SH City Council approves new Summerland residential project

16 single-family homes will be built on E. 23rd Street between Orange and Walnut avenues.


Courtesy City of SH

A rendering of the new Summerland residential-development project on 23rd Street between Orange and Walnut avenues, green-lighted by the Signal Hill City Council during its May 28 meeting.

During its May 28 meeting, the Signal Hill City Council approved plans for a new residential development on E. 23rd Street. It also voted to change the municipal voting date from March to November and discussed how to best manage commissioner appointments.

Summerland residences
After conducting a public hearing, the council adopted a zoning ordinance allowing the construction of 16 single-family dwellings at 1365 and 1387 E. 23rd St., between Orange and Walnut avenues. The site is currently occupied by two older homes, which will be demolished.

The long and narrow U-shaped housing configuration just north of Signal Hill Elementary School will have its own T-shaped driveway connected to E. 23rd Street.

Scott Charney and Ryan Agbayani from the community-development department explained that the project had been okayed by the Planning Commission in April after the developer– Project Verve, LLC– conducted community outreach and made plan adjustments accordingly.

Charney said that area residents indicated they preferred a single-family residential format rather than higher-density housing, such as apartments or condominiums. The site borders two existing such complexes that already impact area parking.

Courtesy City of SH
Vicinity map of the new 16-home Summerland residential-development project on E. 23rd Street between Orange and Walnut avenues– labeled “Subject Site” on map– approved by the Signal Hill City Council during its May 28 meeting.

Agbayani said that Project Verve initiated the plan in June 2018 and, following a community meeting last October, developers worked with city staff to adjust for view considerations, exterior design and increasing parking spaces.

“Density, potential view impacts, traffic, parking and noise were the main concerns,” he said.

The development will have a homeowner’s association (HOA) to manage surface parking and ensure that the homes’ two-car garage spaces are actually used for autos rather than storage, Agbayani said.

He added that the developer also lowered roof heights of the two-story homes by about two feet to reduce negative view impacts and that the city mailed view notices to neighbors in December but received no requests for further changes.

A subsequent public hearing during a February planning-commission meeting yielded concerns about density and parking, Agbayani said. The final project plan contains four guest-parking spaces and six common parking spaces in addition to each unit’s two-car garage.

Project Verve will also pay for one year of off-site auto storage and promote a stacked-car parking option, Agbayani said.

He described the project’s final design-aesthetic as “modern farmhouse” with a standard three-bedroom format but alternating in color, garage-door and shutter looks so that no homes are exactly alike.

Matt Hamilton from Project Verve said that each unit is approximately 1,650 square feet with about 300 to 400 square feet of private open-space and will sell for a price in the upper-$600,000s.

Agbayani said that the current parcels– totaling about 42,000 square feet– are actually underutilized since they are zoned for 20 units but each only has two smaller single-story homes, pointing out that the Summerland plan of 16 units is four units less than the 20 allowed.

He also said that the new development will help the city reach its state-defined Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) prorated goal of new housing in the “above moderate” income category, which the city is falling short on.

City Manager Charlie Honeycutt said that the city’s oil legacy constrains how much housing it can build. The Summerland site itself contains an abandoned oil well, he said.

Charney said that, per state law, if the city does not meet its new-housing targets, it could potentially lose the option of subjecting new development to the planning process, including community outreach.

“We have a target on our back from a statewide perspective because, proportionally, we have more vacant land than surrounding communities,” Charney said. “At some point, either you have to go higher or you just can’t achieve the number of units that have been designated for the site.”

Nevertheless, Councilmember Edward Wilson expressed concern over density and parking.

“Parking is a big issue on that street,” he said, suggesting that the developer reduce the number of houses and also add common open-space rather than just private.

“We’ve already reduced it as much as we can to make the project viable,” Hamilton said. “What we’re hearing constantly from home buyers in this price point, this market, is they like the private open-space and they don’t really want just some common open-space they’re paying HOA dues for but not using.”

Other councilmembers expressed concerns about trash collection, garbage-can storage and street lighting, all of which Hamilton, Charney or Agbayani answered. During public comment, one resident suggested preserving the existing homes on the properties that are almost 100 years old.

Ultimately, the council unanimously approved two ordinances allowing the project to move forward.

“I like it,” Wilson said. “I just think the density is too high given the location.”

Voting date
The council also passed ordinances amending the city’s charter to change the date of the general-municipal election from March in odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years, reflecting a voter-approved measure.

Honeycutt explained that Signal Hill voters affirmed Measure N in the recent March election with 70-percent approval, opting to change the date to November instead of keeping it in March.

He said that, historically, the city has voted in March of odd-numbered years but state Senate Bill 415, passed in 2015, required Signal Hill to combine its election with either the state primary-election date in March or general-election date in November, in order to increase voter turnout.

The new municipal-election date will fall on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even-numbered years.

The council also approved an ordinance reducing councilmember terms as a result of the election-date change.

“This action will reduce by four months the terms of councilmembers elected in 2017 and 2019, as well as the city clerk and city treasurer that were elected in 2019,” Honeycutt said.

Commission appointments
Honeycutt also gave the council an opportunity to change the commission-appointment date to align with the election-date change, but it opted not to.

City Attorney Dave Aleshire noted that the council was not required to change the appointment date just because of the election-date change.

“Practically speaking, it’s a few months one way or the other,” he said. “It’s not necessary to change anything.”

Councilmember Tina Hansen said she preferred more time between the municipal election and commissioner appointments, which the new election schedule allows.

“I think people need more than a month or two– if they’re new to the council– to kind of wrap their brain around commission appointments,” she said.

Wilson concurred but said he’d like commissioner appointments– and council reorganization– to coincide with the city’s fiscal year. Commission appointments are currently June 1 to May 31 and the fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

“You would have a term that would run the length of the fiscal year […] so that the commissioners would be seated in the first meeting in June,” he said. “And, theoretically, the reorganization of council would be at that time, as well.”

He said that reorganizing the council along those lines would eliminate having different mayor names on different fiscal-year financial reports.

“Part of the confusion that we have with the title of mayor is all of these changes that happen differently than how the city business is operated,” he said.

Mayor Lori Woods asked staff to add council reorganization as an agenda item for the near future.
Honeycutt also invited the council to reevaluate the commissioner appointment process.

“Due to the growing interest of community members to serve on commissions, a formalized appointment process may be something the council wants to consider in order to eliminate any confusion experienced by candidates or the councilmembers when appointments take place,” he said, noting that over 20 candidates had applied for the recent commission appointments made in May.

Aleshire said that the appointment process is partly regulated by the city charter.

“Persons nominated are nominated by the mayor– you can’t change that because that’s in the charter,” Aleshire said. “But how the mayor conducts the election and the order and so forth, the charter does not deal with that.”

Hansen described how the process usually changes, depending on which councilmember is rotated in as mayor that year.

“Every year commission appointments come up, somebody different is mayor,” she said. “Everybody has their own sort of idea of how they’re going to structure it, so there’s no continuity to it.”

She also said that the appointments themselves can be confusing to make.

“The last two appointment cycles– what’s happened is that when we’re looking at people one at a time, people aren’t thinking of the entire slate and so they may vote for the first few people and then realize, ‘Oh, I meant to save a vote for somebody else and it’s too late and now I can’t vote for that person.’”

She suggested a process in which councilmembers interviewed and nominated candidates then went member by member to list their top votes and then tallied them in order to consider the whole slate.

“I can’t stand the process where somebody’s name comes up and we have to say, ‘No,’” she said. “Because we’re not necessarily [saying] ‘no’ to that person.”

Aleshire suggested that interviewing candidates could take place during a separate meeting that is still open to the public.

Wilson said that “fairness” about the process and even what is considered “best practice” are subjective determinations, but supported interviewing on one date and selecting on a different date to allow more time to consider candidates.

“The reason I interviewed [candidates separately] when I was mayor– I interviewed every single person– was because I didn’t think it was fair to that person to only give them five minutes of time,” he said.

Aleshire also said that the process has become more complicated by candidates applying for as many of the three commissions they wanted and suggested asking them to limit their choices to their primary choice for which they are best qualified and an alternate.

He said that, under state law, once you post for the position and conduct an application process, the council can select people that haven’t even applied for a position.

Woods said that there was more to decision-making than just the night of the interviews, especially in considering the diversity of the commissions and technical expertise required by some of them.

“It’s important for the applicants, for the public, to know that each of us […] take this appointment very seriously,” she said.

The council asked staff to sum up ideas for how the council might consider proceeding with commission appointments going forward.

Building Inspector John Hartley and Administrative Assistant Phyllis Thorne of the community-development department gave a presentation recognizing May as National Building Safety Month.

Thorne explained that the International Code Council, established in 1994, developed all national building safety codes and that its 2019 theme is “No Code, No Confidence.” To mark it, the department invited female students from the After School Recreation Club to tour the site of the new Signal Hill Public Library under construction.

Throne said the young students wore hard-hats and explored the different library rooms in progress, asked questions about the equipment and waved from the second-floor balcony.

Photo by Aly Mancini
During the Signal Hill City Council meeting May 28, Councilmember Edward Wilson (left) commended Denise “Sparkle” Peterson (right), retiring school principal of the Jessie Elwin Nelson Academy in Signal Hill, for her 35 years of service to the Long Beach Unified School District.

Woods presented Denise “Sparkle” Peterson, principal at the Jessie Elwin Nelson Academy in Signal Hill– a middle school that she had opened– with a proclamation recognizing Peterson’s retirement after 35 years of service to the Long Beach Unified School District.

“Under Ms. Peterson’s leadership, Jessie Elwin Nelson Academy was designated a ‘Kindness Certified School’ in 2017,” Woods said. “Ms. Peterson’s motto, ‘Raising the bar,’ is seen in her commitment to staff development, curriculum development, mentoring and coaching and providing leadership in her community.”

Wilson also praised Peterson for her above-and-beyond commitment, calling her “a quintessential principal.”

Peterson thanked the city and several educators in the audience for their support of her.

“Thank you to all of you,” she said. “You’ve helped me to grow and to be a better person.”

The next Signal Hill City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, June 11, at 7pm in the council chamber at 2175 Cherry Ave.