Redondo Beach’s controversial “Waterfront” redevelopment remains in limbo
City council members share visions for the future of King Harbor, while CenterCal presents renderings of a smaller project.
REDONDO BEACH — Not all is quiet on the Redondo Beach waterfront, despite the apparent calm surrounding The Log’s recent visit to King Harbor. The peace of beachgoers, business patrons, residents and visitors along the Redondo Beach waterfront juxtaposes against the longstanding battle for its future. City leaders, boaters, residents and a developer have bickered and sparred during the past two years, going at each other with heated public debates, a ballot initiative and multiple lawsuits.
The King Harbor area has been bogged down by plans to realize “The Waterfront,” a rejuvenation project, which basically started with plans to remodel a derelict parking garage. Plans soon ballooned into what some called a mega-mall on the ocean, costing somewhere between $300 million and $400 million.
As of now, no one is quite sure what’s on tap. The California Coastal Commission is expected to weigh in on the project’s future in August. A resolution then could bring some real clarity to a redevelopment project approved by the City Council in 2016 but then jeopardized by a ballot initiative restricting coastal development and lawsuits filed by the developer and on behalf of Redondo Beach.
Members of the City Council lack consensus on the future of The Waterfront. CenterCal, the local developer behind The Waterfront, stated it would consider a scaled-down project of its previously approved plans. Local residents, all the while, are caught in the middle of a debate: challenge CenterCal’s plans as being too big and a threat to Redondo Beach’s quirky, quiet charm, or allow a large-scale development to be built so the city could become a beachfront destination on par with Santa Monica or Newport Beach.
What – in light of voter mandates, lawsuit judgments and an impending Coastal Commission decision – is the next step? Where is this thing headed?
CenterCal: Modestly Revised Plans?
Fred Bruning, the CEO of CenterCal, and Mickey Marraffino, Vice President of Blue Mountain Development, met with The Log at The Waterfront Information Center to discuss its newer, smaller proposal. There has been chatter the two principal parties – Redondo Beach and CenterCal – might not be able to patch up and work together, even with a smaller proposal set to be presented before the City Council for review.
El Segundo-based CenterCal has already spent close to $20 million on this project. Though nothing is set in stone at this time, the city and CenterCal have gained and lost some ground in the lawsuit.
Various news sources have reported the project has been killed or it will move forward, but at this time, as The Log has reported before, the future of this project lies in the hands of the Coastal Commission.
At the time when CenterCal took on this project, Measure G was the current zoning scheme in play. The governing law stated the terms of the lease allowed re-building a 400,000 square foot retail space – no residential – but restaurant zoning, coastal developments and visitors’ services. Bruning has continuously stated The Waterfront project was consistent with the rules of Measure G.
Redondo Beach voters would approve Measure C in March 2017, calling for substantive zoning changes for waterfront development. The ballot initiative was crafted (and approved) as a response to The Waterfront project.
CenterCal has since maintained Measure C is not retroactive and does not apply to project approved prior to its passage in 2017. Bruning continuously stated The Waterfront is still governed by Measure G.
The CenterCal CEO, nonetheless, made some changes to The Waterfront, in hopes of gaining favor with Redondo Beach City Hall, local residents and the Coastal Commission.
Currently, the project has been reduced by 30 percent, from around 400,000 square feet to about 320,000 square feet. The new plans, which were shared with The Log, would include a parking lot, retail spaces, restaurants and a marketplace.
Bruning’s concerns with a scaled down version of The Waterfront is its economic challenge. The CenterCal CEO has long stood by the notion he has been willing to create a smaller project, but the numbers to do so just doesn’t make sense for CenterCal.
CenterCal, according to Bruning, was, from the get-go, pigeonholed into a role as the evil developer, out to steal the charm and nostalgia of quaint Redondo Beach.
“When they [locals] discuss the CenterCal mall, I don’t see it. Where is the mall? There is no mall,” Marraffino said.
Regardless of the he-said, she-said, Bruning and Marraffino state they have heard the complaints and, in response, have focused on concerns surrounding Seaside Lagoon, ocean views, water quality and the boat launch ramp.
Bruning, at the end of the day, stated he would like to find a “less intrusive” resolution to The Waterfront divide.
When asked if anyone has won, Bruning replied, “The truth is that nobody wins.”
Discord on the City Council: Project Opposition
Council member Nils Nehrenheim was not on the dais when he and a group of Redondo Beach residents drafted Measure C and submitted it to Los Angeles County officials for approval. His opposition to the project has maintained, though, mostly focusing on The Waterfront’s size.
“They [CenterCal] want to put in a 700-seat movie theatre. Can you believe that? It’s ridiculous,” Nehrenheim, who was raised in nearby San Pedro and lived in Redondo Beach for the past 12-plus years, told The Log, focusing in on one of the project’s elements as a microcosm of The Waterfront being “supersized.”
Bruning, in response to talk of a 700-seat movie theatre, said he zeroed in on a large cinematic venue because he had spoken with a few locals who remembered The Fox Theatre, which became Art Theatre. At one time it was the largest movie theatre in California and operated from 1927 to 1977.
Nehrenheim, who was elected to the City Council shortly after Measure C passed, has nonetheless been adamantly against what some have called the “CenterCal Mall by the Sea.” His council district includes King Harbor and the portion of the Redondo Beach waterfront where CenterCal hopes to execute its plans.
One of Nehrenheim’s top priorities to have a boat launch ramp built at King Harbor’s Mole C or D, but a decision on the venue’s location is as complicated as the redevelopment’s lawsuits.
Mole B, according to the lawsuit rulings, has been thrown out and boaters are favoring Mole C and D. A point brought up multiple times, however, a boat launch ramp once existed at Mole D, but was washed away by the tide. Multiple public meetings have been held in regards to the boat launch ramp, but as with much of the project moving forward, its future will be determined by the Coastal Commission.
The Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, stated the boat launch ramp must be rebuilt. Nehrenheim suggested the project, once decided, could take “maybe a year” to open to the public.
Nehrenheim ultimately believes CenterCal’s proposal would completely overdevelop the Redondo Beach waterfront.
Mayor Bill Brand, who has also openly taken an anti-CenterCal stance, was not available for comment at the time of press.
Money, Growth and Outsiders
The Log also met with City Council member Laura Emdee, who says she has been labeled as “Evil Emdee” for her support of the CenterCal project and gave her interpretation of the history of how this started. Emdee has been a resident of Redondo Beach since 1990 and grew up in the South Bay area.
“This all began with a parking garage,” Emdee told The Log, adding at least $15 million has been spent on revitalizing the Redondo Beach waterfront in the last 10 years.
One interesting point Emdee realized when she was out knocking on doors was locals did not care about the money – what they cared about was refurbishing a waterfront area to serve the city. Emdee stated an overwhelming majority would rather pay additional taxes than see a large-scale remodel open in Redondo Beach.
“It’s true,” Emdee said. “I know [The Waterfront] was big. But, I knew the Coastal Commission would come in and make changes.”
In supporting the project, Emdee thought she was being fiscally responsible.
“As it turns out, the money isn’t the concern,” she maintained.
In meetings with CenterCal and Council member Emdee, both mentioned locals and residents had stated they do not want the new development for reasons involving increased traffic flow. Emdee and Bruning also stated a common thread was seeing locals who did not want “those people” in their neighborhood, which referred to “black gangbangers” and Mexicans.
What Emdee learned through all of this, in her words, is that Redondo Beach is a pretty special place.
“I think the [reactions from the public] are a testament to that,” she told The Log.
Change is on the tips of everyone’s tongues with the political climate of today. Many locals in Redondo Beach saw the need to revitalize a waterfront that looked tired, but some residents did not want to see it transform into something too different.
“People wanted the quirkiness, the nostalgia of the old waterfront,” Emdee, in speaking about why people were so adamantly against The Waterfront, said. “The thing about time is you generally forget the bad stuff.”
Emdee waxes philosophic on growing up in the South Bay and says that Redondo Beach was always her beach. For those who don’t have the privilege of growing up walking distance to the ocean, Californians stake out a beach of their own according to Emdee. The beach is meant to be a welcoming place, but she sees fear flyers – a few of which she shares with The Log picturing a kind of mass hysteria around the waterfront project – and some residents who may not want to welcome outsiders.
In a larger subject matter, Emdee relayed statistics she heard as many as 11 million more people will come to California within the next 10 years, expanding on the horizon of growth. Waterfront developments are not over. The only way to stop growth in California is to eliminate jobs, a “scary thought” to Emdee.
Setting Aside Differences?
There are still a lot of questions as to how exactly revitalization will take place in the future, and it also spreads out to every coastal city along California’s coast – there are numerous waterfront developments taking place now.
In terms of Redondo Beach, those who felt the emotional ties to their beloved city and thought the waterfront development was a bit ludicrous made their voices known.
Local judges ruling on the various lawsuits filed by CenterCal and the city are the voices being heard today. Members of the Coastal Commission will be the next set of loud voices to be heard.
What will be made of CenterCal’s updated plans? Will some of those opposed to The Waterfront, as it was originally proposed, eventually support a smaller-scaled project?
In looking ahead, there are three areas to concentrate on: a new pier, the boat launch ramp and Seaside Lagoon. The pier, which was shutdown in January, has been deteriorating and needs to be rebuilt. Seaside Lagoon, meanwhile, has been at the center of a clean water and public health debate.
Emdee’s vision of the project seems different now that it has become such a controversial, complex matter. She believes instead of focusing on the waterfront project as a whole, it is best to “deal with rebuilding the parking garage and be done with it.”
“This project has pitted neighbor against neighbor,” Emdee said. “It’s time for the fighting to stop.”
9 thoughts on “Redondo Beach’s controversial “Waterfront” redevelopment remains in limbo”
Emdee and Bruning accusing residents of playing the race card is purely revisionist fiction. Early in the process, Bruning was quoted in a local paper saying the area needed revitalization because there are “scary people down there.” The most avid supporters of CenterCal posted about people with “ghetto blasters” at Seaside Lagoon; Mexicans camping on the pier, and people “not reflective of Redondo demographics. “.
Bruning took what a few people said about a theater at the waterfront and ignored the overwhelming majority who spoke in opposition. The fact of the matter is Bruning was the first to talk about a theater as part of the development.
And Emdee is copping out. The people want broad harbor revitilization. But they want one that is not so impactful on long standing recreational uses of the harbor as an actual harbor.
We have many, many alternatives to shop, dine and see movies, but in the 25 miles of coastline between MDR and the Port of Los Angeles there is only one harbor. Harbor uses should remain the priority of the harbor. And we can revitalize without supersizing.
Fiction: ***Emdee and Bruning also stated a common thread was seeing locals who did not want “those people” in their neighborhood, which referred to “black gangbangers” and Mexicans.***
Did you ever read the pro-CenterCal Facebook page moderated by Tony Trutanich, Jr. and Chris Voisey? It is full of race-baiting and fear of “the other”, with many, many instances of derogatory rhetoric directed at non-Redondo residents. This article makes no mention of that, and instead swallows the CenterCal-approved B.S. claiming the racism is actually coming from…we, the residents??? CenterCal, you miserable scumbags: get the hell out of our city and bring your fired ex-VP and chief propagandist Ms. Marraffino and your unwanted Mall by the Sea with you. You are not worthy of our time.
Thank you for your comment, John. Staff at The Log has been reviewing Facebook pages from both sides, but we haven’t seen/found anything you have mentioned to this effect yet. However, if we do stumble upon it, we will share the findings in this thread.
They haven’t posted in quite a while on that page and their most egregious racist comments were months ago now. They might even be deleted after they were called out repeatedly by residents. Comments about the “demographics” of pier visitors looking nothing like residents–really? Slams against cultures, etc…ignorant racism out in the open, all in CenterCal’s name.
Thank you Devon Warren for your article and integrity. Well done.
If you give us your email address, I can send evidence. In the meantime, here is the article where Bruning fearmongers about “bad people”:
“From the greater community, we heard, ‘I never go to the waterfront anymore. It’s rundown. It’s just a bunch of bars. I wouldn’t go there after dark,’ ” he said. “And we found people wanted to reconnect with the waterfront, but there wasn’t anything to reconnect with right now.”
Locals told Bruning they would perhaps go to Kincaid’s restaurant once a year, or stop into Quality Seafood on the occasional Saturday, but they would leave immediately after.
“ ‘Because there’s bad people there,’ comments like that,” he said.
Tony Trutanich, Jr., from a pro-CenterCal Facebook page with purchased likes and followers they call “The Redondo Harbor Boardwalk and Marketplace” which Trutanich moderates with Leadership Redondo alum and Waterfront sales rep Chris Voisey, Aug 9, 2016:
“This is Tony Jr
So I had a private event at New Tonys (Maison Riz) this past Sunday.
I say that because so many people have mentioned or made comments like
” why a hotel, the hotel does not benefit the locals at all. ”
A few things. One example is that an upscale hotel will definitely bring down a better crowd. This past Sunday the pier was packed with non locals, blasting their car stereos, camping out literally in the middle of the pier, the cheap beer and churro places were packed. Great crowd at Old Tonys but if I had to bring friends from out of town to OLD Tonys I would need to walk them through a very shady crowd to get there. There were no locals walking the pier.
Secondly, Terranera is an awesome resort in Palos Verdes and when I go there I always bump into friends who are staying there for the weekend. I think after all the changes are made down at the pier the new hotel will be used by a lot of locals.
Lastly, the revenue the city will receive will be great.”
1. Pining for “a better (read: whiter) crowd”: Check
2. Whining about “non locals”: Check
3. Other examples of entitled racism?: “I would need to walk through a very shady crowd…there are no locals walking the pier.”: Check
Just a small example of the casual racism from a pro-CenterCal FB page. As a reminder, it was Fred Bruning himself who fretted about “scary people down there”, referring to the Redondo Beach pier in a Daily Breeze article from Aug. 29, 2014.
Other examples abound. Just do the reserach…
John’s quote is authentic from the Facebook Page supporting the CenterCal project. And it is just one. The staunchest CenterCal supporters repeatedly fear mongered about the need to upscale the harbor to get rid of the outsiders who visit the pier, harbor and seaside lagoon today.
For Bruning and Emdee to state those opposed to CenterCal used the race card is simply not true. The campaign flyer they presented is a political cartoon showing large vacancies, a traffic jam and a traffic accident overplayed on a picture of CenterCal’s model. It hit two main themes: the risk of the failure of the retail component, and the traffic the development would generate. It also showed sea lions on the new Seaside Lagoon which is also a very real possibility. There is no racist thread in the flier. To report there is is really stretching the flier’s content. Post the flier and let the public decide if it is at all racist.
BCHD is planning 1.5X more SQFT and over 2X as high as CenterCal was. We need to SHUT DOWN BCHD before it destroys local neighborhoods.