The Manhattan Beach City Council will bring the Highrose/Verandas apartment development back for discussion on Thursday, January 19
Highrose/Verandas project had been proposed as a 96,217 square-foot, four-story
structure at Highland and Rosecrans. The design called for 79
units, six of which would be set aside for "very low income" households.
It had drawn vocal opposition from many residents, who had said that
it would take away from the small-town character of the El Porto
neighborhood and make traffic and parking issues significantly worse.
Although the City Planning Commission had approved the project - and city staff had advised a "yes" vote given the rules around that type of development - the Manhattan Beach City Council voted it down in October on a vote of 3-2. Mayor Steve Napolitano was joined by then-Councilmember Suzanne Hadley and Councilmember Joe Franklin in voting
"No" on the project, while then-Councilmember Hildy Stern and Mayor Pro Tem Richard Montgomery voted in
support of the project.
Napolitano said at the time that his final decision came down to what he said would
be an "adverse impact" to health and safety of potential residents due
to the proposed development's proximity to the neighboring Chevron
refinery in El Segundo. The refinery has been shown to be a major
polluter of the region, he said, and there is no feasible way to
mitigate the risks as long as the refinery is operating. "Something
will go there [in the Highrose/Verandas space] sometime; there will be
traffic, there will be other impacts, but it shouldn’t be housing," he
acknowledged at the time that whether the city voted "yes" or "no" on the project, legal
challenges were sure to follow either way.
Plan Had Been Rejected on Basis of Environmental Concerns
In voting "no" on the project back in October, Napolitano rejected the "simplistic notions of some that
we could deny this project simply because a lot of people don’t like it,
or it doesn’t fit in with the character of our town, or it doesn’t fit
in with our small-town atmosphere and low-profile development."
all of those things may be true, and I wish we could deny it based on
those things, courts don't care about what we feel or what we like, they
care about the law, and the law doesn’t allow for that in this
case," he said at the time. "People are lining up to sue us, and that’s fine... but
not if we don’t have a leg to stand on. To deny this project because a
lot of people don’t like it is like bringing a spoon to a knife fight.
It just does not work. We need a legally defensible reason to deny this
Napolitano acknowledged that many opponents had cited AB 2011 - legislation that overrides ministerial
review (a simple up or down vote of whether it meets guidelines) of
affordable housing developments located within 3,200 feet of a refinery.
However, AB 2011 only applies to state review, and the city's rules on
ministerial review would still apply, he said. (Plus, the AB 2011
provisions would not be applicable retroactively, given that AB 2011 did not go into effect until the beginning of 2023.)
he said, the concerns that AB 2011 raised about the health and safety
of living in close proximity to a refinery bolstered the city's ability
to claim that there was a "specific, adverse impact" to health and
safety for the project, thus giving the city what he considered a legal
opportunity to deny the project.
Backlash to Council's "No" Vote
Shortly after the council's vote, the project's developer, Highrose El Porto LLC, filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the city seeking damages and attorney's fees.
Furthermore, California's Department of Housing and Community Development served the city with a “Notice of Violation
” regarding the City Council’s decision.
With these threats in mind, City Council members met in two closed sessions in December to discuss the issue with its legal counsel.
"A point has been reached where, in the opinion of the City Council on the advice of its City Attorney, based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the city," read a statement from the city in its agenda for those closed sessions.
At its January 19 meeting, the City Council "will consider the project again," according to a notice sent out by the city.
City Had Rejected Previous Appeals
The Project Verandas
proposal used state "density bonus laws,"
which allow developers to request waivers from
development standards, such as setback and height requirements, when
they incorporate affordable housing into a project. Under these terms,
the Verandas project qualified for a streamlined,
administrative, non-discretionary review.
Draft renderings of the proposed Highrose project, as provided by Withee Malcolm Design Studio.
Despite vocal opposition to the project
by an active group of residents, the project
had moved through various stages of approval, with city officials saying
that the project met the appropriate requirements for this kind of
In June 2022, Manhattan Beach's Planning Commission voted unanimously
to uphold the Community Development Director's approval
of the Verandas project, turning down four appeals from members of the community.
its August 16, 2022 meeting, the City Council had a chance to evaluate five
formal appeals filed by residents. City staff walked council members
through a presentation
in which they outlined reasons for rejecting each of the
five appeals. The council heard hours of discussion on the topic, then voted to continue the discussion
before making a final vote.
In September 2022, the city of Manhattan Beach issued a statement
to "clarify the project proposal, review process, and standard of review."
statement effectively attempted to refute widely circulated points
opposing the Verandas project. The city declared that the project:
1) Is a multi-family residential project, not a hotel, or short-term lodging;
Is in the Coastal Zone and therefore regulated by the Local Coastal
Program, which allows such plans through a streamlined permitting
3) Is not an SB 35
Is exempt from CEQA (environmental review) because it is subject to the
ministerial review process (and two environmental site assessments have
been done even though not required).
5) Has had two environmental assessments
that found that there were no conditions detected on the site that pose
a threat to the
environment and/or human health and that "the [Chevron] Refinery is not
considered to represent a significant environmental concern to the
City staff also released a lengthy
point-by-point rebuttal to numerous public comments made against the
project. That rebuttal can be seen on that City Council meeting agenda
, under Item 2, "City Responses to Additional Public Comments."
The issue was originally set for a vote in September, but was abruptly withdrawn from the agenda
, according to a statement from the city, "to address
residents’ concerns and questions, and consider legal options."
Environmental Assessments Had Been Conducted
Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments
(ESAs) were performed by Citadel EHS, an environmental, health, safety
and sustainability consulting firm. The ESAs outlined the current and
historical uses of the proposed Highrose/Verandas site in order to determine if these uses had
impacted the soil or groundwater beneath a property, and whether these
impacts posed a threat to human health and/or the environment.
documented that the property was never part of the Chevron site.
Furthermore, the ESAs included a subsurface investigation that involved
soil samples and review of relevant databases.
The Phase I and Phase II
ESAs concluded that there were no conditions detected on the site that
posed a threat to the environment and/or human health. Based upon the
Phase I and Phase II ESAs, Citadel EHS concluded that “the [Chevron]
Refinery is not considered to represent a significant environmental
concern to the site at this time.”