SECOND+PCH WILL LIKELY HAVE TO RETURN ITS HOLIDAY GIFT FROM CITYBy Dave Wielenga
Opponents of the Second+PCH development have finally received the date—Tuesday, December 20—that the Long Beach City Council will hear their appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the wildly out-of-code project.
The announcement arrived in the same, plain rap of all City of Long Beach dispatches:
This is to inform the general public that the City of Long Beach City Council will consider an appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision to certify a Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR 04-09. State Clearinghouse No. 2009101014) and approve entitlement requests (Site Plan Review, Tentative Subdivision Map, Standards Variance and Local Coastal Development Permit); and also consider text amendments to the Local Coastal Program (LCP) and Subarea 17 of the Southeast Area Development and Improvement Plan (SEADIP).
But the scheduling of the hearing—five days before Christmas—suggests it may be a holiday gift for the development team headed by David Malmuth. City officials can’t even guarantee when their report will be available–they estimate around Dec. 12.
“How very dismaying,” wrote Heather Altman on her blog, EgretsNotRegrets.com.
Altman is a professional environmental consultant and east Long Beach resident who has been an outspoken critic, not only of the Second+PCH project, but also of the process and logic employed by City Hall officials as they have continued to approve a residential / retail / hotel complex that ignores decades of zoning restrictions.
Altman interprets the selection of a Dec. 20 hearing date as the latest example of city officials’ efforts to make it as difficult as possible for opponents to effectively present their case.
“Most people are either out of town, are entertaining visiting family or are otherwise consumed with holiday preparation and festivities,” Altman wrote. “My exceedingly strong opinion is that holding this very, very important hearing just days away from Christmas is an action indicative of an agency unconcerned with trying to effectively incorporate public participation into the decision-making process.”
Also? Some of it looks quite illegal.
Not the anti-democratic scheduling. While it may be appalling, and certainly sounds even more chilling in the flat-affect language of Tuesday’s announcement, it looks lawful.
The legally questionable parts are some of the decisions the City Council is being asked to make: the approval of exceptions to some zoning laws and the permanent rewriting of others. That is, they would absolve Second+PCH developers for violating zoning laws by simply dissolving those laws.
The Long Beach City Council doesn’t have that power.
Long Beach City code prohibits the City Council from approving a Coastal Development Permit unless that project is consistent with the certified Local Coastal Plan. Second+PCH certainly isn’t. Among its many instances of disregard for that plan, the most egregious is the proposed height of the hotel (12 stories) compared with the existing height limit (35 feet).
California law prohibits the City Council from changing the certified Local Coastal Plan. The most the Council can do is make recommendations—non-legally binding recommendations—to the California Coastal Commission, which decides whether to certify those recommendations or reject them.
But in this case, the California Coastal Commission could not approve the Long Beach City Council’s recommendations, even if it wanted to. The Coastal Commission is prohibited by California law from approving a Coastal Development Permit for any project that is in conflict with the existing Local Coastal Development plan at the time that project is proposed.
In other words, even if the Coastal Commission were to approve the Long Beach City Council recommendations, that approval would not apply to the Second+PCH project because it was proposed when the previous conditions were in force.
For the Second+PCH project to be approved in its present dimensions, it would have to start all over again and follow the clear and public process that every other proposed project must follow—something that Malmuth has refused to do from the get-go.
That process would begin by proposing revisions to the current zoning laws. Those revisions would be formulated by public meetings that include all stakeholders—the same way the current laws were formulated decades ago.
After those changes were agreed upon, the would have to be approved by the Long Beach City Council, which would then need to recommend them to the California Coastal Commission. If the Coastal Commission agreed and certified the changes, they would represent the new standards for development.
At that point, Second+PCH could propose its project and have a reasonable expectation that it would be approved.
Malmuth knew all of this going in. His argument was simply that he didn’t want to wait that long. As it has turned out, he’s had to wait a long time, anyway. And if the City codes and California laws designed to prevent this kind of corner-cutting and favoritism hold firm, the gift he expects to get on Dec. 20 will eventually have to be returned.