LONG BEACH - The vision for Long Beach's future growth is becoming more focused but the process is far from complete.

At a public meeting held on Jan. 24 at the Super 8 Motel, consultants with Crea Affiliates, the firm hired by the city to help with the update of the comprehensive plan and other growth management documents, presented the group gathered there with the "preferred direction" plan to guide future development. The plan is the result of seven previous public meetings and community input.

Midway through the process, Anindita Mitra, founder of Crea, emphasized that the plan was still a work in progress. "By no means is this presentation final," she said. There are still seven more meetings planned, but the further along the process, the more difficult to change the direction of the plan. The next meeting, focusing on city parks planning, will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 4 p.m. in Long Beach City Hall.

The preferred plan is a combination of two of the three previously presented scenarios, called "Green Links," "Ocean View" and "Heart of the Peninsula." Overwhelmingly, people supported a combination of "Green Links," emphasizing development and enhancing parks and trails, and "Heart of the Peninsula," which stressed a strong town center with civic center. People did not support "Ocean View," where development was directed westward toward the ocean and shore. As a result, the plan does not recommend increasing density along the shoreline.

The preferred plan emphasizes several major principles. The plan recognizes that the city's geography prevents it from growing east to west, so suggests outlining the city with a network of trails. The trails would not only provide recreational use for residents and connect parks, but would also act as a tourist attraction emphasizing the area's natural beauty.

The plan is also designed to emphasize neighborhoods.

"Neighborhoods are a city's building blocks. They are portions of the city that are well defined by boundaries and anchored by a central community facility, be it a park, a community center or a school," said Mark Personius in the presentation. Currently, because of the north to south spread of the Peninsula, neighborhoods, the basis of a sense of community, are not as well defined.

Another goal of the plan is to create "anchors," or small public and tourist facilities which can become focal points throughout the city for "socialization, services and communications." In other words, the goal is to get people out of their cars and walking or using a network of public transportation.

The plan also examines ways to create "economic generators." As Mitra said, "We need to figure out a way to bring back basic services into the town." That goal would include establishing "high intensity" use areas, which now might be labeled as business or industrial parks for commercial businesses or manufacturing. The question is, where will those areas be located? Other economic considerations included seeking methods to create year-round tourist opportunities, diversify the economy and include affordable housing planning.

Community Development Director Kaye Simonson told the group, "Now is the time to examine where we have barriers to economic development," such as prohibitively expensive building design requirements or limited zoning areas.

When one member of the audience asked if attracting businesses would include giving them special considerations, Council member Ralph Moore had a cautionary message.

"We've made mistakes in the past," he admitted, saying if a business which was allowed to construct an unattractive building goes bankrupt, "We're still looking at that ugly building," without any additional economic benefit.

For additional meeting times, places and agendas, contact Long Beach City Hall at 642-4421.

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