Long Beach Council Approves $1-Billion Project at Old Pike Site
An ambitious plan to build a mini-city on the old Pike Amusement Park site picked up another important approval this week with the ease of a roller-coaster car sliding downhill.
The City Council noted concerns about traffic congestion associated with the $1-billion development, expressed confidence that gridlock could be avoided and unanimously approved local coastal plan changes so the huge project can move forward.
Council members acted with enthusiasm, heaping praise on a development that is bigger and denser than anything ever built in this city of historically suburban sensibilities.
Their comments were glowing as they approved changes that would more the double the site’s maximum density and allow buildings up to 600 feet tall.
“This is a golden opportunity for this city,” Councilwoman Jan C. Hall said.
“The good ol’ days are about to come back,” Councilman Les Robbins said.
“I am very delighted,” Councilman Clarence Smith said.
Mayor Ernie E. Kell said the project is exciting; Councilman Evan Anderson Braude called the development a big boost for downtown, and Councilman Jeffrey A. Kellogg repeated several times that he is very proud to be a part of it.
The 11-building project of offices, residences, hotels and shops--one of the largest urban coastal developments in the country--still has several hurdles to clear.
Plans must be approved by the California Coastal Commission. Then the city must approve a master site plan that spells out details of the development, which is be to built over 13 years, beginning in 1990, on acreage near the Hyatt Regency hotel and the Long Beach Convention Center, bounded by Shoreline Drive, Seaside Way, Pine Avenue and Queens Way.
While mentioning the possibility of traffic jams associated with the 13-acre development, the council seemed assured that city planners and developers would devise ways to handle the cars traveling to and from the seaside complex, which is expected to employ 8,000 people and generate 27,500 to 36,000 car trips a day.
Wayne Ratkovich--whose Los Angeles company is developing the site in conjunction with a West Coast subsidiary of a company owned by developer James W. Rouse, who is known nationally for his shoreline developments--said the project’s traffic studies indicate that of 12 surrounding intersections, two would be pushed to unacceptable levels of congestion by the project.
And those two, Alamitos Avenue and Ocean Boulevard and Alamitos and 7th Street, are already backed up at peak commuting hours, he noted.
Ratkovich also emphasized that the nature of the mixed-use project would cut down on car use, because people could walk from hotels and residences to shops and offices.
“For Southern California, it is bold and unprecedented,” Ratkovich said. “But it is a necessary step away from dependency on the automobile.”
City Planning Director Robert Paternoster pointed out that the developers would be required to make traffic improvements, including installing traffic signals, upgrading intersections, extending some streets on the site, installing bus shelters and drawing up plans to encourage car-pooling and use of mass transit by office workers.
Consulting Firm Hired
Moreover, developers have agreed to whatever transportation-related development fees are imposed by the city when the transportation section of the General Plan is finished.
In the meantime, Paternoster said, city planners have hired a private consulting firm to design a computer model that will allow the city to simulate traffic problems associated with Pike and 11 other downtown developments that are under way or have been approved. The model will be used to find ways of routing the traffic to avoid traffic snarls.
But spokesmen for several organizations that had previously complained to the Planning Commission about future traffic nightmares downtown repeated their concerns to the City Council.
Before approving the Pike project, city officials should have a much better idea of how they are going to handle the thousands of extra cars that the complex will draw, argued Marc Coleman of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved.
Can’t Support Density
“It is not enough to forecast there may be a solution in the future,” he said.
Robert Lamond of the Long Beach branch of the Sierra Club also said that while the project is in many ways admirable, his group cannot support the increased height and density limits, which would spawn a development that would contribute to air pollution and traffic tie-ups.
Others criticized the project for not including housing for low- or moderate-income residents. In response, the developers said they want to design the 1,000 planned residences for a range of incomes.
They also said that, of the $13 million a year the fully completed project is expected to generate in sales-tax revenue to the city, $1.8 million a year will be set aside for low-cost housing.