With their hands tied by state law on Tuesday night, Redondo Beach City Council narrowly approved Sea Breeze Plaza despite the fact that it was poised to deny the mixed use development application in July.
Following Councilmember Bill Brand's appeal of the Planning Commission's May approval of the project, city staff was directed to present council with data-backed reasons needed to legally deny it. The development consists of 52 condominium units and 10,550 square feet of ground-floor retail and office space to be located at 1914-1926 Pacific Coast Highway.
City Attorney Mike Webb reminded council that they could not legally deny the project just because they don't like it; each council member has to support a decision with evidence or face a potential costly lawsuit. Council voted 3-2 to approve.
“The law is designed so that cities can't turn down something for subjective reasons and council can't reject something based on its suitability. It can only be rejected on objective reasons for denial,” Webb said.
According to the staff's findings, staff recommended council approve the project. The findings included a CalTrans traffic study that stated the mixed use development would decrease traffic on Pacific Coast Highway by 3,246 vehicle trips per day as opposed to increasing traffic.
Because staff was unable to find any quantifiable reasons to support denial and because the state has mandated Redondo Beach increase its number of housing units by more than 1,300 during the next five years, Councilmember Christian Horvath said he felt that state law had limited the council's say in the matter. California Department of Housing and Community Development has mandated the city increase housing numbers through its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) plan which is designed to address the critical need for more housing throughout the state.
“I feel a lot of people are angry with us, but the state is tying our hands to a certain degree. It has to do with a lack of housing which is a critical problem in California. It's become the most expensive in the nation. It's frustrating when the state takes away local control,” Horvath said.
During the public hearing section of Tuesday's council meeting, 19 residents urged council to deny the project and to not give in to the “lawsuit boogie-man” in the room. Residents called for a moratorium on mixed-use development in the “village” area. Neighbors' concerns centered around the use of the site's back alley as the main entrance and exit for the residential units. The alley which is used by St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church and School is nestled between two buildings with poor sight lines for drivers pulling in and onto Prospect Avenue, residents said.
Arinna Shelby who lives in the area, said the alley way is already too busy, and she fears adding 52 residential units plus commercial development will turn what already is a traffic nightmare into a disaster.
“The alley is not wide enough to accommodate two vehicles at the same time and it dead-ends into a parking lot. Emergency vehicles will not have good access to the condos. Parents and children and church members use the alley extensively. This is bound to lead to a tragic accident,” she said.
Ben Larson, who works in South Redondo Beach, was one of 12 who voiced support for the project.
“Traffic is a concern, but if not this development, something else will be done with that property, maybe something—a commercial development—that would create even more traffic,” he said.
Mayor Steve Aspel said it was a difficult decision and he didn't see a happy medium.
“Redondo Beach has a scorched Earth policy. Even if the developer were to reduce it, there would still be opposition to it. If it is denied there could be unintended consequences. We could get stuck with a very successful shopping center and then we're out of ammunition. Currently it is an under preforming piece of junk strip mall, the ugliest building in Redondo Beach,” he said.
Council members Brand and Steve Sammarco dissented. Brand wanted to continue the hearing on a later date and direct staff to present council with objective traffic data that would be cause for denying the project. However Aspel said delaying it any further would only be procrastination.
“I don't think that three more weeks is going to make a difference on this. We need to move forward with either approving or denying it.”
Ultimately, council denied Brand's appeal and approved the applicant's permit that included special conditions such as painting a red curb at the PCH driveway, allowing U-turns at PCH and Prospect Avenue, prohibiting left turns during peak traffic hours from the alley onto Prospect and improving vehicular access to both the main entrance and the alley.