Los Cerritos Wetlands (copy) (copy)

The Los Cerritos Wetlands, part of the Southeast Area Specific Plan (SEASP).

An updated master land use plan for southeast Long Beach, including the Los Cerritos Wetlands, will get what could be its final hearing in the approval process next Thursday, Oct. 8.

At issue will be a plan that calls for up to 2,584 housing units — including some for low-income housing — redevelopment of commercial areas rather than creating new retail locations, expansion of bicycle and pedestrian paths and consolidation of oil operations, all while protecting and restoring the wetlands.

That hearing will be at the state Coastal Commission meeting — conducted virtually, as is the norm in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The plan, called SEASP (Southeast Area Specific Plan), would replace the 1977 SEADIP (Southeast Area Development and Improvement Plan) as the overriding land use document for the area.

The 1,500 acres covered by SEASP is roughly bounded by the Orange County border, state Highway 22 and Marine Stadium. It includes the wetlands, the Marina Pacifica, Marketplace and 2ND&PCH shopping centers, Pacific Coast Highway and residential areas, primarily between the Los Cerritos Channel and Highway 22, as well as Marina Pacifica.

Efforts to update SEADIP began more than a decade ago, driven partially by efforts to redevelop the SeaPort Marina Hotel property. The City Council specifically ordered the planning process in 2014 after a mixed-use project requiring multiple conditional use permits overriding SEADIP failed to win approval.

A million-dollar, two-year planning process resulted. That process included a community advisory committee, about 30 public meetings and outreach events and at least two versions of a land use plan.

After City Council approval, the plan was subjected to a lawsuit from the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, an advocacy group. That lawsuit took more than a year to resolve, with a settlement between the land trust and the city.

Then negotiations began between the city's Development Services staff and Coastal Commission staff. That process resulted in a recommendation to the Coastal Commission to approve the land use plan, but only if 16 changes are made.

Several of those changes clear up technical or wording issues. However, there are some significant changes as well.

An entire new chapter has been added to further define wetlands and environmental protections. Specifically, the chapter includes policies for protection of water quality and a new tree-trimming policy. Tree trimming has become a controversial issue with the 2ND&PCH commercial area and related "complete streets" redevelopment of Marina Drive.

That same area, the former SeaPort Marina Hotel site, is the source of one continuing disagreement between Long Beach and the Coastal Commission staff. The staff report notes that demolishing the hotel, while legal, eliminated 150 low-cost overnight rooms.

"The protection of lower cost overnight accommodations in the SEASP area is particularly important," the report says. "There is only one existing hotel that provides lower cost overnight accommodations (the Golden Sails) within the SEASP planning area. Another hotel in the SEASP area was demolished within the past few years which contained 150 lower cost overnight accommodations. Because the currently certified SEADIP document did not contain language for protection of these previously existing lower cost rooms, they were demolished and not replaced."

So the Coastal Commission staff added a modification that emphasizes development of low-cost hotel rooms, including a low-cost component to any high-cost hotels. A $100,000 per room payment is offered as an alternative.

But Christopher Koontz, deputy director of Development Services, said the city continues to disagree with that approach.

"It's a pothole rather than a roadblock (to approval)," Koontz said. "We will rely on the commissioners to work that out."

A similar approach is used in regards to the residential housing, with the state adding a low-cost, multi-family component to the plan. The city's SEASP fact sheet notes that the city does not meet minimum housing requirements from the state without the 2,584 new units in SEASP.

Long Beach's hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 8, and is early in that day's agenda. For the agenda and directions to connect to the webcast or Zoom feed of the meeting, go to Gazettes.com/go/coastal.

Note: This story was updated to correct the result of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust lawsuit — it was settled, not ruled on by a judge.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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