The Pacific Place Project will move forward after a 7-1 approval by the council on Tuesday, April 14, despite calls from residents to transform the highly contaminated parcel into open green space.
The privately-owned parcel of land in West Long Beach has ignited numerous debates over the past year. The industrially-zoned land lies in an area where residents have historically had low access to green space, increased rates of asthma due to freeway proximity and shorter lives.
Developers and community advocates battled on the digital council floor for nearly two hours. Five appeals were made against the continuation of the project. The appellants’ main ask: conduct a full environmental impact report before approving Pacific Place Project.
“We suffer from higher rates of asthma and cancer and we live shorter lives than people in East Long Beach. Our polluted environments rob us of both health and of life,” opposer Juan Ovalle said. “Not only do we bear the burden of our disproportion of pollution, we are now here before you, frantically begging you to follow through on your earlier votes to provide a larger park to our half of Long Beach.”
The site was mentioned in the Los Angeles Riverlink Plan as a potential location for a future park, a big talking point during the debate. Opposer Corliss Lee noted that the land had been upheld as the “crown jewel” of the plan.
“There is a dire need for more green space in this area, and precious little land left that could fulfill the promise of those plans,” Lee said.
City officials and the site developer pointed out that the land isn’t accessible to residents. It’s flanked by freeways and railroad tracks, both of which create challenges for pedestrian use.
The proposed development will include a three-story 152,745-square-foot self-storage building with 1,132 units, a 2,153-square-foot car wash, 11 truck loading bays and a recreational vehicle (RV) park with 578 parking spaces and a 5,000 square-foot office space.
“For the past 14 years, ever since the driving range closed, [the site] has been a blighted and vacant site,” Councilmember Al Austin said.
He noted that most calls to his office about the project were in support of the development, as the area has been a source of nuisance complaints and brush fires.
Environmental concerns, and the cost to mitigate them, were part of a larger argument against turning the space into a park. The estimated cost of turning an adjacent parcel into a park reached over $10 million.
Ovalle and the Riverpark Coalition, made up of residents who live near the site, alluded that the cost would be well-worth the additional greenspace, especially given the low acreage of parks in West Long Beach.
The City did conduct a mitigated negative declaration for the Pacific Place Project site, which essentially incorporates revisions into the project to mitigate environmental impacts.
The Department of Toxic Substances Control worked with the developers to create a mitigation plan to address the site’s contamination. The site was formerly home to oil rigging operations, leaving high levels of arsenic and other toxins beneath the soil.
To mitigate concerns of toxins and pollution, developers will hire a fleet of water trucks to soak the dirt to prevent toxic dust from floating into neighboring homes and schools.
A site developer outlined additional measures: air quality sensors on the site that will trigger a halt in construction if unsafe levels of toxins are detected, a vapor barrier to prevent toxic gases from rising out of the ground and a stormwater management system to control runoff.
Developers also vowed to work with a tribal representative in case any Indigenous artifacts are found on-site during construction.
There is a dire need for more green space in this area, and precious little land left to fulfill the promise of those plans.Corliss Lee, in opposition of Pacific Place Project
The council approval also came with a zone change from light industrial to commercial storage, a more low-impact use of the land located near residential neighborhoods. They also approved the site plan review, conditional use permit, a height variance and a lot merger to meet minimum size requirements for the planned use. All of this to say: the project is ready to move forward.
Opposers to the group, gathered under the Riverpark Coalition, were supported by the sole opposing vote by Councilmember Roberto Uranga, who held steady on his opinion that residents deserved a full EIR before construction would begin.
Councilmember Suely Saro abstained due to prior employment with an environmental agency involved in the project.
“I’d like to channel this energy toward actually working together and building park space,” Austin said. “I’m going to extend that olive branch to all of our community members and stakeholders who have been engaged here today, but also to the project applicants because I think there’s a lot of work to do, and we can win together as a city.”
The next Long Beach City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, April 20 at 5 p.m. via teleconference.