An ambitious plan to rezone the entire City of Glendale is running into legal problems that may allow a city councilman to single-handedly halt the controversial project.
Under provisions of the city's charter, Councilman John F. Day, who is seeking reelection April 2, may be able to block the rezoning plan, which he has opposed all along.
City planners began the project more than a year ago in an attempt to bring the city's zoning, enacted in 1964, into compliance with the land-use element of its general plan, adopted in 1977. Current zoning laws would allow the city's population of 140,000 to more than double, and "there is no way this town can handle that," City Manager James M. Rez said.
The rezoning proposal is expected to come before the council for a vote in late March.
City Charter Provision
At issue is a provision of the City Charter that says a zone change must be approved by all five council members if 20% of the owners of property near a parcel to be changed object. A four-fifths vote is required if there are no such objections.
Because some residents have opposed many of the proposed zone changes, and because Day has already vowed to vote against the citywide rezoning, the program would be blocked if City Atty. Frank Manzano determined that City Charter provisions apply.
In addition, depending upon Manzano's interpretation, hearings could be required on each of the more than 6,000 parcels affected by the proposed rezoning plan, as opposed to treating the citywide rezoning as a single case. Such hearings could drag on for months.
Manzano this week said he is uncertain how to answer questions posed by Day about what constitutes a 20% protest of the massive rezoning project. Can 20% of residents in a neighborhood protest a change on a single parcel? Or, if the entire rezoning project is considered to be one change, do 20% of the owners of more than 53,000 parcels in the entire city have to submit their written objections to trigger the unanimous-approval requirement?
Manzano said he is still researching the issue and does not know how soon he will have an answer.
Day suggested that, if property owners or their neighbors object to one of the thousands of zone changes in the plan, then a separate hearing may have to be held on that parcel change. Many such objections have been raised by owners.
Since the provisions of the charter were written to deal with problems that arise when neighbors object to a zoning change sought by a property owner, Day said the charter is silent on how to deal with problems when a property owner does not want a zoning change initiated by the city.
Manzano and other city officials acknowledge that the questions may have to be answered in the courts, which could tie up the rezoning plan for years.
Motion to Drop Plan
Day last month moved to drop the rezoning plan, saying the "pressing need" for the plan had not been demonstrated. He said many of the proposed zone changes "are actually harmful and interfere--no, intrude--into our lives." The motion failed for lack of a second.
Two council members, Jerold F. Milner and Ginger Bremberg, have said the rezoning plan is needed, even though they favor changing a number of controversial proposals presented by the planning staff.
Councilman Larry Zarian, a developer, has asked for more time to study the issue. Mayor Carroll Parcher has remained uncommitted on proposed changes.
The council is scheduled to begin final deliberations on the plan March 19, just two weeks before the city election.
A random survey of other local cities by The Times found no other that requires unanimous council approval of a zone change. Most cities require only a simple majority, even if neighbors object.
Norman Murdoch, director of the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department, which monitors zoning laws in the county's 83 cities, said he knows of no other city that faces Glendale's legal problem.
Murdoch said Glendale's stringent charter "obviously was written to give neighborhood associations more clout." But the same law may now be used by developers to prevent the city from "down-zoning"--lowering the permitted density on property, Murdoch said.
Another sticky aspect of the debate is whether a 1971 state law requiring city zoning codes to conform to a city's general plan applies to Glendale.
City planners have maintained all along that the massive rezoning is required by state law. But officials in Sacramento this week said the law applies only to cities that operate under the general laws of the state. Glendale has its own charter.
When the Legislature enacted the zoning consistency requirement, Robert Katai said, it adopted a compromise measure that applied the rule only to general-law cities, all counties and any charter cities with a population of more than 2 million--meaning Los Angeles. Katai is a planner with the state Office of Local Government Affairs.
Compliance May Be Forced
Although Glendale would appear to be exempt, Katai said proposals and legal actions may soon force all cities to comply. He said many cities, including those that operate under their own charters, have been working during the past decade to bring their zoning ordinances into compliance with their general plans.
Members of the Glendale Building Industry Assn. have repeatedly asked the city to postpose its rezoning study, saying the proposed changes have forced a moratorium on new construction. Marlene Roth, a Pasadena consultant who represents developers, also has said that the state law requiring cities to bring their zoning laws into compliance with general plans does not apply to Glendale.
However, proposed new zoning maps mailed in November to all property owners in the city incorrectly said that the consistency plan is "required by California state law." City Planning Director Gerald Jamriska was not available for comment this week, but Manzano attributed the error to "the misconception" by the planning department that the law applied to charter cities in addition to general-law cities.