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Sandbox: Building a Better Redondo on the AES Harbor Village initiative

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Example of four story mixed use development or Artesia Blvd.  AES’ zoning only allows four story mixed use or Hotel development along Harbor Drive. Photo by Jim Light

Example of four story mixed use development or Artesia Blvd. AES’ zoning only allows four story mixed use or Hotel development along Harbor Drive. Photo by Jim Light

by Jim Light

Last week ‘s opinion piece authored by former Redondo Beach mayor Mike Gin and former councilman  Chris Cagle [“Sandbox: Harbor Village needs support to rid Redondo of power plant”] regarding the AES initiative being circulated for signatures in Redondo was not the whole truth.

First, the article cites all these enticing uses for the open space component of AES’ zoning – wetlands, nature preserves, sports fields…. you’d think there was a sprawling open space here. While the zoning does set up an extension of the greenbelt on the back side of the property and pedestrian walkways on the other two, it only requires a postage stamp four acre park on 50 acres. You may be able to squeeze in one baseball field, but it is too small for a regulation track. So if you have no stands, dugouts restrooms, parking, or safety buffers you may be able to shoehorn in one athletic field , but certainly not multiple sports fields as the article would have us believe. Parks with athletic fields in Redondo include Dominguez Park at 20 acres, Anderson Park at 12 acres, Alta Vista Park at 19 acres and Aviation Park at 14 acres. The smallest is three times the size of AES’ park requirement. To state that this is a reasonable size park for athletic fields is deceptive at best.

And what kind of nature preserve or wetlands are you going to squeeze into a dinky four acre site? Wilderness Park is 11 acres. While it all sounds great, when you try to map any real use onto the site, four acres is just a postage stamp and an insult to the people of Redondo who have twice voted for parkland on this site.

And then the “public process” is a joke. While the City can arrange the deck chairs, the initiative prevents the City from making any substantive changes to the zoning mix or caps. Read paragraph (iii) on page 34 of their initiative…” In connection with an application for a Master Development Plan approval, the City Council, WITH THE CONSENT OF THE PROPERTY OWNER…may approve amendments to the provisions of this initiative upon a 4/5 vote…” It then goes on to prohibit any changes to the development caps. So the AES initiative allows the council ONE shot to change the zoning in 10 years, but if and only if AES (or future property owner) approves it, AND 4 of 5 councilmen approve it AND it does not change any of the zoning caps. That puts AES in the drivers seat for zoning decisions. A company from Virginia. And nowhere is there any mention of residents or commissions or other normal city processes. Perhaps it is legally accurate to call the process “public”, but at best it would be public with shackles with very short chains on any substantive authority. That is what you get when a company from Virginia wants to control the puppet strings in our city.

There are other restrictions on the power of the City and Council in the zoning, but that would take too much space to describe. Needless to say this article is silent on the severe restrictions this zoning places on our city and on the people of Redondo Beach.

And of course there is no talk of the REAL details. Like the fact that the ONLY use allowed on Harbor Drive is the 250 room hotel and forty five foot tall, four story, mixed use high density condos. Where only the first floor can contain any commercial uses. Oh and it only requires a 3 foot setback from the sidewalk and zero front or back setback on interior sides. That is higher and denser than any mixed use zoning in the city.

Nor do Gin and Cagle point out that combined with the CenterCal plan, we would be packing nearly 2 million square feet of development in our little harbor. Where is the accompanying road building and widening projects to funnel a PCH’s worth of traffic into the harbor? The two projects if successful doom us to traffic gridlock on PCH, 190th, Catalina, Torrance and Beryl every day and worse on weekends.

What AES is doing is a corruption of the People’s right to initiative. Initiative law was added to the California Constitution to give the people a check and balance on elected officials gone astray. Here, a company from Virginia crafted zoning that is good for them. They hoodwinked Aspel into being their front man. Then they coerced some resident into submitting the formal paperwork. And now they are paying signature gatherers to fool the public into signing the petition to get their zoning on the ballot. This is not an act of the People providing a check and balance over city government. This is the act of a private company from Virginia manipulating all the strings to get what they want.

This zoning was built by AES for AES in a back room with zero public input. It is hardly win/win. It is well documented in city planning analyses that residential development is a money loser for a city as the cost of infrastructure and services outpaces revenues from property taxes. Before AES’ zoning made the light of day, City staff and Mayor Aspel met to discuss the zoning. The Mayor expressed concern that too many people are in the halls at City Hall, so they met in private at a local restaurant. And our mayor is jumping right in bed with AES. No public process…all back room deals. And recently with CenterCal, we have experienced yet again how much developers listen to the public once they have their zoning.

AES, Aspel, and now Gin and Cagle threaten we will get a power plant if we don’t vote for this one-sided zoning. Yet AES has finally admitted the power is not needed. The CPUC has capped procurement of new natural gas generated power at just 1500 MW. AES has applied for 3400MW across their three power plants. And Los Alamitos and Huntington Beach are where the power is actually needed to offset the loss of the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station. There is little chance the CPUC would approve a long term power contract for a Redondo Beach power plant. AES knows that. And that is why we have an initiative now before the public realizes there is no threat.

I have always respected former Mayor Gin and former Councilman Cagle for their honesty even when I disagreed with them. I am disappointed that they chose to put their name to an article that is so misleading and leaves out critical facts that the public needs to know to make an informed decision.

Corruption of the People’s right to initiative, back room deals, threats and intimidation….I will not be signing the AES initiative or voting for it in March. It’s bad planning and it is bad for the City of Redondo. Let’s not become Marina Del Rey. We can do better.

The City of Redondo Beach should combine the planning and zoning of the 50 acre AES property with the 15 acre CenterCal development to define an integrated waterfront that balances commercial development and revenues and the negative impacts such as traffic, with the protection and enhancement of public open spaces and coastal dependent recreational uses of our beloved harbor. We only have one shot at this; say ”no” to an overdeveloped waterfront like Marina Del Rey. Let’s make sure we build a revitalized waterfront that will be the crown jewel of the South Bay. Revitalize, don’t supersize our waterfront.

To stay current on resident actions go to the Facebook group: “King Harbor – a harbor not a mall”

Jim Light is president of Building a Better Redondo.