Showtime for HEART OF THE CITY
Sunday, Feb 24, 2002, Page A1
By Eddie North-Hager, Staff Writer
Photo by Branimir Kvartuc and Kim Haggerty, Staff Photographers
Artwork by Tom Sorenson, Staff Artist
Some residents are skeptical of the revitalization plan being reviewed by the city.
To create a Heart of the City, a metamorphosis must take place in Redondo Beach.
Acres of parking lots will give way to multiple-story parking structures. Restaurants will be demolished to fit in with a pedestrian-friendly strategy. Views will be blocked as buildings rise to take advantage of the priceless property along the harbor.
And scores of residents aren't happy with the environmental impact report and Specific Plan that goes before the City Council at 6:30 p.m. Monday for the public hearing. The council will reconvene at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday for the vote.
"Heart of the City is a plan that seems to benefit other people rather than local residents," said Tony Heller, 57, who has lived on his boat in Port Royal Marina for 11 years. "Nothing is broken here that needs to be fixed. We have a way of life here that's quiet with easy access. I don't want them to stick an amusement park in the middle of it."
But after two years of workshops, public hearings and revisions, city officials believe that most people in the city want a downtown in the harbor area.
"My job is not just to look to them, but to the 60,000-plus that live in the rest of Redondo Beach," City Manager Lou Garcia said.
To generate more consensus, the city staff revised the plan after it went unscathed through the Planning Commission in December -- even though residents complained during four hours of testimony.
The changes and clarifications include:
 Removing the requirement for a street along the waterfront.
 Requiring that single-story buildings make up 50 percent of the structures south of Seaside Lagoon.
 Designating restrooms, laundry facilities, lockers, lounges and marina offices in the report as allowable uses on the waterfront.
 Removing the requirement that all ground-level development be devoted to retail uses.
 Permitting three stories across from the Crowne Plaza Hotel and the Sunrise Hotel.
 Not requiring the 35,000-square-foot waterfront plaza to be at the southern tip of the harbor.
For one of the most vocal critics, the modifications showed that the city responded to community concerns.
"It is wonderful that the planners and the city are listening to some of the groups, and where our recommendation makes sense, are trying to accommodate requests," said Bill Webster, chairman of the King Harbor Boaters Advisory Panel.
Two months ago he said the plan was "rubber stamped" and the city wasn't listening even after the boaters won a reprieve on the location of the bike path in the first rounds of discussions.
With the final environmental impact report, the boaters also got a road removed along the harbor that they said would disrupt their lifestyles.
"I was very pleased when it became apparent they were looking at many of the issues brought up in the Planning Commission," said Webster, who still hasn't finished reading through the 2-inch-thick document. "They made the plan community responsive."
Unlike some opponents who don't want anything built, Webster said the concept could make life in the harbor better.
"There will be pluses and minuses," Webster said. "It will hopefully give the area a makeover, a new look, make it nicer. The minuses of course are what we're all worried about, traffic and congestion."
Councilman John Parsons said he doesn't expect any major alterations during the council meeting.
"Any changes that would come out now would fall into the minor category," Parsons said. "If you are a single-focused person on this and something changes there, it is a major change."
The city hopes to attract hotels, restaurants, office parks and perhaps a movie theater -- nearly 657,000-square feet of commercial space in the harbor area.
Along North Catalina Avenue and around the power plant, apartments, condominiums and town homes -- up to 3,000 homes with densities between 16 and 55 units per acre -- would be provided for shoppers, diners and workers.
The impetus for revitalizing the harbor area, which could take 20 or more years to fully realize, came when AES Corp. revealed its desire to downsize the power plant, using the excess land for town homes and lofts. If all goes according to design, the first phase of 300 homes could be built on the south end of the facility by 2004.
City officials seized the opportunity to create a master plan for rundown North Catalina Avenue and the harbor, which isn't living up to its commercial potential.
"If we look at it piecemeal, we won't get a good, thorough plan," Parsons said.
The city will use its position as the landowner in the harbor area to control what the leaseholder builds in the future.
"If we had our druthers, there would be no leases and we would knock everything down at one time," Garcia said. "That's not going to happen. We'll deal with each as the leases come up."
For example, a 20-year lease may not be enough to get a loan from a bank to improve a property. The city would extend the lease and perhaps help financially if the leaseholder would use the money to build something that fits in with Heart of the City.
"If they came to the city for a long lease, we'd say `Here's what we'd like you to do,' " said Garcia, who has led the city to buy out several leases before they expired.
That method doesn't curry favor with many current leaseholders or their tenants.
If Heart of the City is implemented, a 12-foot-wide pedestrian walkway would one day need to go through the dining room of the Cheesecake Factory, the city's most popular restaurant.
That makes the restaurant a non-conforming use, preventing it from rebuilding in the event of major storm damage or from doing substantial renovations, said Debby Zurzolo, senior vice president and general counsel for the Cheesecake Factory.
The city is "putting us in a position where exercising those options are very uncomfortable," Zurzolo said. "There are a lot of other leaseholders I know with great concerns. We will take a very close look at exercising our options and whether it makes sense to us."
The restaurant has two years left on its lease and the option to renew for another 20 years. City officials said the 30-year-old structure is in poor condition shapeand a better investment would be a new restaurant.
"It does need to be refreshened substantially," Zurzolo admitted of the Cheesecake Factory home since 1988. "Those are the kind of dollars you put in a restaurant when you know you are going to be there long-term. We put in substantial funds when we took it over."
On the surface, for some, Redondo Beach's Heart of the City plan to create a new downtown isn't that much different from the urban renewal that destroyed the original downtown decades ago.
"There was not a lot of opposition in the '50s," said Jack Kitchen, who moved to the city in 1923. "There's more now. You can't please them all. My opinion is that they shouldn't do (Heart of the City). We are going to have an awful problem with different buildings and traffic. It will cause an awful gridlock, and on the boardwalk it will hurt them. I would like to see very little done."
The heart of Redondo Beach has needed resuscitation for years. The process seems familiar: The City Council creates a long-term plan to revitalize the core; bulldozes a few buildings; uses alternative funding, such as bonds, redevelopment or grants, to attract new businesses and rebuild infrastructure; and hopes the outcome will not only support itself but create surplus revenue for the rest of the city.
"Redondo Beach has faced the land, now it has the problem of turning around and facing the water," Ben Southland, a city consultant, told the Daily Breeze in November 1958.
The downtown was a ghost town, 70 percent vacant and buildings crumbling. The history wasn't as important as the hope for progress, and urban renewal was hatched.
"This comprehensive general plan for the city of Redondo Beach will be a result of the combined efforts of the planing consultants and the city residents, providing the Planning Commission and the City Council with the best possible guide to a well-planned future of physical, social and economic growth and development of the city," said Mayor William Czuleger in 1963.
By 1967, the city had cleared half of 50 acres targeted for 1,000 condos, along with offices, a cultural center and off-street parking.
The "victims" are the difference in the two scenarios.
Instead of 50- and 75-year-old buildings in place since the city's founding in 1892, 30-year-old restaurants battered by the sea and gargantuan parking lots will be razed.
"Redevelopment took away a lot of our historical city," said 79-year-old Kitchen, the city's honorary historian. "We had history down there. We don't have nothing now."
That is what the City Council hopes to change.
Want to go?
- WHAT: Redondo Beach City Council will consider the Heart of the City downtown revitalization plan.
- WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Monday is the public hearing and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday the council begins deliberations.
- WHERE: Redondo Beach City Council Chamber, 415 Diamond St.
- Some Hermosa Beach residents are wary of 3,000 new neighbors who might move in next door./A10
- The school district wants the city to include a site for a new campus in its revitalization plan./A11
Pumping money into the Heart of the City
- $1 billion -- private sector investment under the Heart of the City
- $110 million -- cost to clean up the AES power plant
- $49 million -- infrastructure required under the plan
- $35 million -- cost for parking structures
- $18.5 million -- projected revenues for the harbor area under the plan
- $12 million -- current total revenue of the harbor area
- $14 million -- projected expenditures for the harbor area under the plan
- $9 million -- city's current expenditures for the harbor area
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