Fountain Street Housing Project Approval Raises Concerns for Residents

By Jon LeSage
RESIDENTS ON FOUNTAIN STREET were surprised to find out that demolition of the vacant buildings and removal of trees with chain saws was happening earlier than the 2025 construction plan had indicated. A fire department employee told a resident that fire trucks are there now for training purposes.

The City Council’s zoning approval for a 73-unit affordable apartment construction project brings opportunity for lower-income residents to find housing in Long Beach.

It’s also raising serious concerns over the future of residents in that neighborhood. They’re concerned about having access in this neighborhood with its narrow streets, and the grammar school with parents dropping off and picking up their children.

The April 16 approval of the project, called Fountain Street & Wehrle Court Family Housing by the city, will set up affordable housing at a location with the working address of 4151 Fountain St. and 4220 Wehrle Court. It’s located in District 3, represented by Councilmember Kristina Duggan. A similar project was approved that night for District 5 as a surplus, located at 1131 E. Wardlow Road.

Neighborhood residents were present at the City Council meeting to share their concerns – with safety and access for residents and students, parents, and teachers being a top issue. Duggan also expressed concerns about parking, and ingress and egress on the development’s shared street with Bryant Elementary School. Ingress and egress guidelines in the zoning govern legal rights to enter or exit a property.

On Sunday, April 28, residents on Fountain St. were surprised to find out that demolition of the vacant buildings and removal of trees with chain saws was happening earlier than the 2025 construction plan had indicated. The city is definitely moving forward on the construction project.

In an interview with Beachcomber, Duggan said that area residents do want to see more affordable housing open up, but they do have concerns over access to their neighborhood. Public Works and traffic engineering are involved in the implementation process and will be making all the changes they can for access, she said.

Questions have come up in the public commentary meetings about whether opening up Anaheim Street for traffic could help solve some of the access problems. The Community Development Department hasn’t seen this as being a possible option for private property, Duggan said.

Upper management at Bryant Elementary School has been supportive of the project, she said.

The cost of rent for these new units hasn’t been determined yet. Family income range will be factored into it, which goes from $30,000 to $100,000 based on the size and number of room in the rental unit, she said.

The Fountain Street address used to be a home for troubled youth that was purchased by the City of Long Beach in 2017, and which has been vacant since 2015. It’s on a cul-de-sac at the end of Fountain Street and is very close to Bryant Elementary. The Wehrle Court address is an empty house behind the former youth home.

The city is required to add about 26,500 new housing units to its stock by the end of the decade, per state requirements; more than half of which have to be for low- and moderate-income residents.

Long Beach Post reported that police and other city workers recently cleared half a dozen homeless residents out of the Fountain Street building. If you go there now, you’ll see the cul-de-sac blocked off by ‘No Parking’ signs, and a seated security guard watching over the property.

What’s Next for the Project

The City of Long Beach Community Development Department says there will be two structures set up. Building A on Fountain St. will be four stories high, and it will have 50 units for renters. Building B on Werhle Ct. will have three stories, and 21 units for renters. There will also be unit space available for the property manager. Eighteen of the units will be designed for disabled residents. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2025 with anticipated completion in late 2026.

The city conducted its usual process for review of this site, and approval by the Planning Commission. Notices for public meetings were sent out and meetings were conducted in May 2023 and February 2024.

Neighborhood resident Merry Colvin thinks it was obvious that the city council had already made up its mind to approve the zoning for the project long before the meeting even started on April 16. Input from area residents isn’t being taken seriously enough, she said.

She’s concerned that Councilmember Duggan hasn’t been informing the local citizenry on what’s happening here, and seeking their input as thoroughly as could be done. Residents might receive a flyer soon before a public meeting, which is structured more on answering questions than on seeking input and representing their concerns. Colvin found that previous Councilmember Daryl Supernaw used to be more accessible and interested. That was prior to the reconfiguring of the City Council Districts in 2021, after which Duggan became their City Council representative.

The narrow streets mean that Colvin and other residents can be blocked from getting out when parents are busy dropping off and picking up their kids. Adding a 73-unit apartment complex will make it much more difficult, with most of the new residents likely owning cars and needing to get in and out of the neighborhood quickly.

Colvin has been disappointed with the inaccessibility of city officials and lack of real concern over what they’re expecting from their city. Troubles experienced by Community Hospital has been a clear sign that the city can be disconnected from serving the community – such as making sure that locals in that part of town do have quick access to an emergency room and hospital.

Years ago, Colvin served as a councilmember for the city of Lake Oswego, Oregon, outside Portland. It could require a lot of hard work to keep the city running while taking residents seriously.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Colvin said about Long Beach not doing enough to find out what really matters to residents.

Another resident in the neighborhood, who chose to remain anonymous, is very concerned about how bad conditions will get once the Fountain Street construction begins next year. Just imagine the narrow streets and surrounding area jammed with trucks, building materials and construction workers, he said.

He’s also concerned about whether there will be enough parking for those living in the new housing structure. Surface-level parking will be offered, and not a parking garage, which might not be enough space for residents likely to own cars more than being interested in bicycling or public transportation, he said.

The city could do a much better job of opening up the ingress and egress, he said. One example he gave was the city using some of the budgeted project funds to buy one or two commercial lots on Anaheim St. to improve street access and even vehicle parking, if needed. While the decision has clearly gone through with the city council, looking for improvements to help local residents and Bryant Elementary would be a very smart option, he said.

Affordable housing projects are in the works across the city, with each council district expected to participate. This neighborhood resident would have preferred to see the affordable housing project more spread out throughout the third district.

The problem here is that it won’t be happening. Affordable housing projects won’t be going into wealthy neighborhoods in Belmont Shore; they’ll stay in middle-class neighborhoods like this one for the Fountain Street housing project where residents have less voice in the matter.

“It’s the redheaded stepchild in her (Duggan’s) district,” he said. “It’s more expendable.”

Duggan doesn’t see any more affordable housing projects coming up in District 3 at this time.

She has worked on finding out what area residents and business owners are concerned about, including the Zaferia Business Association. Residents living on the west side of Termino Avenue have expressed concerns to her about infrastructure.

The community does take pride in the Brewitt Public Library on Anaheim St. and Bryant Elementary School, Duggan said. As co-owner and Dr. Duggan & Associates, a psychological health center on 7th Street, she’s also familiar with the concerns of business owners and residents in that area, she said.

While most of the new housing projects are going into Long Beach’s downtown, the city has given the green light to two other projects in the works near the Fountain Street & Wehrle Court Family. They’re under review with Long Beach’s Community Development department, and you can see them here on the map. It could mean that crowding and traffic will increase even more for that area.

‘26 Point 2’ is a new 49,500-square-foot affordable housing development in Long Beach at 3590 E. Pacific Coast Highway, near Redondo Ave. and Quality Inn Long Beach. It was originally going to have 76 low-income units and a manager’s unit. It’s now being used for revolving 90-day drug/alcohol rehabilitation services. Kitchens were not built into each of these units, which differs from the other affordable housing unit projects, according to a Long Beach resident. 

The third housing project, located near Clark Ave. and Anaheim St., will be a seven-story office building at 5150 E. Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach that is being converted into 149 student housing suites, according to real estate sources. It’s expected to open in 2025. The new building will also include dining, fitness, administration, assembly and office space. The suites will have up to six people per suite, and each floor will have study, lounging and kitchen areas.

Jon LeSage is a resident of Long Beach and a veteran business media reporter and editor. You can reach him at jtlesage1@yahoo.com.

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