LONG BEACH, Calif. – Spending time at the Dominguez Gap wetlands in west Long Beach always gives resident Amy Valenzuela peace of mind.
“This is a place that feels so far away. I mean, you are surrounded by the sights and the smells, and for a minute, you almost feel like you are out of the city,” she said. “And then the train comes by, and you remember that you are just a walk away from your own home.”
Valenzuela has lived in the Los Cerritos neighborhood of Long Beach for 15 years and said green space like the wetlands is rare. It’s near two major freeways – the 405 and 710 – and the Los Angeles River. She said the waterway and surrounding land isn’t quite as revitalized compared to other parts 20 miles north.
“You’ll see rocks. You’ll see trees. You’ll see reeds. You’ll see a complete riparian environment, where people are kayaking, people are fishing,” Valenzuela said. “And we’ve just begun to ask the question, why shouldn’t that be the case for us here on the westside and northside of Long Beach?”
Valenzuela and dozens of other residents recently learned a parcel of land along the L.A. River was approved for a new self-storage facility development. They banded together to form the Riverpark Coalition, demanding city officials create a park instead. They say the land was originally designated for that, but Amy Harbin, a project planner with the city of Long Beach’s Development Services, said that is not the case.
“Our research on this has found that the property was never zoned for park space,” she said. “It’s been zoned ‘IL’, light industrial, has a consistent ‘General Plan Land Use’ designation that facilitates light industrial uses.”
Harbin said city planners decided a storage facility is the best use of the land, a former toxic dumpsite. She said they considered many factors before approving the development.
“We reviewed lots of biological reports, geotechnical reports, traffic, noise,” Harbin said. “We looked for potential impacts that this project could have on the surrounding area.”
Paul Brown is the co-founder of InSite Property Group, which owns the parcel of land and is developing the site. He said his company would build a new walking trail to the L.A. River and a nature preserve.
“We’ve also allocated parking that will be obviously free for people who would like to access the river walk from this location,” Brown said. “In addition, we do have a very large solar system that is being built around the project that is 2.2 megawatts and that benefit; we will be giving free electric car charging to anyone who parks at our location and accesses the river.”
Brown said he is also working with the city to clean up any toxic chemicals on site.
“My working generation right now understands the importance of cleaning things up and stopping any spreading of the contamination of the issues that are there,” Brown said.
He said the site was deemed a mitigated negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act, so any environmental impacts will be kept to a minimum.
Still, Valenzuela said the Riverpark Coalition is asking city officials to do a broader study called an Environmental Impact Report. The group also plans to apply for grants and raise funds to purchase parcels of green space along the river.
The Long Beach City Council is scheduled to review the project on April 6, after several appeals were filed against the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the development.