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Long Beach is redesigning its Downtown waterfront and it wants to hear from you

The city and its consultants are hosting a series of meetings this weekend to gather community input on future plans for the Downtown Long Beach shoreline.

Long Beach is redesigning its Downtown waterfront and it wants to hear from you
Shruti Shankar, an urban design director with Studio One Eleven, speaks to an audience at the Aquarium of the Pacific about the potential changes to the Downtown Long Beach shoreline. Photo by Jason Ruiz

Long Beach is at the start of a years-long process of updating the plans for the Downtown shoreline that could bring big changes to the area like reinstalling beaches and improving pedestrian access but first, the city is building out the community’s vision for the area.

Known as “PD-6,” the area’s zoning and allowable uses have not been updated since the 1970s. Climate change, the 2028 Olympic games and even the loss of oil revenue are all drivers for the update, said Alan Loomis of Placeworks, a design firm hired by the city to consult on the project.

“There’s a very sobering set of scenarios that we have to kind of anticipate,” Loomis told a crowd gathered inside the Aquarium of the Pacific Thursday night for the kickoff of a series of public meetings this week.

The process is in its infancy even though community outreach has been going on for about a year. It could be several more years before a plan is sent off to the California Coastal Commission for approval, something that’s not expected to happen until around 2027.

“Ultimately the city does not have complete control over what happens here,” said Alejandro Sanchez-Lopez, an advanced planner for the city.

Sanchez-Lopez emphasized that nothing is set in stone despite numerous ideas set to be circulated to the community input in the coming days. A series of meetings on Friday and Saturday will be followed by a study session at the Planning Commission on June 20.

An online city survey is also open for community submissions until June 24.

The upcoming meetings will let the community examine the environmental, economic, accessibility and equity issues surrounding the redesign. They will look at ways to improve the ability for people to safely walk from the Downtown area to the shoreline and also what kind of changes might be made to make the area more environmentally sustainable.

That could mean reintroducing beaches to the Downtown area, something that could revive images of historic Long Beach before the area south of Ocean Boulevard was developed.

It could also bring more wetlands to the area, which could make the area more flood-resistant and help prevent beach erosion.

Expanding Rainbow Lagoon to bring water closer to Downtown is also an option being looked at, according to the presentation.

Other options the community could weigh in on look at the future of the Elephant Lot and the potential of turning it into a “creative innovation district.” The lot is used for the annual Grand Prix race as well as parking for conventions and other events but moving the Convention Center is also something being contemplated during this process.

“The current Convention Center doesn’t take advantage of the fact that you’re right on the water,” Loomis said. “There’s no pre-function or after-function area that you can enjoy a view of the water from.”

While the project could change zoning and allowable uses it doesn’t necessarily mean new construction will happen immediately, or at all. But it would allow for new uses in the area in the coming decades.

Community members have already made numerous suggestions through the first year of planning with some saying that the new waterfront should include more locally owned shops and fewer chain restaurants and that the area should be cleaner, more accessible to those with disabilities and have more photo-friendly areas that can entice tourists to visit.

A screenshot showing the PD-6 area that the city is asking residents for input on before it drafts a new plan for that part of the city.

Thursday, members of the audience asked questions about the timeline for actual change. The planning process and getting everything approved could take until 2028 or beyond but the realization of that plan could still be decades away.

Others said there should be a trolly or shuttle system to carry visitors from the transit mall on 1st Street down to the waterfront to cut down are car trips.

Planning for a new Downtown waterfront could also mean big changes for Shoreline Drive, which is already the focus of a major realignment project that will connect with a new Shoemaker Bridge that the city is also planning.

Shruti Shankar, an urban design director with Studio One Eleven, said that community input will be important to make sure that whatever preferred design potentially moves forward reflects what residents want.

“We want to use these as ways to better articulate, dive deeper and explore what types of change will help us realize a waterfront that is reflecting the aspirations and priorities of the people that work and live here,” Shankar said of the upcoming meetings.

A series of forums are being held throughout the day Friday and Saturday’s events will include bike and walking tours and more discussions about the vision for the project.

While standing in front of photos of Paris, Chicago, Brooklyn and other cities with renowned waterfronts, Loomis encouraged people should be highly aspirational while attending these forums.

“We should be included in this picture,” Loomis said.

A full list of the community roundtables, tours and other engagement opportunities can be found here. The events start at 10 a.m. at Studio One Eleven in Downtown

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