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Long Beach high-rises lead to high tensions

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Downtown Long Beach at night
Flickr user Eyad Abutaha (Creative Commons)
Downtown Long Beach at night

Long Beach may allow more high-rises in certain parts of the city, and that's led to chaotic and contentious town hall meetings.

Certain things ignite intense passion and anger in Southern Californians – the rivalry between USC and UCLA, for example, or driving the 10 freeway to the 405 in rush hour.

But there's a new one. It's trying to sell residents on high-density buildings, and the latest flare up is in Long Beach.

"I spoke with one member of a neighborhood association," says Long Beach Press-Telegram reporter Andrew Edwards, "and she says, 'This is two-story town, and they want five, six? How on Earth are we going to accommodate these people?'"

The city is in the process of updating its land use plan, which lays out what kinds of buildings can go where. It was last updated in 1989, and officials want to rewrite it with the expectation that the city's population will increase by tens of thousands in the coming decades.

"From the proponents' perspective," Edwards says, "they want it to grow. They want more businesses. More businesses mean more people."

The new proposed land use maps would allow for taller, denser buildings along certain stretches of Long Beach Boulevard, Traffic Circle and more. But at two town halls about the maps, tensions were high.

"On a scale of 0 to 100, I'd put it at about 85 to 90," Edwards says.

To see an excerpt from one of the meetings, watch the video below

A strong contingent of residents are livid about the proposed density increases, citing fears of increased traffic and crime.

At a meeting last week, one city official tried to say that if the plan fails, it won't prevent people from moving into Long Beach.

"The entire audience broke out into applause at the prospect of no one moving into Long Beach," Edwards says. 

It reflects a trend in Southern California where some communities are repulsed by building taller housing for more residents.

Activists in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, for example, tried to take the issue to voters in ballot initiatives in the past year. The measures would've put restrictions on newer, tall building constructions, but both failed.

For Long Beach, two more town hall meetings take place in the coming week.And the pressure is on city officials to hear the anger of residents, and change their proposal to reflect that.

"They're going to have to do something," Edwards says, "but that something is going to be a lot different than this draft document."

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