Vacant Cal Heights building could be demolished soon to clear path for affordable housing project

After a vote Wednesday, the city will begin the process of demolishing the vacant building, which could be completed within 90 days.

Vacant Cal Heights building could be demolished soon to clear path for affordable housing project
A West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation rendering shows a proposed 73-unit housing project at the corner of Wardlow Road and Cerritos Avenue in the California Heights neighborhood. Photo courtesy of WHCHC

A controversial housing project in the California Heights neighborhood is still in flux, but the vacant building that it’s proposed to replace could soon be demolished after the city approved a contract Wednesday afternoon.

The proposed housing project at the corner of Wardlow Road and Cerritos Avenue was originally planned to have 100 units and be as tall as seven stories in some sections but has since been downsized to five stories and 73 units, with more potential changes on the horizon.

While the city’s non-profit public benefits organization, Community Investment Company, voted earlier this year to purchase the land to preserve it for affordable housing production, the city finally took ownership a few weeks ago.

Now, the city wants to move quickly to knock it down to keep it from becoming a nuisance property the way other city-owned properties have in the past. Other buildings left vacant have been unlawfully inhabited and vandalized.

“It’s our promise to the community and we think that it’s the best most responsible thing to do is demo this building and secure the site,” said Meggan Sorensen, the manager of the city’s Housing & Neighborhood Services Bureau.

Currently, the developer, West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, is looking at a design that includes 73 units and a step-design that would raise the structure as tall as five stories in some sections and as short as two stories in others.

It would be a mix of one-bedroom (35), two-bedroom (20) and three-bedroom units (18) that would restricted for households with income between 30% and 80% of the area median income.

A presentation from the developer provided to the public last month showed potential rents ranging from $670-$1,786 per month for the one-bedroom units to $929-$2,477 for the three-bedroom units. Those rents would be dependent on the household’s income.

The proposed project would have just 55 parking spaces, something that community members have seized on because of its potential effects on parking in the neighborhood.

Another view of the proposed housing project shows the 73-unit housing development from Cerritos Avenue looking west. Photo courtesy of WHCHC

Construction of any new housing development is not expected to start until late 2025, at the earliest, according to city planning officials.

Sorensen said that the earliest demolition work could be complete as soon as mid-July, but that timeline could be complicated by an effort to have the building’s historic value assessed.

Manuel Valenzuela, the executive director of Long Beach Heritage and president of the Cal Heights Neighborhood Association, asked the Community Investment Company to delay its vote Wednesday to allow for a proper evaluation of the building.

Not doing so would only feed the notion in the community that this project is a “done deal” if the building is demolished before the results of the assessment are released, Valenzuela said.

Become a Watchdog today.

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Valenzuela said of requesting the assessment.

Christopher Koontz, director of the city’s Community Development Department, said that the demolition permit would still have to be approved by the department and that’s expected to take several weeks.

Koontz said there was some debate about when the building was built and if major renovations made to the building stripped it of any historic nature it may have had. He said that demolition work wouldn’t go forward until after the assessment is complete, but he also reiterated the need to move quickly to secure the site.

“We’ve had extreme problems with other properties we’ve held vacant and we’re trying to learn from that,” Koontz said.

Koontz told the City Council Tuesday night that the project could continue to evolve and noted that it hadn’t been funded yet. There will likely be several more public meetings where new designs could be unveiled before the project is approved, he said.

Once the building is demolished, the preliminary plan would leave the surface parking lot and the foundation of the building in place to help with stormwater runoff and the space would be secured with fencing, said Kjell Stava, a real estate project coordinator with the city.

Another affordable housing project in East Long Beach’s Bryant Neighborhood is going through a similar process, where a city-held property is set for demolition. Koontz said work to knock down that vacant building could start this week.