Hawthorne Clerk's Letter Pleads Case for Builders

Times Staff Writer

City Clerk Patrick E. Keller, backed by a group of developers, began a campaign last week against more stringent development standards that the City Council will begin considering Monday.

Last week, Keller sent a letter on his official letterhead stationery to the several thousand people who own property zoned for multiple-unit residential property, arguing that the proposed changes would increase the cost of building drastically and could lower the value of their property by up to 35%.

The move came as the Planning Commission completed a six-month study last week and sent to the City Council a package of revised development standards--including limits on building heights and density in some areas--intended to moderate the impact of rapid apartment construction, an issue that has dominated council meetings for almost a year.

"It is not too late to stop any of this, but the council needs to hear from property owners here," Keller wrote in the letter. The words "Not printed or mailed at government expense" appear at the bottom of the letter.

Mailing Costs

In an interview, Keller said the mailing cost between $1,500 and $2,000 and was paid for by a group of developers, landlords and property owners--"just about anybody who is anybody in Hawthorne," he said.

Keller said he had been thinking of sending a letter out on his own when he was approached by a developers' group called the Planning Advisory Committee, which is chaired by Batta Vuicich, one of Hawthorne's most active developers, and a homeowners' group calling itself Concerned Taxpayers of Hawthorne, which is chaired by Rafael Guitierez and Jerry Blumm. Keller said the two groups paid almost all of the expenses of the mailing.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Barbara Workman characterized Keller's use of city clerk letterhead stationery without any indication that he had additional backing as "a divisive move . . . a good ploy. It is not illegal but it is devious."

Keller said, "It is not against the law."

Workman defended the proposed changes as sorely needed.

"The people in the city have been screaming at us because of the current density boom--all this fast growth," she said.

'Instant Slums'

"If the city of Hawthorne develops as it has been doing, it is going to result in such an intense overdevelopment that large areas of the city will become almost instant slums," she said.

Dr. Maurice Lee, another planning commissioner and a developer himself, said Keller, who is a licensed real estate appraiser as well as the city's part-time clerk, was mistaken in his analysis.

"I don't agree with his figures," Lee said. "We're decreasing the value of some property, granted, but . . . we are increasing the value of property in some areas. We do have to respect the single-family owner who wants to live out his life and enjoy his home."

Keller said he sent out his letter because the council had heard from tenants and neighbors of developments but not from property owners.

"From a real estate appraisal point of view, (the proposed revision) is an extremely important thing," he said.

Height Limit Proposed

On Monday, the City Council is scheduled to begin consideration of the revised development standards, starting with a proposed height limit that generally would ban buildings higher than two stories. The restriction would apply to all zoning except R-4, the maximum-density zone.

The current limit in single-family and moderate-density zones is 35 feet, which permits three-story buildings.

At a special April 7 meeting, the council also is scheduled to consider Planning Commission recommendations, approved Wednesday, that affect landscaping and recreational space and impose tougher restrictions on density and setbacks.

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