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Development Debate Hinges on Future of Shoreline Park : Municipal planning: Architects get approval to conduct studies on project for city's waterfront. Council requires, however, that the firm show whether a new park would really be an improvement.


LONG BEACH — A New York-based urban planning firm with an ambitious plan to transform downtown Long Beach into a bustling waterfront community this week launched the second phase of the project--figuring out how to do it.

The City Council on Monday voted 5-1 to give Ehrenkrantz & Eckstut Architects the go-ahead for a battery of studies on the Queensway Bay concept, including how much it will cost, how it will affect traffic and parking, and how the coastal environment might be affected.

After a lengthy and sometimes heated debate, the council took steps to protect Shoreline Aquatic Park, which is the cornerstone of the project.

According to the firm's concept, the 40-acre park would be dredged out and replaced by a wharf with shops and restaurants. A larger replacement park would also be built on the opposite side of the Los Angeles River, where the Queen Mary rests.

The council said it will require the firm to prove that Shoreline Park can be replaced and improved with a new park. It also wants proof that the new park will have has as many outdoor concerts, festivals and other events, and will be as easy to reach. The council ordered that the park stay untouched until a replacement park is completed.

Judith Fagin, a senior associate of Ehrenkrantz & Eckstut, repeatedly cautioned the council that the plans are far from final and represent one way for the city to take advantage of its waterfront.

"By our way of thinking, water is gold," she said. "We can create a harbor at the foot of the city, which will become its new front door. . . . We would not be removing parkland, just relocating it."

Still, the idea that one of the few parks in the crowded western side of the city could be scooped out has outraged some residents. They said such a plan would never have been broached in the more affluent eastern side of town.

According to coastal development plans approved by the council and the California Coastal Commission in 1980, Shoreline Aquatic Park was "dedicated in perpetuity" as public park space for Long Beach residents.

"It comes as a surprise to me that I may outlive perpetuity," quipped Robert Lamond, who was a member of the advisory panel that drafted the city's coastline development plans.

Lester Denevan, a Los Angeles city planner who was also a member of the committee, said that during the 114 committee meetings he attended, the board had to compromise again and again by giving up land for commercial development.

"But we did gain an important concession and that was the park," he said. "I suggest (Long Beach planning director Robert) Paternoster get out a dictionary and read the definition of 'perpetuity.' There will be a fight if the city proceeds to take away 40 acres of park." Paternoster had urged the council to move to the second phase of the project.

Said resident Shannon Mahony: "The proposal is an outright land-grab. Shoreline Park is land held in public trust. It does not belong to the Chamber of Commerce."

But Councilman Evan Anderson Braude and planning director Paternoster argued that Shoreline Aquatic Park is a regional park, rather than a westside neighborhood park. A new, larger park on the other side of the river, Braude said, could be an improvement.

"We are not losing anything; we are gaining something," Braude said. "The park isn't going to be lost. It will just be moved to a location almost within a stone's-throw distance."

While most residents who spoke at the meeting criticized the plan, others praised it as "marvelous," "bold" and "visionary."

"I think it's really time that citizens look beyond their selfish needs," said Long Beach real estate agent Shirley Saltman. "This would give the city the economic shot in the arm it needs. (Downtown residents) have the beach right at their feet. I don't know why they don't use that."

The council appeared as divided as the residents. Council members Warren Harwood, Ray Grabinski and Alan Lowenthal said other options for the park should be explored. They suggested moving the Downtown Long Beach Marina across the bay instead of Shoreline Aquatic Park, and then relocating the park on the marina site.

"I wish this city showed as much concern for kids as it does for harbor tenants," Grabinski said. "There are a lot of options. To think that we might lift wholesale the only thing that works down there and take a risk. . . . I'm concerned that we might be making plans out of desperation in the worst of times."

Despite their concerns, Grabinski and Lowenthal joined council members Thomas Clark, Doug Drummond and Doris Topsy-Elvord in support of further studies. Council members Braude, Les Robbins and vice mayor Jeffrey A. Kellogg were not present for the vote. Kellogg and Braude have endorsed further study.

Harwood, who cast the lone vote against the second phase, submitted a plan that would have the park stay put and the land east of Shoreline Village and adjacent to the marina be used for the wharf.

Mayor Ernie Kell was the most enthusiastic supporter of the main project, which he said would create jobs and tax revenues in the city.

"In my opinion what we have here is an opportunity to make a great step forward in truly turning this town around," he said. "(If we don't continue) we will miss an opportunity that future generations will regret."

Ehrenkrantz & Eckstut are expected to present the results of the second phase of the $395,000 study in late September. In the meantime, planning director Paternoster said the city will probably conduct a survey of Shoreline Aquatic Park users to determine who uses the park and how they get there.

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