Carson isn’t taking any shortcuts on its journey to shed its past, when the 19-square-mile, largely industrial suburb served as a trash dump for Los Angeles County.
The city has launched a sweeping $1.1 million future-planning process that will build on years of groundwork laid by city staff to better integrate its industrial, commercial and residential communities.
“It’s going to set the stage for future development in the community,” City Manager Ken Farfsing said. “This is going to be a totally different city in five to 10 years. We’re just going through a rough period.”
The City Council hired San Francisco-based urban planning firm Dyett & Bhatia earlier this month to oversee public outreach and rewrite the city’s 2004 General Plan. The firm outbid five other companies for the two-year job.
The decision was made even though the city is wrestling with a $4.1 million budget gap that officials are working to close for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. The study cost was financed with money set aside from building permit surcharges, Farfsing said.
Closely guided planning decisions are especially important in Carson because of the city’s layout and history, he said. Half of it is zoned for industry, and the other half is evenly split between commercial and residential areas.
Much of the developable land is contaminated by closed landfills or industrial waste.
“We need a really good blueprint for development over the next decade,” Farfsing said. “Good general plans make good neighbors. I think the very first thing the planners want to do is begin a series of public workshops. Some neighborhoods want additional park space, tree plantings, landscaped medians ...”
Putting the brakes on industry
Last year, the city adopted a comprehensive new code of regulations for its oil and gas industry businesses after two years of debate over fracking and pollution concerns.
The new 60-page oil and gas code has some of the toughest local restrictions on the industry in the state. It was initiated by resident protests of an Occidental Petroleum Corp. proposal to drill 200 new oil wells in the city a few years ago.
But that was just the beginning.
The city temporarily banned convenience stores last year so it could more closely review proposals for such businesses.
This year, a ban on new industrial leases was introduced through March 2018, inspiring vocal opposition from business interests. But city officials insisted they needed the regulation to better vet the expansion of truck yards, logistics facilities, hazardous materials use, and container storage. Carson’s proximity to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach make the city attractive for such uses.
Some of Carson’s more than 90,000 residents have complained that growing development is infringing on their neighborhoods, with increased truck traffic creating noise and tearing up roads.
The City Council, however, has been approving light industrial projects on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re turning into a more sustainable, more environmentally sensitive community,” Farfsing said. “With two refineries and other industry near residents, schools and parks, it’s very challenging.”
Development of a 157-acre vacant lot facing the 405 Freeway at Del Amo Boulevard was considered for a new NFL stadium in 2015. The NFL ultimately chose a site in Inglewood instead, but the buzz generated high-quality development interest in the large piece of land occupied by a closed landfill.
Now, Santa Monica-based Macerich Real Estate Co. is designing the Fashion Outlet of Los Angeles to open on a portion of the site. The remaining area will be filled out with stores, offices and entertainment uses. Residential development there is still being decided.
The city’s downtown, along Carson Street between the 405 and 110 freeways, has seen a huge boom in residential development in recent years. Hundreds of new apartments have been built in multiuse developments that include retail shops, eateries and offices.
Meanwhile, construction on the city’s redevelopment of that Carson Street corridor continues to shut down a lane of traffic along the 2-mile stretch.
Work on wider streets, new bus benches, landscaped medians and other upgrades was supposed to finish last year, but was repeatedly delayed and beset by cost overruns — similar to construction on the Wilmington Avenue interchange with the 405 Freeway.
Farfsing said balancing the city’s finances through service reductions and business growth is key to ensuring planning success.
The city’s request for proposals from urban planning firms interested in revising its general plan said the project must include financing options.
“The city has been running on a structural deficit for the past several years. It is critical that this update examine ways to balance the increasing cost of providing services with limited sources of revenue,” the document states.
“The city’s economic viability may be at risk unless it formulates new strategies to promote fiscally sound practices.”