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Blog: Redondo Harbor/Pier Follies Continue

Residents have their work cut out for them as Council rushes to decision.

If you watched last night's Council Meeting, you witnessed a sad testimony to the mismanagement and poor leadership that may well lead to another chapter in the "Redondo City Planning Bloopers" book that has a history going back to at least the '60s. And the Council was up on the dais high fiving one another and telling themselves how great they were. I am sorry to report, that the emperor has no clothes.

But before I dive into that, I do want to highlight one comical note. During the course of discussion one developer revealed they were working a project that was mix of parkland and development. Councilman Aust, who has taken multiple pot shots at the resident initiative zoning that phases out the power plant, pressed the developer for what mix of parkland and development is viable. The developer answered 60 percent parkland/open space and 40 percent development. Looks like we hit the nail on the head... the initative zoning is 60-70 percent recreational parkland and open space and 30-40 percent commercial development. Aust abruptly changed the subject : )

But, I digress....

"Who then what" - huh????

Residents were treated to a very elementary description of the process.  The premise is that the Council has to pick who they want and then they get to see what we can get. The Council bought it hook, line and sinker...actually they had months ago. But if you think about this just a little bit, it makes absolutely no sense.

Most people don't pick a car company and then pick the vehicle. The vast majority of us have a pretty good idea of what we want, then you narrow down the playing field based on their offerings. If you want a very high end sports car—you look at offerings from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, etc.  If you wanted a commercial pick-up truck, you would have been out of luck with these carmakers.

This is no different. The Council and Community should have developed a vision and then evaluated developers against that vision. If you don't know where you want to end up, how do you know you've picked the right street?

If you've ever read Stephen Covey's Seven Habit of Highly Effective People, one of the key tenants is to "begin with the end in mind".  Oops, the City Council just threw that one out the window.  This is basic, basic stuff, folks.

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe

The City essentially put out some very limited. overview data about the harbor and the zoning and then asked developers to show us their vision and their financing. For a waterfront development, the number of respondents was pathetic at best. Even of those, two original respondents dropped out. These may have been the smart ones.... no leadership, no vision, no details on the site, no interface with the community, multiple referendums and a contentious zoning, an end of life parking structure, poor traffic circulation, compressed timeline... that all spells too much risk to most prudent investors.

So of those either dumb enough, rich enough, arrogant enough, or brave enough to throw caution to the winds, we got what I boil down to two hotel developers and a mall developer. And of those three, the one who appeared to do the most due diligence asked for more time.

Nonetheless, the City Council received three preliminary visions, some past performance examples, and some financial data on which to base their decision. 

The developers crafted their visions in the dark. We already know the City did not provide them any vision. And the City specifically prohibited any of them meeting with the public. Essentially, this process ensured that any visions submitted were a waste of everyone's time and money.

But it gets worse... the developers had neither the time nor the data required to see if their concepts even penned out fiscally. There are a lot of challenges with this site. How much must they invest in a boat ramp required by the Coastal Commission? How many hotel rooms can the harbor hold before all of them start suffering by cannibalizing each other's business? How much will it cost to rebuild the parking structure? There are more questions than answers.

Even had the developers hit the mark when shooting blindly to develop their vision, it is highly unlikely that what they put forth as a vision is what we would end up with.  Fiscal reality is huge constraint, and we did not give these developers the time and data to rough this out.

So, based on these worthless visions, a few site visits to other projects and some financial data the Council made a decision for CenterCal. If you look at CenterCal, their projects are by and large malls. Malls with big box national outlets. Malls with bowling alleys and large multiplex movie theaters.  The four examples of past performance submitted by CenterCal highlighted their tenants: Mashall's and Ross, Big Al's, Gap Outlet, Target, Chick-Fil-A, grocery stores, and movie theaters. Surprise, surprise, their vision for our harbor included apparel stores, a movie theater, and bowling. I don't think this is the vision most residents have for our harbor. But more importantly, I don't think this is a viable vision for the harbor/pier.

Multiple movie theaters have failed on the waterfront in Redondo and Hermosa.  I don't think dockside bowling will be a huge draw.  And unless there are a bunch of high-end, tightly clustered apparel stores, I don't see that working either.  The access to the site is limited; there is much competition in the area; and 180 degrees of their draw area is eliminated by the ocean... fish don't shop or go to movies.  And let's face the other reality: movie theaters, big box retail and bowling alleys all require huge monolithic buildings.  It's just not going to fly with residents and I doubt it would survive a Coastal Commission appeal if it got that far.

I am not bashing CenterCal. I think they are a good company. I blame the process for leading us to a high risk result. Our Council has picked from a very limited set of respondents based on the developers response to limited data based on a very subjective set of selection criteria. There is no science to this selection. It's gut feel at best. Realistically, residents could have as much faith in the decision if the Council just put the developers in a circle and picked them by "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe. "

The two-way time paradox

In summing up their decision several on the Council stressed that we are time constrained. Some said this has already taken too long. But then, these same Council members said we can back out later if the developer's plans don't work out. Hmmm... which is it? Do we have a real time constraint? Or do we have time to do this all over again if the City screwed up this time? It cannot be both. This is a classic example of our Council speaking out both sides of their mouth at the same time.

The other time paradox... somehow we did not have time for public engagement prior to the developers crafting their visions, but now we have time to add in unplanned resident meetings with the developer who developed their vision in the dark? That makes no sense. These guys are shooting from the hip. 

If time is really of the essence, you do it right the first time. And Redondo has a great history of not doing it right the first time. Councilman Aust and others exclaimed it has taken us decades to get here. They conveniently left out that it was the Council themsleves who squandered the opportunity of Heart of the City by ignoring resident concerns. Redondo has a failed development on top of the pier parking structure because the City did not do proper due diligence on the market. It has taken decades to get where we are today because the City has rushed to judgment over and over again. And it is highly likely that we are now doomed to repeat that mistake again.

We seem to have plenty of time to do it over and over again fast, easy, and half-baked, but not the time to do it once and do it right. This is a classic mistake from MBA case-study after case-study and one that has already played out multiple times in our own city. But our Council refuses to face reality.

If you really analyze the drive to do this quickly, you see two root causes. First, the City bought up all the leaseholds at a premium to assemble them in a package deal for a developer. Now the City has a revenue clock ticking constantly. So they created their own ticking time bomb. The second is that all this process magically ends on Election Day in March. We backed into this selection schedule so this Council could force their decision on the next Council. Councilman Kilroy stated as much last night. Former Councilman now Easy Reader op-ed columnist Bob Pinzler has already pointed out the folly of this timeline. 

The current Council has made our bed. Now we have to determine if we want to sleep in it.

This is one of those cases where we have only one real choice. Residents will have to provide the leadership that is missing from the Council at this time and try our best to turn this lemon into lemonade...  engage robustly with CenterCal to try to make this mess a success story.  If CenterCal truly partners with the Community—and I mean in a meaningful way, not just lip service—we may be able to pull something off. But just like a fighter pilot, we have to make the decision on how long we ride it out and when we bail out. 

The other card that residents directly control is our selection of elected officials at the upcoming City election in March. Vote for officials you trust to provide the leadership and decision-making that protects resident interests as the harbor/pier development moves forward.

In summary, our Council has made a decision based on a flawed process.  They have refused to lead with a vision.  As we have before, now residents have to step up and do our best to make sure we don't let that decision become another Heart of the City or Pier Plaza.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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