Public hearings kept the lights on in City Hall longer than usual on Tuesday night. Several comments were made about a proposed zoning code amendment to allow the sale of distilled spirits at a Smart & Final market. The current zoning code prohibits the sale of liquor within 600 feet of a school, playground or other youth facility.
Chris Jackson, from the Economic and Community Development Dept., presented background information. “The applicant, Smart & Final, has requested that we look at this particular issue of proximity. Ongoing, the code would exempt those who are not liquor stores and require a special use permit (SUP) and approval,” Jackson said.
The Inglewood Planning Commission looked at the issue of size, specifically what size would allow for consideration of special use permit. It was determined, based on the store’s size, that space for liquor sales would comprise around 15% relative to other items being sold. The store primarily sells grocery items.
Compared to liquor stores, franchise food retailers like Smart & Final, Jackson said, “have more resources in terms of security. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) also regulates this particular issue. ABC would still have authority to determine if the actual license would be allowed,” he said.
A pastor said “We are swimming in drugs, alcoholism and violence. If it’s good for business, that seems to be the correct language. But it’s not good for our people. . .We cannot just open the flood gates for more distributors of alcoholic beverages.”
“We are a city that operates on this thing called money. For this one, I’m glad it’s your job and not mine,” Ray Davis told the council. “I don’t know how you’re going to make a call on this one. Think long and hard.”
A Smart & Final representative noted the store on Centinela Ave. has been hampered by not having the opportunity to apply. “This amendment is allowing the opportunity,” he said.
Michael Benbow said liquor sales support Inglewood’s future as a sports and entertainment city: “Smart & Final is not a liquor store. It’s a business that also includes liquor. We are building this stadium and we have to expect these things to come to town.”
Council members chimed in. “They (Smart & Final) still have to come under the Planning Commission. Then they have to apply with ABC. It’s not automatic. We’re not bringing in more liquor stores. I think we have a responsible community. Personally, I don’t see a problem with it,” Councilman Alex Padilla said.
Councilman Eloy Morales also talked about “responsible” liquor sales: “The liquor stores that currently exist also don’t want us to pass this. Because a responsible supermarket that starts to sell distilled spirits—that hurts them. There have been restaurants around the city that have been extremely responsible. We’re not establishing anybody to get a permit or license tonight. We’re establishing the process. That’s all we’re doing.”
“About a year and half ago, I did a survey. I wanted to know where you shop,” said Councilman Ralph Franklin. “The number one store they said they wanted was Trader Joe’s. This one code amendment would assist that retailer that you constantly said you wanted.”
Councilman George Dotson, who was on the Inglewood Planning Commission for 20 years, said he was very comfortable about letting the code change go forward.
“If the only place you can buy alcohol is liquor stores, then we’ll have liquor stores forever. If you have a dinner party and you can’t go to Smart & Final, you’re going to go to a liquor store,” Mayor Butts said.
The zoning code will be amended.
A second hearing was held to consider an appeal of the Inglewood Planning Commission’s approval of an SUP for a 310-unit condominium development located at 333 North Prairie Avenue. It is the site of the former Daniel Freeman Hospital.
Two presentations were given to update the public on project design, and answer questions regarding traffic and other potentially negative impacts. Community outreach meetings are being held as developer, The Shopoff Group, continues to move forward. Input from residents has led to a variety of concessions. A major one has been preservation of a very popular Moreton Bay Fig estimated to be over 125 years old. Other concessions include additional traffic analysis, left turn signal studies, property owner outreach, and increased retention of 35 trees.
Residents of St. John’s Place, who occupied at least half the seats in the meeting—say they’re not satisfied and want the Inglewood Planning Commission to look further into the matter and provide more information before allowing the project to continue. A man representing St. Johns said the group wants a more in-depth environmental study. They are appealing the SUP that Shopoff requested. “We are voters who have diligently worked with the City to approve this. (But) we want the right development that gives us the right quality of life. This was rushed without community input,” he said.
“It was supposed to be 272 units. Now, this developer is planning 310 units, and they are buying it at 1980 prices. It’s greed. . .Here we are appealing a plan for new trees and we’re in a drought. The parking spaces are a joke. There is no EIR so we don’t really know the true impact this development will have on the community,” one woman said.
“Do you have a heart?” Felicia Ford asked the council. “We only have one hospital and you want to build a development here.” She wants to see another hospital built on the site.
“Are you aware that it can never be a hospital again? Are you aware that it (a hospital) has to be retrofitted?” Mayor Butts asked her.
An L.A. realtor said the development will bring much needed revenue to the city. “Inglewood has not been on pace with other cities and part of it has been the lack of development,” she said.
Public comments turned from criticism of Shopoff to threats to unseat Mayor Butts and council members.
Willie Agee said, “He (Butts) was elected to represent 115,000 people in this city, not just 25 or 30. If this council was not elected, this city would have been bankrupt. Your houses would not be worth anything.”
Getting back on track, an attorney for Shopoff, said his client has done extensive work in preparing a Mitigated Negative Declaration in lieu of an EIR. A 1400-page document was made available for public review. It includes 17 impacts and 9 technical studies covering air quality, green house gas, parking analysis, traffic analysis and other concerns. If the public had read the report, many questions would be answered, he said.
“I did read the 1400 pages. There are people who seem to think there was something left out in terms of traffic,” Butts said. He asked the attorney to elaborate. There are 746 parking spaces planned for the condo development. “That’s over what would be required by Inglewood parking code,” the man said.
Stuart Bailey said the city is experiencing progress and if folks don’t like it, they should move. “There is going to be traffic, that’s just the way it is.”
Council members had questions:
Franklin verified that Shopoff would donate $5,000 to St. John’s Chysostom Church. “I thought that was going to be annually instead of just seed money. I was trying to see if you were a good neighbor.”
Morales said the upscale condos would help increase property values for homeowners.
Mayor Butts addressed his critics: “We’re supposed to watch out for the residents. What we’re not supposed to do is make decisions because people won’t vote for us if we don’t do what they want. Regarding making that property into a hospital—that ship has sailed. The retrofitting is too expensive. Regarding the density, drive down Jefferson toward Playa Vista. They are building 3,000 units, and it’s so much more dense than what we’re talking about doing here.”
He added that traffic will actually be less problematic than it was when the hospital was on the site. “The hospital had 1900 parking spaces. The Forum was in full effect, the race track was in full effect.” A traffic engineer calculated there will be 60 percent less traffic than when the hospital was open at full capacity.
Padilla said Shopoff was very “amenable” to giving concessions to the community. They did a Mitigated Negative Declaration in absence of an EIR. For someone to brush that off and say no study has been done—you obviously did not read it. Some folks are looking for those magic 3 words (Environmental Impact Report). I think they’ve done their due diligence.”
“I have vetted many projects. And we went through the same process and it never changes. I have property here. I am a resident too, so we do not take these decisions lightly,” Dotson said.
“When I first heard that there were concerns, I went to one of the meetings. Then Councilman Dotson and I walked down St. John Place, and knocked on every door and talked to everyone who would open it,” Butts said.
The SUP was approved.
A third hearing was held to pass an ordinance related to storm water management. It was easily approved, with no public comments.
The council denied two personal injury claims. They approved the purchase of Accela Automation software licenses and annual maintenance support. A green light was also given to the City of Inglewood Youth Employment Plan for various park projects funded by Prop. A Excess Funds of 2008 and 2012.
A contract was awarded for the Design of Groundwater Well No. 7. The City’s Public Works Dept. was allowed to enter into an agreement with the Los Angeles County Flood Control District (LACFCD) to facilitate receipt of a $197,380 reimbursement grant from the State Department of Water Resources, Proposition 84, and Integrated Regional Water Management Program.
Council members were appreciative of how the community showed their support of Relay for Life last weekend. “This year, we beat out the numbers in terms of the fundraising,” Padilla said. “We’re going to break $50,000 before it’s over.”
Dotson thanked those few who stayed until the end of the long meeting. “When you say you want to be an elected official, this is what you have to do.”