Residents of Imperial Beach dig that laid-back Southern California beach vibe of the ’50s and ’60s. So much so, the town's logo has "Classic Southern California" written under an image of a "Woody" station wagon checking the waves at the Imperial Beach Pier with a longboard shooting out the back window.
However, many Imperial Beach residents say zoning recommendations from land-use consulting firm Edaw Inc., who was hired by the city in 2006 to encourage quality commercial and retail development, will bring unwanted density to their small surf community, threatening to wash that casual, beachside lifestyle down the tubes.
At the heart of the controversy are recommendations to raise the height of buildings along certain sections of Palm Avenue, the city's main thoroughfare, to 60 feet, as well as increase height restrictions on the beach from 30 feet to 40 feet in some areas.
In addition, the proposal calls for rezoning the existing single-family residences on the west side of Seacoast Drive for commercial purposes.
At a July 28 Zoning Review Workshop, two years and nearly $290,000 after the city hired the consulting firm, more than 50 Imperial Beach residents crammed inside a conference room across from council chambers to voice their displeasure with the proposal and the process.
"You're putting the cart before the horse, here," said one resident while looking toward the banquet table where members of the city's Design Review Board, three city councilmembers, Mayor Jim Janney, and representatives from Edaw Inc. sat. "The proposed changes are in opposition to the general plan. When you start to increase the density, you're eliminating the small, laid-back atmosphere; the two of them will not coexist. I'm surprised because you're only antagonizing the same people that put you in office."
"[Imperial Beach] residents have not been invited to participate in this zoning review process," said another resident during public comment. "Just learning about this a month ago is, in a word, insulting."
After an hour and a half of public comment, Mayor Janney reassured the residents that the process is far from over. "There's a little confusion. This is a long process and this will not be the only meeting. What the consultants have put forward is a huge amount of information, and some of it won't be applicable. We have to go through it all. We just haven't gotten there yet."
"Well," shouted one resident from the crowd, "next time you need to start with us first."