‘Build-Out’ Boom Echoes in Hawthorne Homes and Politics

Times Staff Writer

David Acheret, Tracey Davis and Kim Hein moved into their spanking new apartment last week.

For these three young emigrants from Dayton, Ohio; Lincoln, Neb.; and Lebanon, Ore.; the 14300 block of South Cerise Avenue has the whiff of adventure, that daring first move from small-town America to the unfamiliar terrain of Los Angeles.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Oct. 6, 1985 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 6, 1985 Home Edition South Bay Part 9 Page 2 Column 2 Zones Desk 2 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
A photo caption in the South Bay section Sept. 29 incorrectly described a building under construction and an adjacent home in the 4300 block of 137th Street, Hawthorne. The building has three stories and the adjacent home is one of four bungalow-style single-family dwellings on the lot.

“We have made it to the big city!” Hein said as she lugged a laundry basket full of clothes into the new three-story building.

But to Ana Galvan and the Rev. Austin Williams, both longtime residents of the same block and who are awaiting word that they must move, the area is a sad example of a sleepy neighborhood overtaken by developers.

Church Being Sold

“Most of the congregation lived where the new buildings are now,” said Williams, whose True Vine Baptist Church building is in escrow.


“We are the poor people here,” said Galvan, who drives an ice-cream truck. “We are worrying about when we are going to go.”

Hawthorne is in the middle of a building boom.

The changes on South Cerise are being replicated throughout the city: Neighborhoods are vanishing, enriching developers and some residents, enraging many left behind who cannot or do not want to leave. Streetside parking is jammed in some areas. Some schools are packed.

City officials worry how to handle the growth. Some, including Mayor Guy Hocker, a developer as well as a politician, wonder when or whether construction should be halted or limited.

Political contributions by real estate interests and discussion at City Council meetings indicate that development in Hawthorne is fast becoming a major political issue.

The boom--attributed largely to Hawthorne’s strategic location close to aerospace employment--is even being interpreted by some as a trend that counters the famed Southern California life style of living far from work and then complaining about clogged freeways.

$58.5 Million in Permits

Figures show a striking burst of residential development in the last eight months.

Construction in 1985 through August has already surpassed previous yearly totals. So far, more than $58.5 million in building permits have been issued--more than double the $24.8 million recorded through August in 1984.

Developers took building permits for 777 units in 1985 through August. The total for all of 1984 was 580. Most of the construction is residential.

Although some predict that rising land prices will slow the boom, the end is not in sight.

“Build-out"--a term for construction of the maximum number of units permitted under existing zoning--would have a dramatic effect on Hawthorne, where the zoning pattern was set in 1963.

Planning Director Jim Marquez’s computations indicate that build-out would add 15,473 units to five areas that now have 10,858. The total number of households now in Hawthorne is estimated at 24,594.

Population Could Double

City officials have long known of the potential for intense development. In 1977, a city analysis of the Moneta Gardens area, one of the five areas examined by Marquez, calculated that developers using existing zoning could double the area’s population.

“Even though this is an incredible and unlikely event for realistic occurrence--since the population density would be equivalent to about 45,600 per square mile, equal to the most intensive urban areas of the world--the potential for extremely dramatic urbanization is present,” the report said.

What was unlikely in 1977 has become more likely in the mid-1980s.

With home ownership economically out of their reach, many people, particularly young adults, look for rental apartments. And at the same time, lower interest rates have spurred construction of rental housing that would not have been profitable before.

Developers of residential housing have been particularly attracted to Hawthorne because many lots that now have single-family homes or small apartment buildings on them are zoned for high-density residential development.

“There are a lot of large lots that have not been fully developed,” Hocker said.

Beliefs Being Questioned

The mayor is reconsidering his lifelong belief in the benefits of free-market development. “We are close to having too many apartments. If it was built out to all the zoning . . . without taking into consideration upgrading traffic signals, water and sewer, it would probably be too much,” he said.

“I am a Realtor and I am for free enterprise and development and building and all that (but) I would be less than candid if I didn’t tell you that being an elected official hasn’t modified that philosophy.

“The council in its ultimate wisdom is going to have to monitor so that the quality is not diminished and when they see that it is, take appropriate action, whether it is in the form of a moratorium or down-zoning.”

Planning chief Marquez is working on an approach that would permit the same density but soften visual impact through design recommendations. He does not think much of the designs that some developers bring to his office.

“The open-ended permission to build the maximum number of units has fogged their minds to where they cannot see good design. . . . All we end up with is a square on the outside and a little pizazz on the front,” he said.

15-Foot Setback

Current restrictions require that developers build the face of a building 15 feet from the sidewalk on the front and five feet from the back and side property lines. The result in many cases has been a block-like three-story building that dominates the visual field of smaller neighboring structures.

“There are some effects from this type of design that change the character of the area . . . the light, shade, ventilation. You want to set these buildings back to the inside of the property so that one does not interfere with the other,” he said.

The Marquez proposal, which goes before the planning commission on Oct. 16, would create a tiered effect, keeping the same requirements on the first-floor level, but for the second floor pushing back 40 feet on the front and nine feet on the back and sides. On the third floor, the setback would be 55 feet on the front and 13 feet on the back and sides.

Marquez said the proposed requirements would not necessarily be more expensive. He said developers could still get the same number of units in three stories if they built an underground parking lot. Most buildings currently have parking on the first floor.

Council Asks for Report

The problems of growth are becoming an increasing preoccupation of the City Council and other officials. Marquez was directed by the council last week to report on the implications of the boom at the next regular session on Oct. 14.

One problem is fire safety. Fire Chief Ralph Hardin Jr. told the council in mid-August that he had halted all building in an eight-block area just south of the municipal airport. He said the area had a substandard water system that was adequate for existing development but not for the addition of 1,000 units permitted by zoning. The moratorium is still in effect.

Hardin said the development boom also strained the department’s ability to keep up with inspections. An additional building inspector had to be hired to handle the new business.

Police Chief Kenneth Stonebraker said he expects higher density to bring more crime.

“The closer you pack people together, the more problems you receive,” he said.

Classrooms Full

As for schools, two relocatable classrooms are on order for Eucalyptus Elementary in northwest Hawthorne. In the Moneta Gardens area, classes at Zela Davis School have 27 to 29 children per class in kindergarten through third grade.

“We would prefer they not go over 26-27. We will eventually have to add” classrooms, said Roger Bly, superintendent of the Hawthorne Elementary School District.

“We see an increase at our Yukon Intermediate School, which we didn’t expect. We have no room. All our rooms are being used.”

Anger at developers bubbled over at last week’s City Council meeting as neighbors of the J&J; Nursery Inc. at 13529-37 Chadron Ave. cited parking, crime and density problems in urging the council to deny a request to change the nursery’s zoning so a 49-unit apartment building could be built on the site.

Steve Simerol, representing the owners, said the proposed building would have only one-bedroom apartments, tenants without children and 80 parking places in a garage.

“Sure, they build parking lots,” said Norma Pacheco. “Nobody uses them. He said they will be one-bedroom. Will he guarantee that they have no children?”

Request Was Tabled

The council voted to table the request, with Hocker, mayoral candidate Betty J. Ainsworth and David M. York voting in favor. Steve Andersen voted no and Charles W. Bookhammer abstained.

During a brief recess, Hocker listened to the neighbors’ complaints.

“We have no parking. We have no privacy. Why do you need more (development)?” demanded Anita Anderson.

“Chadron (Avenue) is a disaster,” said Pacheco.

“What a dilemma,” the mayor responded.

“You should have thought of that before,” Anderson retorted.

The discussion continued outside council chambers.

Developers Pete Pazzuoli and Bob Marsella of Pacific West Developers, who have bought the property for $580,000 contingent on the zoning change, defended their plans to put up the apartment complex.

Neighbors Not Satisfied

But neighbors were not satisfied. “You are building a ghetto. Our property values are going downhill,” charged Robert Anderson.

Marsella said the value is not going down.

“If that was your land . . . just look at the numbers,” Marsella said to Anita Anderson.

“You just want to make as much money as you can,” she said.

The discussion ended with the developers offering to buy out the neighbors and some of them showing interest.

The real estate industry is showing interest in the upcoming municipal elections.

Hocker, a member of the council for 10 years, will leave office in November, but Ray Pearcy, who like the mayor has ties to the real estate industry, is running for council.

State Realty Leader

Pearcy has been president of the Hawthorne-Lawndale Board of Realtors and state director of the California Assn. of Realtors. He has received $800 in contributions from real estate sources, according to his first campaign finance report.

Incumbent York is operations manager for Centre Properties and Olin Lambert, husband of candidate Ginny Lambert, is an agent for Prime Realty. Bookhammer, another incumbent, cited development “at record levels” as an achievement of his term of office in his ballot statement. He listed a $750 contribution from Batta Vuicich, a major developer in Hawthorne.

Beyond the neighborhood controversies and the political ramifications, some believe the demand for affordable housing in Hawthorne is a harbinger of change in Southern California living patterns.

For many, driving an hour or more on jammed freeways just is not worth the benefit of living in a larger house or apartment.

The three out-of-towners who moved into Villa Barrita on South Cerise cited the proximity to Pride Air Inc., where all three work, as a factor in deciding to live in Hawthorne.

Close to Industries

Hocker, who is building an apartment complex two doors down from Villa Barrita, said tenants working for nearby aerospace companies can avoid the San Diego Freeway if they live in Hawthorne.

“They are there in eight minutes. We wouldn’t keep building these things if people didn’t want them. People are moving in left, right and sideways.”

While a front-loader growled with one-ton bites of dirt, Lou DiLeva, owner of a demolition and construction firm, watched as his men prepared a site for an apartment complex in the 13500 block of Doty Avenue. Next door was a complex completed two months ago. DiLeva was working late.

“Our hours are sunrise to sunset. We do put in long hours because of an overabundance of work right now,” he said.

Business, he said, “right now . . . is booming.”