City hires firm to get input on an effort that could change the character of Central Long Beach

By Jason Ruiz, Long Beach Post

The city has hired a local design studio to help gather community input on a new plan that will determine the look and character of a sizable chunk of Central Long Beach, which is also one of the lowest-income most parking-impacted parts of Long Beach.

The nonprofit City Fabrick will lead public outreach for the so-called Zone In: City Core plan, which stretches from Magnolia Avenue to Ximeno Avenue near the Traffic Circle and includes nearly every parcel of land between Tenth Street and Pacific Coast Highway.

Broad zoning guidelines have already been determined for the area, and the rest of the city, through the the city’s general plan and Land Use Element, but this new process will determine more granular details like how much parking is needed for commercial spaces, how much affordable housing must be included in housing developments, landscaping and sidewalk width. The plan may also address mobility issues to make travel easier and safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The process is expected to take a year.

City planner Alison Spindler-Ruiz, who’s heading the project, is hopeful that a more detailed and tailored zoning plan can be achieved through gathering as much community input as possible.

City Fabrick is subcontracting with a coalition of community groups including Long Beach Forward, Walk Long Beach and the United Cambodian Community to expand its reach.

“These are the superheroes we know are familiar with and have operations in those parts of the city,” said Alex Jung, director of planning and design with City Fabrick.

The groups have worked together before after the closing of multiple storefronts at Poly Plaza, including the KH Supermarket, which had served Cambodia Town for 15 years before owners of the property sought new development at the center located at Anaheim Street and Atlantic Avenue.

The Cambodia Town Thrives vision plan that resulted from three years of work is reminiscent of the kind of input the city is looking for in this process. The community ranked small, medium and large projects that they wanted to see developed in the community like new street trees, bike lanes, green alley networks and affordable housing developments.

Elsa Tung, a land-use program manager with Long Beach Forward, said that communities most affected by zoning policies are typically not at the table. It’s important, she said, to involve groups that have extensive networking within the affected communities and are seen as trusted messengers.

Still, she’s unsure of what the end result might be.

“This is not going to be what I think is an autonomous process where the community tells the government what to do and they do it,” Tung said. “But this is an important step in the process where the city government has hired community groups to do this work to get the community to the table.”

Both Jung and Tung give the city credit for investing in community input, which includes making planning jargon understandable and improving translation efforts for people who speak Spanish, Khmer or Vietnamese.

In addition to surveys and community meetings, the city plans to form a leadership academy in which residents will complete a six-session program to build their knowledge of the city’s zoning process, then take that knowledge back to their communities. Applications for the academy are available in English and Spanish.

While the city has hosted a series of preliminary virtual open houses, with another scheduled for Wednesday, Jung said that a majority of the early information has come from surveys.

Jung, who teaches urban planning at Cal State Long Beach, has 46 students from his classes collecting data for the project by meeting people where they are like laundromats, bodegas or last weekend’s Cambodia Town parade.

Some early concerns residents have said they want to see addressed is the lack of open space in the area and the development of more affordable housing options. Some things they want to see less of are liquor stores.

Spindler-Ruiz is hopeful that the city can replicate some of the positives that came out of the city’s effort to rezone parts of North Long Beach last year with the UPLAN process.

There the city worked to incentivize certain types of businesses that residents said were lacking in the area like gyms and grocery stores and worked to ban certain future uses like motels, which the city had targeted as nuisance properties in parts of North Long Beach in recent years.

It could also change how corridors have been historically constructed. If you drive down Anaheim or PCH, you’ll notice a lack of housing built along the busy corridors, something Spindler-Ruiz said was done to separate industry from residential uses in the past.

The project area could also see developers take advantage of the city’s density bonus ordinance that allows for taller buildings to be built in “high-quality transit corridors,” which all of the City Core area is considered under state law because of its proximity to major transit stops.

Projects could be allowed to exceed maximum heights by one to three stories if a certain amount of low-income or below-market-rate units, and the developer is able to prove during a public review process that the increased height is necessary for the project.

Tradeoffs could include reducing the number or required parking spots for the developments because of their proximity to transit and reduced open space requirements within the developments. In the case of a 100% affordable project, no parking would be required.

Allowing housing along those corridors could be revisited through this process to address the housing crisis that is affecting the City Core area, which has some of the biggest rates of overcrowding in the city.

The entirety of the project area is considered parking impacted by the city and it will be looking at what ratios of parking are appropriate for new developments, Spindler-Ruiz said.

The next virtual open house is scheduled for April 13 at 6 p.m. You can register for the meeting here.

Editors note: Alex Yung is the director of planning and design with City Fabrick, a Long Beach-based nonprofit planning and design organization. The story has been updated. 

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