The five worst development projects in South Bay history

by Garrison Frost

Redondo Beach Harbor Urban Renewal and Esplanade, Redondo Beach, 1960s

Look at old pictures of the Redondo Beach harbor area and you will see a downtown commercial area that poured into an energetic waterfront. By the 1950s and 1960s, however, this idyll was falling apart. The downtown had lost its luster, and the waterfront was getting dicey. It was then that Redondo Beach city officials made perhaps the biggest mistake in the city’s history. Buying into the now discredited Urban Renewal concept, they bought or condemned major sections of the downtown, then sold it to developers who built high-density apartment and condominium projects. The move left the city without a downtown, cut the harbor area off from the residents, and initiated a series of tall buildings along the Esplanade that would kill beach access, wreck views and ruin property values for years to come. Now, when people wonder why the state of California needs a Coastal Commission, they need look no further than the hideous example of Redondo Beach. The catastrophe of Urban Renewal in Redondo Beach led directly to the ...

Heart of the City, Redondo Beach, 1999 to present

As the Millennium drew to a close, city officials in Redondo Beach got word that the owners of the AES power generating station on Harbor Drive were interested in reconfiguring the obsolete plant, and possibly even shutting it down. Tantalized that this might be an opportunity to not only rescue a choice piece of land near the water, and at the same time revive its tired harbor enterprise, city officials embarked on a complete makeover of the area, and called their massive endeavor the Heart of the City. A planning consultant was hired, who then dragged city residents through hours and hours of “visioning” sessions. The pier would be transformed. There would be a giant outdoor market. There would be a new park with a giant lagoon. Unfortunately, city officials’ eyes were bigger than their political capital. A plan to fund the transformation by selling the AES site to a residential developer went off track when residents got word that the city was set to zone the area for thousands of dwellings. A resident initiative killed that idea. After all that, the city’s pier area is still underperforming. The plant is still there. There is no plan to fix the harbor area. A local group is trying to build support for a park on the property, but that is years away, if it ever happens at all.

Downtown Hermosa Beach revitalization, mid-1990s to present

Local business leaders had been quietly talking about finding a way to reinvigorate Hermosa Beach’s commercial core for years when city officials suddenly got excited about the idea in the mid-1990s. Driven by the idea that downtown Hermosa Beach could rival economic jewels such as Old Town Pasadena or Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, city officials adopted an “if you build it, they will come philosophy” and spent millions of dollars and even more political capital transforming their old downtown into a walking plaza with outside patios. Unfortunately, after millions spent, the original issue that drove the construction still persists. The economy of the area is still unbalanced, leaning heavily toward bars and restaurants. While the city spent a lot of time and effort trying to recruit so-called anchor businesses, not a single one every materialized. Thus, the new plaza is packed on summer nights and weekends, but it is dead during the week. As further proof that nothing is even close to being resolved, every city election continues to be a referendum on the downtown’s bars, and the latest in a seemingly endless series of impotent community committees is set to release another report about how the downtown economy can be fixed.

Rosecrans Avenue, Manhattan Beach and El Segundo, 1990s

This isn’t the story of planned development, but it should have been. As more and more money and business moved from the Westside during the late 1990s and early 2000s, landowners on both the Manhattan Beach and El Segundo sides of Rosecrans Avenue saw opportunities. By the end of the 1990s, a studio had gone in, a movie theater, several strip malls and restaurants galore. Problem is, Rosecrans Avenue can only hold so many cars at once. So what was once a handy little road for getting to and from the freeway is now a gridlocked nightmare, making one wonder if the street’s success won’t one day strangle it dead again.

Ponte Vista, San Pedro, 2004 to present

In 2004, the United States Navy auctioned off a little more than 40 acres of surplus land in San Pedro (old Navy housing) to private interests. Almost immediately, plans were announced for 2,300 condo and townhouse units on the property. Nearby residents cried foul, noting the obvious traffic and infrastructure demands that such a development would require. The school district then announced that it wanted land for a school on the property. City officials grudgingly started asking questions. Hearing upon hearing upon hearing was held. An environmental impact report was produced and argued over. Needless to say, it’s a giant mess that will likely go unresolved for years to come. And the land in question, peppered with empty streets and boarded up homes, isn’t getting any more attractive to look at.

(Nov. 2, 2007)

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