The Redondo Beach City Council has agreed to press on with a planned $300-million makeover of its long-ailing harbor and pier area, voting 3-2 to launch a lengthy environmental review of the proposed revitalization.
The council also agreed to extend for two years its exclusive agreement with Centercal, the developer that hopes to bring a movie theater, boutique hotel and new restaurants and shops to the 15-acre waterfront.
The split vote came just before midnight Tuesday, after more than five hours of discussion and as the expiration of the city’s exclusive negotiating agreement with Centercal neared.
Councilman Bill Brand, whose district includes the waterfront area, dubbed it a “shopping mall by the sea,” echoing complaints of many of his constituents that the development was too dense.
He voted against moving forward and called on the city to put off greenlighting the design concept for three months.
“I’m not voting against revitalization,” Brand said. “But I’m voting for responsible revitalization.”
The city has tried for decades to bring back the former glory of its waterfront district, which was badly damaged in a winter storm and fire in 1988.
Centercal, wary of controversy surrounding past attempts to remake the pier, has held several well-attended community meetings to solicit community feedback.
Many at Tuesday’s meetings commended Centercal’s efforts, calling the project a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to reverse the pier’s fortunes.
“We’re in desperate need of revitalization,” said Trinity Singer, who has lived in Redondo Beach for a decade and used to work on the pier.
“We need to regain pride in an area that used to be a bright and shining star and is now a crumbling, ugly kind of mess.”
But a vocal group of residents, many of whom live in nearby condominiums, has said the plan was still too dense and would obstruct their oceanfront views and bring added traffic, noise and pollution to the area.
A proposed roadway, which the developer has proposed to connect the two sprawling halves of the development, is a particular point of contention.
“The Grove is my worst nightmare,” said longtime resident Barbara Epstein, referring to the outdoor shopping mall in Los Angeles. “We had a vision of something wonderful and special and magical here, but we don’t see it in this plan.”
Some council members and a handful of residents requested that Centercal conduct an economic feasibility study, taking into account competition from nearby redevelopment efforts in San Pedro and Manhattan Beach.
Fred Bruning, chief executive of Centercal, said he’s confident in the strength of the firm’s plan for Redondo Beach’s waterfront, but said he will proceed with the study.
“To think that we would do a project like this without being 100% positive is a bit naïve,” Bruning said after the vote, adding that the company has spent about $1 million developing and studying the plan so far. “But anything we can do to give the council the courage of our convictions…we’re happy to do.”
Council members repeatedly reminded audience members Tuesday that the council was not voting on a final site plan for the project, and that various design elements will be examined as part of the environmental review.
That process is expected to take as long as two years, after which the City Council will be asked to vote on a final project.
“We can’t eat this elephant in one sitting,” Councilman Pat Aust said. “We have to take it one bite at a time.”