Early Wednesday morning the Seal Beach Planning Commission voted to turn down the Conditional Use Permit for the proposed LA Fitness at The Shops in Rossmoor (which is really in Seal Beach.)
Opposition to the 37,000 square foot health club was fierce; residents organized themselves (Coalition Against LA Fitness), analyzed every facet of the project and conducted their own studies to refute the project’s Environmental Impact Report on the basis of traffic congestion, noise and general quality of life.
The action by the commissioners ran into a snag, however, because staff had recommended approval of the project and the only resolution prepared in advance was to approve the environmental report and Conditional Use Permit. Therefore, the commission’s action won’t be legal until they vote on a resolution to deny the Use Permit. That meeting is set for July 17, a Monday, at 7 p.m. The scheduled July 3 meeting of the Planning Commission will be cancelled due to lack of a quorum.
The Tuesday-night-into-Wednesday-morning meeting was not your run of the mill public hearing. In addition to the scores of speakers, and people sitting in chairs outside the council chambers huddled around a television broadcasting the meeting, three separate children went to the podium to state their concerns about a gym so close to their homes. One, who said she was Jessica from Rossmoor, had her own power point presentation.
“Vote no on LA Fitness. I feel very safe in my neighborhood now,” she said.
LA Fitness Project Manager Marty Potts was the applicant for the project, so he went first to state the case for what he referred to as a “state-of-the-art health club.” Potts told the commission that The Shops at Rossmoor needed “Internet resistant tenants” because the whole shopping experience has changed.
“These are transformative times for these businesses,” he said, referring to the Shops. “This evolving retail marketplace is rapidly altering its course….shopper visits are plunging.”
Potts explained that LA Fitness withdrew its appeal when the project was voted down last year and began a vigorous “community outreach,” especially to the retirement community of Leisure World. He told the commission that he had hundreds of emails and letters of support for the project and noted that people are less willing to support something than oppose it. “That’s just human nature.”
When it came time for questions – after the 90 minute presentation and power point by Potts, Commissioner Robert Aguilar (who lives nearby the proposed gym) asked about the letters of support that were included in the packet. Aguilar read one of the letters, and commented that 40 letters were identical to the one he read. He asked Potts how that many people could write identical letters.
“Our Website had a pre-formed letter that people could have sent,” Potts explained.
Coalition Against LA Fitness
The group came prepared with its own signs and packets for the commission. Members organized around specific points in the EIR and CUP and told the commission they had 11 three-minute presentations that needed to be given in order. Following that, scores of other audience members and a handful of LA Fitness supporters, took to the podium.
Issues centered around the gym’s operating hours (5 a.m. to 11 p.m.), traffic in the residential neighborhood, and safety of families and children.
Opponents of the project stressed that a health club was not the best use of the property behind Sprouts (now a parking lot) and that other types of businesses would have far less impact on the neighborhood.
The child activists put a fine point on the entire issue. Haley told the commission, “Sometimes there are more important things than cash.” The third child who spoke said, “It’s never wrong to do the right thing.”
Dull but important: The process
The commission approved the project’s Environmental Impact Report, certifying it, but its denial of the Conditional Use Permit by a 3-2 vote means the project could be appealed to the City Council. This could occur sometime after July 17. LA Fitness has 10 days after that date to appeal the planning decision to the City Council. If the project goes to the City Council that would be the last chance for the developer to get LA Fitness approved. The developer is listed as CPT Shops at Rossmoor, LLC. Potts, a vice president, was its spokesman. Commissioners Aguilar, Chair Deb Machen and Patty Campbell were the votes against the CUP.
Machen was able to keep the large audience in check by quietly asking them to “be respectful.” Several times.