Long Beach Thinks Again About Paving of Greenbelt
The city is reconsidering a much-criticized plan to pave over two acres of a coastal greenbelt to expand parking near Shoreline Village, a popular waterfront shopping complex that suffers from a chronic parking shortage.
The parking proposal, approved last month by the Planning Commission, has stirred protests from residents who want the tree-studded, 11-acre strip of open space left alone.
City Planning Director Robert J. Paternoster, while reiterating his department’s support of the plan, said he hoped the city could devise a way of improving the parking situation without taking part of the park, known as the Marina Green.
A grassy band of land that extends along Shoreline Drive near downtown, the green borders the 1,415-space marina parking lot, which serves boat owners and marina visitors as well as patrons of the neighboring village complex to the west.
Opponents of the parking proposal have branded it a blatant giveaway of public parkland for commercial purposes, complaining that it will primarily benefit the village complex, which leases the waterfront property from the city.
“I’m getting the feeling that the citizens of Long Beach have to give up two acres of park . . . to provide a lot of parking for businesses,” complained Sid Solomon, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved (LBACI).
“Stop this theft!” declares a flyer by Margot Bergmann, a former member of the Local Coastal Plan Committee who is organizing a brown-bag picnic on the green Friday to protest the parking expansion.
If necessary, Bergmann vows to take her objections to the State Coastal Commission, which ultimately has to review the proposal, along with the City Council.
“I hope we won’t have to go that far,” she said, “I hope we can kill it at City Hall.”
The dispute is not over whether extra parking is needed, but where to put it. Park enthusiasts contend the city could alleviate the marina parking crunch by better managing the use of existing spaces reserved for boaters and by creating off-site parking for employees of the village shops and restaurants. Why not, they ask, use the Convention Center parking lot across Shoreline Drive and nearby downtown garages?
In approving the expansion proposal, planning commissioners agreed that village merchants should arrange remote parking for employees, and they asked city staff to study increased use of the boater spaces. But commissioners still believe there is a need for the extra 203 spaces that would be created with the $655,000-city-financed expansion project. Indeed, some observers say, even the new spaces will not eliminate the marina parking shortage.
Workers at the village, which houses 41 enterprises, reacted coolly to the suggestion that they might park downtown and use city transportation to get to their jobs.
“I don’t see that as a feasible solution,” said Julia Donelson, a shop manager. “It’s a long way to go and asking a lot of people who are working in the shops and earning $4 an hour.”
Shopkeepers further argue that the green is often empty. “I don’t see that green area being used very much,” Donelson said, adding that insufficient parking is a persistent problem at the complex, which leases the waterfront property from the city.
“Especially in the summer, you have people driving around for hours in the parking lot,” she said. The competition for a spot is sometimes so intense that fights break out between drivers. “It’s a really bad situation.”
Merchants say the parking shortage costs them customers, and city officials argue that the public should not be deprived of adequate parking for a public marina area.
Were it not for the marina, the green would not be there, Planning Commission Chairman Manuel Perez said, noting that the area used to be vacant landfill. He also argued that the city does benefit economically from the village businesses, since their rent payments to the city increase with gross sales.
An administrator in the city Parks and Recreation Department said alternatives to the parking-lot expansion are being examined for presentation to the city manager and City Council, but she declined to elaborate.