in describing this as a mall because I don’t know of any mall that would be only 22 percent retail,” he said.
Perhaps the strongest words came from Jim Light of Building a Better Redondo, who not only expressed his unwavering objection to the project, but threatened legal action.
“I was speaking to citizens at Riviera Summer Fest, and they all asked what they could do to stop it and, most ominously, where do I sign the referendum?” Light said. “We’ve been here before. If the council chooses to ignore the public again, the public is forced to act on our own again through lawsuit or referendum. The council can circumvent this now by stopping the process and finding a scaled back project.”
Councilmember Pat Aust spoke to the possibility of legal action at the close of the discussion.
“As far as an appeal, there will be an appeal on one side or another no matter where we go with this,” he said. “This project may happen in 18 months or it make take two years but we will get through this.”
Almost two hours after the discussion began, the council moved unanimously to receive and file Aaron Jones’ report.
“I woke up and came in just for this,” Aspel said. “I wasn’t going to be at this meeting. I am so glad I came. I see now what’s going to happen anytime there’s a meeting on CenterCal or the harbor, it’s going to be a loaded meeting. And everyone sees their own truth.”
What is an EIR?
An Environmental Impact Report is a scientific study and reporting of a project’s impact on the environment as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. Its purpose is to inform governmental agencies and the public of a project’s environmental impacts, as well as identify mitigations and alternatives to the plan that would reduce or eliminate environmental harms. An EIR is required if there is substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment. After a draft of the EIR is prepared, it enters a 45 day public review period. The EIR is then amended according to input and submitted as a final report at which point the developer decides if and how the project will proceed. Appeals and litigation are permitted at any point throughout the process.