I have seen and heard a variety of people, councilmen, organizations and websites misrepresent the details of Power Plant Phase-Out Initiative and its zoning. We know that the “legalese” wording of the zoning makes it difficult to read and understand. Here I attempt to put the facts about the initiative in simple English.
The initiative prohibits a new power plant
The initiative zoning eliminates power generation as a conditional use. It does allow rooftop solar generation. This allows “green” buildings but not a power plant. Ultimately, the California Energy Commission can override this zoning. But, out of 130 cases, they have only done this four times. It is difficult to believe the CEC would override the will of the voters.
The initiative phases out the current plant and mandates its removal
The initiative allows AES to complete its current contract, which goes out to 2018. It allows power generation to continue until Dec. 31, 2020. This coincides with the date AES must comply with new regulation limiting the use of seawater for cooling. The initiative requires AES to remove the current plant and remediate the property by Dec. 31, 2022. AES previously testified that removal would take up to two years. So the initiative zoning does not allow AES to abandon the power plant in place.
The initiative replaces the current zoning with a mix of public recreation/open space and commercial/institutional development.
The initiative zoning is based on the Measure G zoning for the harbor. We then added view protection elements based on Dana Point Harbor and Marina Del Rey harbor area zoning. Finally, we incorporated horizontal mixed-use zoning concepts from a variety of cities. Based on the public aversion to the residential component in the original Heart of the City zoning, and the priorities included in the Coastal Act, the initiative does not allow condos or timeshares.
The allowed commercial zoning density is the same as that allowed in Measure G Harbor/Pier zoning.
We took the total development cap allowed in Measure G zoning for the harbor/pier area (about 1.3 million square feet) and divided it by the total acres in the harbor/pier area (about 150 acres). We then multiplied this density by all the acres of the AES property. That came out to about 430,000 square feet, which is the upper limit in the initiative zoning. We then applied the 70/30 public recreation and commercial mix recommended by the 606 Studio study conducted for the State Coastal Conservancy and then we added up to 10 percent additional commercial/institutional development as an incentive. That yielded the 15 to 20 acres of commercial development that is allowed in the initiative zoning. Finally, we applied the high end of Measure G harbor area Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 0.65 to determine height limits. FAR is a maximum allowed development percentage based on the total square footage of the parcel or project area. Applying a 0.65 maximum FAR yielded a maximum height of two (30 feet) or three stories (45 feet) depending on specific use.
So the initiative zoning allows AES the same level of development across its property as the Measure G zoning allows in the harbor and pier area. This is a very fair and generous allocation of density, heights and development caps. Allowing any more density is unreasonable and unrealistic.
Just as the Harbor/Pier zoning allows more density if the development meets certain conditions, the initiative zoning allows more density for hotel, office or institutional uses. As mentioned before the total commercial/institutional development is capped at 430,000 square feet. If the development has no offices, hotel or institutional uses, the development cannot exceed 130,000 square feet. We did this for two reasons. First, office, hotel and institutional uses generate less traffic. Second, these uses produce weekday customers to the harbor area, which will increase harbor/pier area business revenues during the current weekday low revenue periods.
The initiative zoning requires preservation and enhancement of views through the AES property.
The zoning establishes mandatory view corridors through property. The first corridor is an extension of the power line Right-of-Way along the north side of the property. Due to the hill along 190th/Herondo, the initiative does allow single-story development in this area. The second corridor is the current view corridor through the old Tank 5 area on the South end of the property. Because there is no hill here, no development is allowed, but a ground level parking lot is allowed in this area. Additionally, the zoning prohibits a virtual wall of development from blocking views through the developed area. The zoning specifies that 20 percent of north to south linear development must be a view corridor through the site. So for every 100 feet of north to south development there must be a view corridor of at least 20 feet through the development. This is the kind of view protection that should have been mandated in Measure G.
The initiative allows AES lots of flexibility on the placement of any development.
Other than the constraints of the view corridors, AES is free to place the commercial/institutional development anywhere on the property. They can concentrate development in just one area or spread it out. The initiative does not specify which parts of the property must open space or which must be developed.
The initiative zoning includes Coastal Commission mandated “affordability in lieu of fees” for any hotel development.
Certain organizations and individuals whine that this clause hurts developers and they calculate the cost that Crowne Plaza would have had to pay under this condition. The clause makes the developer pay fees if the rooms of the hotel would not meet affordability criteria set by the Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission mandated this in the Measure G harbor/pier zoning. In our discussions with them when crafting the initiative zoning, Coastal Commission staff said it would be mandated here as well. This is a Coastal Commission requirement, not ours. It is telling that the people complaining about this requirement in the initiative zoning supported the Measure G zoning which had the exact same clause.
The initiative allows the reuse of up to 30 percent of the current power plant building.
As we developed the zoning, some residents wanted the ability to keep the Whaling Wall. Others want to keep the older part of the plant because of its gothic/art deco architecture. Other did not. The initiative allows reuse of up to 30 percent of the current plant building if a majority of voters vote for the specific reuse.
The initiative allows a wide range of public recreational and open space uses.
The initiative zoning does not specify the use of the public recreational and open space portion of the property with one exception. It does require extension of Hermosa’s Greenbelt. Other than that it is wide open. Public soccer fields, baseball fields, swimming pools—allowed. Recreation of the old salt lake—allowed. BMX tracks and skateboard parks—allowed. The one limit of public uses—“conservation areas” cannot exceed 30 percent of the public area.
The initiative does not "lock in" or "tie the hands" of future Councils.
The initiative requires the City Council to pass the initiative zoning and any Coastal Commission mandated changes. After that, the City Council the flexibility to adjust or change the zoning.
First, the initiative allows the Council leeway to grant variances. But, beyond that, the initiative zoning “sunsets” itself once the zoning is fully passed. Normally, any zoning passed by initiative would require another initiative vote of the residents for any change. However the state constitution allows any initiative to override this requirement by stating so in writing. We exercised this option in our initiative. Once the zoning is passed by the Council and Coastal Commission, our initiative allows changes via normal city processes except for any changes that cut the public views, cut open space, or reintroduce power generation. So future City Councils can change the vast majority of the zoning using normal city processes.
The initiative does not “take” AES property.
The initiative rezones AES property and defines what it can do with it. After the initiative passes, the property remains AES’. The zoning change is in the best interest of the community and allows AES reasonable residual value of their property. The initiative zoning passes the Supreme Court tests and is not a taking.
The City can rezone property and does it this regularly. For example, the 1992 change to the General Plan changed industrial and commercial properties to residential zoning. Most high density residential zoning was downzoned at the same time. Industrial businesses on Ruxton Lane sold to residential condo developers based on this zoning change. The Catalina Coffee Company is on property that was rezoned to residential. They cannot expand. This massive rezoning was not a taking. Neither is the zoning initiative.
Some have claimed the initiative is “spot” zoning. This is not true. The initiative eliminates all Power Generation zoning in the City. AES’ property is four parcels over 50+ acres. This is hardly “spot” zoning.
The initiative is good zoning. It is fair to AES. And it is good for residents, good for harbor area businesses and is good for city revenues.
The initiative zoning is balanced zoning with positives for all stakeholders. It allows AES to continue running the plant through the end of its current contract. It allows them plenty of value for their land. It will increase harbor area business property values and increase their revenues. It will increase residential property values in neighborhoods around or within sight of the power plant. It will decrease pollution. And it will add much needed public recreation space for residents... our town is now deemed “park poor” by state standards (even with the beach included) and is getting worse due to population increase and downsizing of parkland and open space by the City Council. The initiative restores views of the harbor that were lost in the 1950s and 1960s. Finally, the increase in property values and increase in business revenues will generate more revenue for the city.
The initiative is good balanced zoning. It is based on the current pier/harbor zoning and allows AES the same commercial density while enhancing the value to the public. It is also our best chance for ridding our waterfront of the unneeded, blighting, polluting behemoth.