Southeast Long Beach, including the Los Cerritos Wetlands, now has a new master zoning plan that should allow some redevelopment to begin.
The plan, called SEASP (Southeast Area Specific Plan), would replace the 1977 SEADIP (Southeast Area Development and Improvement Plan) as the overriding land use (zoning) document for the area. The city's Planning Bureau manager, Christopher Koontz, said there are a couple of procedural steps — including one more City Council approval — before SEASP is the law of the land. That will be done in less than five months.
"I'm just very, very pleased with the Coastal Commission's action," said Councilwoman Suzie Price, whose Third District includes all of the 1,500 acres that SEASP covers. "The process was very inclusive. This will allow us to protect and restore the wetlands. Without this, there could have been development there."
Some of the changes made by Coastal Commission staff before consideration by the commission increased the buffers and protections for the degraded wetlands. Price said there are long-term plans to restore the wetlands (largely dependent on a land trade with Synergy Oil, the current oil operator on the wetlands, and the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority) helped along by SEASP.
A watchdog group, the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, was part of the two-year planning process, and had asked for three more changes before Coastal Commission approval. Those changes were not included, but the Land Trust still is pleased with the result, and protections for the wetlands in particular, according to executive director Elizabeth Lambe.
"While we are happy with the overall outcome, we are disappointed that Commissioners did not include our three additional recommendations which were 1) Tie increased building heights to even more robust wetlands buffers, especially at the Marketplace property since it directly abuts sensitive wetlands 2) Tie increased building heights directly to benefits for wetlands and environmentally sensitive habitat areas 3) Make lighting standards as wetlands friendly as possible, based on science, to protect sensitive wetlands creatures," Lambe wrote in an email. "We will continue to advocate for those additional improvements."
One of the restrictions in SEASP limits commercial development to areas that already have that kind of development. Koontz said he expected the Marketplace, which borders the wetlands on the west side of Second Street, to be the first request for redevelopment.
The amount of new residential units ran a close second to wetlands protection in debate over the two-year planning process. The proposal finally approved calls for up to 2,584 housing units, including condominiums and apartments. A Coastal Commission condition requires an affordable housing component to new developments.
"I think this is going to be a long-term thing," Price said. "We won't see major change for 10 to 20 years. But there will be more housing at more price points, and that's something we need. I think you look at affordable in the context of this area. Teachers and college grads will be able to buy. Right now, it's at $550 a square foot, and that's just not doable."
In a letter to her constituents, Price thanked all those who participated in the planning process, and pointed out Seventh District City Councilman Roberto Uranga's role as a Coastal Commission member. She also thanked city staff and consultants for making it an open and inclusive process.
Koontz has been involved in the SEASP planning process since the beginning more than 10 years ago. He admitted to being a little tired Monday.
"It's good to be done," he said. "But I'm proud and pleased with what we have now."
Note: This story has been updated to correct the square foot price of housing in the area.