The Redondo Beach City Council this week unanimously agreed to explore the process of selling a piece of property that’s become the subject of political rancor in recent years.
The panel directed staff at this week’s council meeting to look into changing the zoning from commercial to residential of a small property on the corner of Lucia Avenue and Torrance Boulevard, with the ultimate goal of selling the nearly 5,000 square-foot lot.
The city-owned property, once apparently the site of an auto shop, was vacated in 1975 and has been deemed surplus property ever since. But because of its odd, wedge-like shape, location and commercial zoning in a primarily residential neighborhood, uses for the lot have been limited, city officials have said.
The lot became the subject of heated political debate several years ago when it was revealed that residents living in a house abutting the property were using a portion of it for a shed. Councilwoman Laura Emdee, who has said she is friends with the owners, denied they received any special favors allowing them to use the property for the shed. Emdee voted on the matter Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Emdee said when the family bought the property abutting the lot to the east — which records show occurred in 2003 — a fence already extended from that house, on Maria Avenue, and encompassed the shed. The fence has since been returned to its correct location.
“When they went to rebuild the fence, the city recognized the fence was on city property,” Emdee said back in September. “So the city made them move the fence back (to their original property line.) That’s when the family said they wanted to buy that piece (of city) property.”
City Manager Joe Hoefgen said the city will address private use of the shed as part of the review process in preparing for a sale.
“During the time the city was in discussions with the (family) to possibly acquire the property, we did not prioritize removal of the encroachment,” Hoefgen said. “My understanding is the shed predates the presence of the adjacent property owners.”
The allegations that the family received special favors to use the property and the shed have arisen frequently in recent years as political debate heated up in the city and personal accusations against officials increased. During the public hearing Tuesday, one resident, Jill Klausen, played a video showing a woman — part of the family that owns the house east of the lot — talking about the vacant property, pointing out the shed and admitting she was not supposed to mention that it’s on city property.
“I am outraged and offended especially at Ms. Emdee, who makes claims of cronyism” against her colleagues, Klausen said at Tuesday’s meeting. “If you allow this woman to buy a portion of this property that she’s been stealing from the city, without paying rent or property taxes on it, then you might as well dissolve the council.”
The city has discussed selling the property since 2000, and past councils possibly had conversations about it in the 1980s as well. In 2004, the City Council told staff to consult adjacent property owners about potentially buying the lot. In 2008, the city talked about developing a small park on the lot and in 2016 some residents pushed for a community garden or a demonstration garden at the site.
Negotiations with the family on Maria Avenue to purchase the property have recently fallen through. The city has also considered buying an adjacent property on Lucia, which along with the currently vacant lot, could have been combined to form a community garden.
“I agree there could be a perception of a conflict if someone is a friend of someone up here,” said Councilman Christian Horvath. “I know there’s some polarized story out there because she doesn’t speak kindly of the mayor. As I recall, it’s a really complicated property, which is why we looked at purchasing the property adjoining it.”
Uses for the property on its own have severe limitations given the small size of the lot, its close proximity to Torrance Boulevard and the need for ADA compliance if the city created something that has public access, according to Assistant City Manager Mike Witzansky.
“It’s difficult for anybody to put the property to functional use,” Witzansky said.
City staff will next determine the process for changing the zoning on the site and then look to holding an auction to sell it.