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.”