Aerials of Redondo Beach King Harbor and AES power plant,
Aerials of Redondo Beach King Harbor and AES power plant, (Staff File Photo)

A few weeks ago, Redondo Beach mailed voters a pamphlet of election materials that was so large the City Clerk's Office had to share the job with Los Angeles County.

That's because the ballot text and analysis, which includes maps, charts and traffic counts relating to the controversial Measure G, filled up 180 pages - six times the 30-page limit set by the Registrar-Recorder's Office when handling elections for local cities.

The sheer size of the mailing - part of which was coordinated by an outside firm hired by the city of Redondo Beach - points to the complexity of Measure G, which would establish new zoning and land-use standards for King Harbor and the pier, the nearby AES power plant site and a swath of Catalina Avenue leading up to Pacific Coast Highway.

It has deepened rifts between community leaders who see the guidelines as a way to spur redevelopment projects and slow-growth activists who say the rules provide for too much new building and not enough restrictions on heights and other factors. Both sides have held rallies, staged news conferences and spread their messages through blogs, e-mail blasts and letters to newspapers.

And that's only been since the campaigning started a few months ago.

Effect of Measure DD

Before that, the city was sued over the zoning by the influential citizens group Building a Better Redondo, which in 2008 succeeded in passing Measure DD - the charter amendment that gives residents a say on major land-use changes.

The group convinced a judge that the full harbor zoning map should be put to a citywide vote.

And the ruling took into account not only zoning and land-use amendments for the harbor and pier area, but the power plant and Catalina corridor as well.

And so now residents will get to weigh in on the guidelines that were approved by the City Council and later sent to the California Coastal Commission for certification.

If approved by the electorate with some 17 changes recommended by the state panel, Measure G will give Redondo Beach the independent authority to issue development permits in the harbor area.

"We're trying to encourage investment," said City Councilman Steve Diels, a Measure G proponent along with the mayor and three fellow councilmen. "Then we can create the nice open spaces, protect the views and create an esplanade along the waterfront ... the beauty of that is, it all gets paid for by investors and not the city."

The zoning ordinance and land-use guidelines up for a vote would cap new commercial development in the harbor and pier area to 400,000 square feet on top of the existing 930,117 square feet of mostly commercial space that exists today.

The 52-acre AES site would keep its generating plant designation, although the new rules would also permit parks and recreational uses there - a change meant to pacify residents who cast votes in favor of a park on the site during an advisory election a few years ago.

Along the west side of Catalina Avenue - now home to an eclectic mix of commercial and industrial businesses - the amendments would continue to permit such uses, along with mixed-use residential projects.

The existing development in the area totals 402,157 square feet, and another 540,215 square feet could be added.

Those campaigning for and against Measure G have characterized the changes as both an upzoning and a significant reduction in permissible development.

That's because the city has had different layers of land-use documents and a dizzying number of guidelines in place over the years that considered a range of development options: new homes, hotels, shops and restaurants. And when a former council rescinded the infamous Heart of the City plan eight years ago because of overwhelming opposition from residents, planning documents for the area were in conflict.

Those backing Measure G also point out that a "yes" vote would finally clear up those inconsistences, allowing the city to move past Heart of the City.

That plan envisioned homes west of Harbor Drive and on the power plant property, with the plant itself sitting on a smaller footprint. 

Former City Councilman Chris Cagle, who was elected to office after leading a successful fight against Heart of the City, said he sees the current guidelines as reasonable.

Cagle said they achieve what he wanted to accomplish: eliminating residential uses on the AES site and west of Harbor Drive, permitting park space on the power plant property and limiting the area's development potential.

Working within limits

Before the amendments were approved in 2008, staff members presented a range of limits set by various documents - including one that mentioned the potential for another 1.6 million square feet of buildings.

The Heart of the City environmental review, however, only studied 726,424 square feet of new nonresidential development that could realistically get built.

"As far as I'm concerned, this does exactly what I set out to do when I started," Cagle said.

Cagle, who was termed out last year and replaced by Councilman Bill Brand, is now heading up one of a handful of pro-G groups lobbying for the measure's passage, including political action committees supported by the Chamber of Commerce and harbor-area businesses and leaseholders. Another network called Redondo Moms for Measure G lists as supporters the spouses of councilmen and City Attorney Mike Webb, along with several chamber and local business leaders, among others.

Roseanne Tracy, a spokeswoman for Redondo Moms and the wife of a harbor commissioner, said she sees the harbor and pier area as "desolate" - without enough shops and restaurants or a layout that encourages people to get out of their cars and walk.

"We believe that a yes on G vote will change all that, and that we can actually add some nice places to go," Tracy said. "It's a way, I think, to add value to the city."

Opponents speak out

On the opposite side of the issue is the outspoken Building a Better Redondo, which argues the city could do better.

Its members - including

Brand, the lone Measure G opponent on the City Council - are urging a "no" vote because they want to see the city rethink its zoning and land-use rules and lower the 400,000-square-foot density cap.

Coupled with the allowable development on Catalina, they argue the building could get out of hand.

Opponents take issue with the heights that would be permitted in certain spots near the water - up to three stories - along with time-share projects. And members maintain the city needs more adequate view protections and defined limits on future generating uses at the AES site - where development potential is not defined - as well as an updated traffic analysis.

"We shouldn't be voting for bad zoning just because it took 10 years to get here," said Jim Light, Building a Better Redondo's chairman. "Through the years the city may have heard and solicited public input, but Measure G ignores it."

And despite the fact that the new land-use amendments would permit park space on the AES site, opponents say that's not going far enough.

A key message of their campaign is that Measure G cements power-generating uses along the coast, and that the city should pursue zoning that eventually phases out AES' operations. (Brand suggested in July that the council study that option, which had also been proposed by planning staffers six years ago, but he couldn't muster any support for the idea).

"My position is, we should just explore what the staff recommended six years ago," said Brand, whose district takes in the AES site and King Harbor. "Most of the residents don't want a new power plant on our waterfront, but if G passes that's what they're going to get."

Plant officials have said the company is committed to repowering the aging plant at some point in the future.

AES Southland President Eric Pendergraft was at odds with city leaders a year ago over a failed ballot measure that would have forced the plant to pay an additional utility-users' tax. But now he's joined forces with the councilmen - Brand excluded - in promoting a "yes" vote.

"Measure G is about so much more than our power plant," Pendergraft said. "The voters are being misled. A `yes' vote on G will add parks, open space and recreation facilities onto our site."

Both sides, in fact, have accused the other of misleading voters. And Light has been criticized for changing his position on the zoning guidelines since the council approved them in April 2008 - a charge he denies.

He's taken heat for an e-mail he wrote to elected officials just after they approved the harbor's 400,000-square-foot development cap, a reduction from what the city planning panel had recommended.

The note starts out as complimentary, with Light writing, "I applaud your compromise on the development cap."

But then it goes on to mention his various concerns with the approval process and the traffic data - which in his mind doesn't accurately reflect the impacts more development would have on local roads.

Light and Brand have accused elected officials of "fear-mongering" by suggesting that, if Measure G fails, the city would have to revert to 1964 zoning guidelines to regulate waterfront development.

That determination was made by City Attorney Webb following the court ruling that put Measure G on the ballot - a decision the city has since appealed.

In it, the judge determined the zoning and land-use amendments should be placed on the ballot because they hadn't been certified by the Coastal Commission by the time residents passed the charter amendment that gave the electorate more voting power.

And because Redondo Beach hasn't had a certified zoning plan for its harbor and pier area in the 34 years the state commission has existed, city officials say they'll be forced to rely upon a decades-old document that places no height and intensity limits on coastal development.

The cost of starting over

It's not clear what will happen if Measure G fails - but starting from scratch could take time and come at a high price.

City Manager Bill Workman said his "back-of-the-envelope" estimate approaches $800,000, factoring in the cost of conducting new environmental and legal reviews and more traffic studies, along with hiring an outside firm to assist the planning department, which has lost staff positions due to budget constraints.

Measure G, which is emblazoned on lawn signs across town, has obviously started a dialogue among residents and the harbor's many competing interests.

If it fails, Brand said he'd push to make zoning discussions more open, starting off with public workshops.

"I'd try to come to consensus," he said. "I think if you keep the process open ... the community can come together."

kristin.agostoni@dailybreeze.com