Kelley Kim

Redondo Beach City Council endorses AES Harbor Village plan

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Residents push for waterfront master plan

AES vice president of business development Eric Pendergraft defended the Harbor Village plan initiative at Tuesday night’s Redondo Beach city council meeting. Photo by Kelley Kim

AES vice president of business development Eric Pendergraft defended the Harbor Village plan initiative at Tuesday night’s Redondo Beach city council meeting. Photo by Kelley Kim

The Redondo Beach City Council has endorsed AES’ plan to replace its power plant with Harbor Village Initiative, a proposed a 50-acre commercial, retail, and residential development that would bring 600 new single-family homes, 250 hotel rooms, and 85,000 square feet of commercial development to the waterfront power plant site.

The endorsement was approved in a 3-2 vote after a long, contentious meeting Tuesday night in which dozens of residents expressed disdain for the “either-or” nature of the initiative — in favor of the plan, or in favor of a new power plant.

Redondo Beach Mayor Steve Aspel and AES’ Eric Pendergraft argued the council’s approval would expedite AES’ application process of phasing out the power plant and enable the company to seek power generation at its other two sites in Huntington Beach and Alamitos. Pendergraft said the timing was also opportune to meet the March 2015 election cycle.

“We are looking for the city council support as confirmation of your expressed interest to create a brand new vision for the waterfront,” Pendergraft said. “If you like the plan and support the resolution, I’ll publicly reaffirm our commitment to immediately suspend the CEC [California Energy Commission] licensing process until after the vote.”

“The reason for our suggestion of endorsing is so that they withdraw their application for a new permit,” Aspel said. “It’s a surefire way of getting rid of the power plant.”

Harbor Village’s proposed esplanade looking south on Harbor Drive.

Harbor Village’s proposed esplanade looking south on Harbor Drive. Courtesy of AES.

Councilmembers Bill Brand and Steve Sammarco felt the council’s endorsement was premature and voted against the resolution.

Sammarco made a motion to postpone discussion of the agenda item until the third council meeting in November, when all petition signatures mandated by the initiative would be collected. Sammarco, galvanized by an argument made by former councilmember Bob Pinzler earlier in the meeting, said he didn’t think it was appropriate for council to voice its stance on the Harbor Village project while signatures were still being gathered.

“I believe in the initiative process wholeheartedly,” Sammarco said. “I will let the voters decide. I don’t think the council should endorse this project. It’s premature, and I would like to thank Councilman Pinzler for making the idea to table the motion until the signatures are gathered.”

Some councilmembers expressed chagrin at the idea of postponing council endorsement.

“It actually bothers me that too many elected officials won’t take a position on something ‘til they see which way the winds blowing,” Councilmember Matt Kilroy said. “Yes, we’re elected to represent our constituents. We’re also elected to lead….I’m taking a position that ‘it’s not perfect, but all in all I’ll take it’.”

Councilmember Bill Brand took issue with the way AES has proposed its initiative process. A citizen-led initiative, which AES is using, makes exempt an environmental impact report for the new zoning established by the Harbor Village plan. Brand criticized the initiative’s “upzoning”, which he said would inflate land value and edge out buyers who could promote alternative uses for the site such as open or green space.

“It’s a bastardization of the initiative process for a corporation in Virginia to write an initiative and find somebody in Redondo to submit it,” Brand said. “We should be doing a master plan on the entire waterfront and not subjecting ourselves to what’s happened here, which is piecemeal overdevelopment. To me, it’s a failure of city leadership.”

Councilmember Kilroy dismissed the idea of a waterfront master plan, arguing that the creation of a cohesive vision necessitated bulldozing existing condominium villages “to wipe the slate clean and start over.” His statements elicited boos and catcalls from the audience, many who had spoken in favor of a master plan.

“Take some extra time, a few months, to develop a very solid master plan,” said Todd Loewenstein, former president of the Redondo Beach Unified School District Board of Education. Loewenstein urged the council to “consider infrastructure costs” and predicted harbor area roads would not be able to handle the increased traffic from the new development.

Resident Michael Stewart was not supportive of what he described as a “mediocre” plan.

“We keep coming back to its not as good as it could be, but it’s not as bad as Heart of the City,” Stewart said. “It’s like a man coming home being caught in an affair and saying ‘at least I wasn’t at the orgy’. This initiative is not public participation. It’s Daddy knows best….We need a cohesive master plan. Do the people’s good work. Don’t create village idiots.”

Pier leaseholder Tony Trutanich made reference to a social media craze in his support for the Harbor Village plan.

“I poured an ice bucket on my head ‘cause I thought I was supporting AES; turns out it’s ALS,” said Trutanich, who owns Old Tony’s. “We all love this city and want what’s best for the city….Old Tony’s supports the development of this area.”

Martin Holmes, a new Redondo Beach resident who studied aerospace engineering at MIT, framed the situation in terms he knows well and ultimately advocated for a “focused” urban plan.

“What I have come to realize in the debate so far tonight is that everything needs a plan,” Holmes said. “If I’m building an airplane or a satellite, I can use the best tires, the best wings, the best batteries, the best avionics, but if it’s not well integrated together, it may not work very well….I was close friends with the chairman of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and, in my relationship with him, it’s clear that there’s a reason that urban planning exists as a profession — to make sure all the pieces fit well together….We really need a focused urban plan.”