L. B. Balks at Limiting Apartments

Times Staff Writer

Faced with opposition from both homeowners and builders, a divided City Council reversed itself this week and abandoned a measure that would have limited apartment construction on small lots.

The proposed ordinance, fashioned as a compromise and approved in concept on a 7-1 vote last week, lost 5 to 4 this time after angry residents said the proposal didn't go far enough and angry builders said it would be a costly betrayal of trust.

"Why do we have to support something nobody wants?" Councilman Ray Grabinski said at the end of an emotional two-hour hearing Tuesday, which followed a similar hearing a week before.

The defeated measure was the latest in a series of failed proposals to restrict construction of boxy, single-lot apartment houses since Nov. 11.

At that time, with the city flooded by applications for 6,000 new apartments, the council adopted sweeping zoning law changes that cut in half the number of units allowed on single lots. But it refused to apply the new rules to 189 pending projects.

Aimed at Ending Debate

Councilman Thomas Clark, author of the ordinance defeated this week, said it was intended to finally end council debate on the issue by allowing construction of pre-Nov. 11 projects that had been pursued since then, but killing those that have been inactive.

The proposed ordinance would have required builders with pre-Nov. 11 projects to start construction within 60 days or lose their building permits. It would have affected 70 single-lot projects with 553 apartment units, many in the south-central area north and south of 7th Street.

According to Planning Director Robert Paternoster, at least 14 projects with 124 units would have been killed by the ordinance. Another 40 projects with 316 units would have received building permits well before the 60-day deadline and may have been able to begin construction, he said.

Sixteen more projects with 124 units have been idle for almost a year and their applications are set to expire within 60 days regardless of the ordinance unless builders complete the permit process, Paternoster said.

Builders Oppose 60-Day Limit

Builders testified that a 60-day limit would kill their projects even if they already had permits. Once permits are issued, it takes more than two months to get financing, evict tenants from existing buildings, shut off utilities, demolish the old structure and start construction, they said.

Bill Shelton of Long Beach said in an interview that he would have had to cancel two single-lot developments that have permits and would have lost $375,000 if the council had approved the new law.

"We trusted you on Nov. 11, and I'm absolutely stunned that I have to be back here to say these things again," Shelton told the council.

Further changes would force many builders out of the city and require that "a whole new crop of fools" replace them if Long Beach is to meet its goal of 2,000 new units a year for the next 20 years, Shelton said.

'Fighting for Homes'

But homeowner Christina Karle, who favored a more restrictive ordinance, said the debate is between residents "fighting for their homes" and builders "fighting for their profits."

Then she warned an irritated council: "How you vote on this issue will not be forgotten. . . . We demand that you support the citizenry."

In standing by its Nov. 11 decision and reversing its week-old vote, Mayor Ernie Kell voted with Jan Hall, Edd Tuttle, Warren Harwood and Grabinski. Only Harwood had voted against it last week, while Tuttle had been absent.

Clark joined Councilmen Wallace Edgerton, Clarence Smith and Evan Anderson Braude in the minority.

Inconsistency Perceived

Kell, Hall and Grabinski all changed their votes because of the lack of support for the compromise measure and its lack of consistency with their November decision, they said in interviews or during the hearing.

Kell said that several developers and residents had called him during the last week to lobby, and none of them liked the new ordinance. In addition, Kell said that further study led him to believe that the ordinance would have little effect on construction.

Clark said he didn't know why his proposal had lost its support from one week to the next. But he said criticism by Kell, who said Clark had used "back-room phone calls" to change the ordinance between meetings, could not have helped.

After Kell publicly questioned city attorneys about two changes, Clark acknowledged that he had requested a change of wording that he saw as a clarification. Kell said such requests for changes outside of meetings were improper, and City Atty. Robert Calhoun agreed.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World