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Developers Score Double Victory

Times Staff Writer

Developers have won two major victories in the stormy fight over growth in Monterey Park through decisions by the City Council and the state Court of Appeal.

The council this week rejected a proposal for a moratorium on condominium construction.

And the state appellate court ruled in favor of a developer who is seeking to nullify an initiative that limits housing construction in the city.

The appellate court said that Monterey Views, the development firm that filed the suit, is entitled to a Los Angeles Superior Court trial to determine whether the initiative, overwhelmingly approved by voters three years ago, is constitutional, because it was adopted without considering the impact on neighboring communities. The decision reverses a Superior Court ruling dismissing the lawsuit last year.

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Council Rejects Moratorium

The new decision came as the Monterey Park City Council, after flirting with the idea of imposing a moratorium on condominium construction, decided this week to allow builders to proceed with current plans while the city revises development standards for the future.

The council decision clears the way for the city to issue building permits for the remaining 50 condominiums that can be constructed this year under the growth-limit initiative.

More than a dozen residents complained to the council Monday night that poorly planned condominium projects are making Monterey Park congested, overdeveloped and unsightly.

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Similar complaints two weeks ago resulted in a council directive to the city attorney to prepare an ordinance temporarily suspending construction of multifamily housing. But only two of the five council members--David Almada and Cam Briglio--supported the moratorium ordinance when it came up for adoption this week.

Mayor Rudy Peralta said some residential developments in Monterey Park are of high quality, but others are not. He said that although “there is some slipshod work out there . . . I think the matter can be resolved without a moratorium.”

Councilman G. Monty Manibog said it would be unfair to penalize developers who have met existing standards by delaying their projects.

Councilwoman Lily Lee Chen blamed poor code enforement and inadequate city staff for substandard developments. She said some people mistakenly thought that Measure K, the growth-limit initiative, would improve housing quality by forcing developers to compete for the right to build, but it has not worked that way.

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The initiative limits housing construction to 100 units annually through 1992. The City Council established a rating system for grading developments so that building rights would go to those projects with the least harmful impact on the environment and the best design.

Monterey Views filed suit against the measure in order to build 101 homes on 30 acres of open land in the hills west of Atlantic Boulevard. The firm claimed that its project was blocked because the city not only limited housing development to 100 units a year, but also prohibited any single developer from building more than 20 units annually.

Developer Appealed

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Irving A. Shimer upheld Measure K on Oct. 22, 1984, after agreeing with attorneys for the city that the Monterey Views lawsuit offered no grounds for attacking the initiative. Monterey Views then took the case to the state Court of Appeal.

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Attorney Mark Jabin, one of the partners of Monterey Views, said the effect of Measure K has been to kill large-scale development in Monterey Park, thereby lowering the quality of new housing. Instead of letting developers assemble several lots so they can design projects with open space and easy access to parking garages, Jabin said, the city has encouraged projects that are so small that builders cannot afford to include amenities.

Jabin hailed the appellate court decision and said Monterey Views will seek a summary judgment in Superior Court to invalidate the ordinance. But Mayor Peralta noted that the appellate decision partially upheld the city’s position and said the case will be taken to the state Supreme Court.

The Monterey Views lawsuit attacked Measure K on five grounds, three of which were dismissed by both the Superior Court and Court of Appeal, and challenged companion Measure L, an initiative requiring voter approval for zone changes. The courts upheld Measure L.

Merit in Allegation

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The Court of Appeal found merit in the allegation that Measure K may violate the due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions. Attorneys for Monterey Views alleged that the growth limit was enacted without considering “the public welfare or, in particular, the housing needs, of the region in which Monterey Park is situated.”

The initiative passed by voters declared that a housing limit was needed to preserve Monterey Park’s character, safeguard air quality, ensure adequate police and fire protection, avoid burdens on water and sewage systems and control traffic.

But the lawsuit contended that the burdens on Monterey Park’s traffic, water and school systems and other services were no greater than those faced by other nearby communities and that limiting growth in Monterey Park would increase problems elsewhere. The suit also contended that Monterey Park failed to weigh the need for “safe, sanitary and affordable housing” against competing municipal interests.

The Court of Appeal cited as precedents a Costa Mesa rezoning initiative that was overturned and a Livermore growth-limit initiative that was also invalidated. The court said that although Monterey Park’s initiative is “more reasonable on its face” than the Costa Mesa and Livermore ordinances, that “does not preclude review of its constitutionality.”

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Conflicting Decisions

The court also ruled that the burden of proof in the trial will rest with the city, not the plaintiffs. Jabin said this ruling is signficant because it is contrary to an appellate ruling in a growth-limit case involving the city of Camarillo that the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear.

Attorney Thomas F. Winfield, who represents Monterey Park, said the city’s appeal to the Supreme Court will argue that the court should take the case because it now has two conflicting appellate rulings on the same issue.

And Winfield said that even if the case goes back to Superior Court for trial, he is confident that the city can win because regional needs were considered in the initiative through the exclusion of any limits on subsidized housing for the elderly and people of low or moderate income.

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The Monterey Park growth limit was devised by a citizens group called the Residents Assn. of Monterey Park and passed with a 63% majority. The City Council hired a law firm to defend the measure in court even though most council members opposed the initiative.

Development has been a major issue in recent City Council elections and Mayor Peralta said the demand by some residents at this week’s council meeting for a moratorium on both residential and commercial construction is a preview of the campaign for the municipal elections in April. The only difference this year, he said, is that “it’s unusual to have these confrontations this early. Campaign ’86 has come before Halloween.”

Frank Arcuri, who has become a major critic of the council’s development policies and has been leading a campaign to have Monterey Park declare English as its official language, urged the council to declare a moratorium on both commercial and residential condominium construction. He said the city is being ruined by high-density development that creates traffic congestion.

A dozen other residents also complained about the changing face of Monterey Park. Jeanette Reid said many of her neighbors are talking about moving because of overcrowding. Cindy Yee said many new condominiums are inferior and overpriced. Jane Besen complained about a “lack of continuity in architectural style,” and described its range as “from sleaze to nondescript.”

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None of the council members expressed any interest in halting commercial construction, but Almada and Briglio both urged a pause in residential condominium development to give the city time to raise its standards. Almada said he is “not anti-development, but pro-quality development.”

Some residents urged formation of a citizens committee to recommend new development standards. But Almada said the city already has enough layers of government, and he suggested that the City Council meet with its Planning Commission, architectural review board and other relevant commissions to begin devising new standards.

Council members agreed to work on development standards, but the majority rejected the proposed moratorium on multiple-family housing after City Planner Robert Dawson said it could impose a hardship on developers who have qualified for permits under current standards and have financial commitments tied to construction start-up dates.

Most of the controversy over residential development has focused on the northeastern part of the city where older homes are being replaced by condominiums. The City Council this week received a report by BSI Consultants Inc. of Santa Ana on a study of one of the problems--parking on residential streets--that has emerged with the construction of multi-family housing. Councilman Briglio said the study documents the absence of adequate regulations. “It cost us $9,000 (for the study) for them to tell us how dumb we’ve been,” Briglio said.

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The study said the high level of on-street parking in the neighborhod occurs because the parking stalls at condominium projects are not being used. Some projects are so poorly designed, the study said, that residents prefer to park on the street rather than drive down narrow access ways to parking stalls that are too far from their doors and are in isolated areas where criminals could be lurking.

The consultants recommended that the city revise its parking design requirements. The council instructed the staff to prepare code amendments for submission to the Planning Commission.

The study noted that the city has increased the amount of off-street parking required in multiple-family residential developments and said these standards should be adequate.

Dawson, the city planner, said the city upgraded many condominium requirments in recent years and that many projects that are being criticized were built to standards that no longer apply.

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