LONG BEACH — The City Council, warned that a delay could jeopardize a $20-billion Douglas Aircraft Co. contract, unanimously approved Tuesday construction of a 77-foot-high manufacturing building across the street from Lakewood Country Club luxury homes.
Council members said 10,000 new jobs expected at Douglas' main manufacturing plant here from a C-17 military transport contract overshadowed objections by country club homeowners, who wanted the building's height kept closer to that of existing 45-foot Douglas structures.
"We're sending a message not just to anybody, but to the prime employer in the area," Councilman Wallace Edgerton said. "The message ought to be very clear that we are very supportive of that employer."
Charles Greenberg, attorney for about 300 nearby homeowners, said the council may have been so supportive that it acted in haste and inappropriately.
"I think Douglas is such a powerful economic generator in the city it often is not required to live up to the standards of other manufacturers or applicants," Greenberg said.
For example, Greenberg said, Douglas offered during the council meeting to restrict future buildings along Carson Street to 45 feet and to alleviate traffic tie-ups on Carson by closing a main gate and shuttling workers to their jobs. But the council, on a 5-3 vote, declined to include the traffic provision in its approval or ask planning staff to look at a future 45-foot limit. It sent both items to a council committee for study.
Mayor Ernie Kell said during council discussion that the closing of the gate should not be a condition of approval because that item could be used by Douglas as a bargaining chip with homeowners, who have raised the possibility of a lawsuit. Douglas has a history of being a "good neighbor," Kell said.
But Greenberg said later: "I don't believe that's an appropriate way for a government body to act. I don't think it's appropriate to favor one segment of the community over another segment of the community."
Douglas officials say the C-17 contract could push the company's work force to 28,000 by 1989. A majority of the new work will at the 435-acre Long Beach Airport site, where three major new buildings are planned in a $150-million expansion.
The $45-million building approved Tuesday is the first major step in that program, Douglas officials said. It must be in operation by October, 1987, David Conlon, a Douglas vice president, told the council. To redesign the building to a lower height as proposed by homeowners would cost about $12 million and put the company 39 weeks behind schedule, imperiling the entire C-17 contract, Conlon said.
The new building, planned for the southwest corner of Carson Street and Lakewood Boulevard, will stand 77 feet high, 32 feet higher than an adjoining building. And it will be just 180 feet from $350,000 country club homes north of Carson--90 feet closer than the existing building.
The council vote overturned a May 22 ruling by the Planning Commission, which found that Douglas did not try hard enough to make its new building compatible with nearby homes.
The commission said Douglas should further study possible reductions in height and consider placing the building on another part of the Douglas site.
Conlon insisted Tuesday, however, that relocation is impossible because of the plant's flow of work and because of federal limits on the heights of buildings near airport runways.
"The bottom line is that we have thoroughly evaluated every possible alternative" and have found no other workable option, he said. Douglas has agreed to spend about $700,000 to mitigate possible adverse affects of the new building, he said. The most important mitigation is the building's stucco-and-glass facade, which will give the structure the appearance of a six-story office building, rather than a manufacturing plant, he said.
"In our view the appearance of Carson Street will literally be enhanced, not degraded," Conlon said. "It's clearly a factory environment . . . and we're changing (it) to an office environment."
"The importance of this project to the Long Beach area cannot be overstated," Conlon said.
The council agreed, as did, in fact, the nearby homeowners. Each side said that Douglas, in its 45 years in Long Beach, has been a boon to the community and that the C-17 contract is sorely needed.
Councilwoman Jan Hall said she would be "very uncomfortable . . . fighting the very best thing that could happen to this or any other city. That is bring in jobs."
Even attorney Greenberg said that, in light of the economic benefits of the Douglas expansion, it would be reasonable to ask of his clients, "How can they be a David against this kind of a Goliath project?"