Slow-Growth Backers Look Beyond Own Neighborhoods

Times Staff Writer

Sparked by an unprecedented boom in residential and commercial development, a slow-growth movement is emerging in Pasadena.

Within the last few months, two groups of residents have started organizing grass-roots movements that they hope will spread citywide.

One group of northeast Pasadena residents has proposed two ballot measures that could bring the slow-growth issue before the voters in June. And for the first time, a group of local activists has banded together in a fledgling organization to tackle slow growth on a citywide basis.

Some slow-growth advocates concede that their ultimate impact on the city is unclear. But given the pace of development, which topped $190 million in new construction during the last fiscal year, and the promise of even more in the future, slow-growth advocates are optimistic that their movement will take hold. They hope that heightened prospects of more traffic, pollution and congestion will spark anti-growth sentiments.

"It really is an idea whose time has come," said Tony Thompson, a longtime advocate of controlling growth in Pasadena. "All of a sudden, in a couple of years, several buildings have gone up and people are beginning to see that we're going to face a wall-to-wall canyon of buildings."

The ballot campaigns are being led by a group of neighbors of the proposed Rose Townhomes, a controversial 184-unit project.

Amos N. Hoagland, a spokesman for the Northeast Pasadena Residents Assn., said the group will begin circulating petitions in the next week and could force a citywide vote in June.

The first of their ballot measures would be a referendum aimed at overturning a decision by the Board of Directors earlier this month to grant a zoning change for the Rose Townhomes.

Under state law, residents can attempt to undo a board decision in a citywide vote if they can get the signatures of 10% of registered voters--or 6,315 signatures in Pasadena.

The association must collect the necessary signatures by Jan. 21 for the issue to be placed on the ballot next June.

The project, proposed by Calmark Development Corp., would be situated on one of the last and largest tracts of vacant land in the city--a 16.4-acre site just north of Pasadena High School.

The developer plans to build 11 homes on each acre of land, compared to the maximum of six homes per acre in the surrounding area.

A New Style

Opponents have complained that Calmark wants too many homes on too little land, and they fear that the project will decrease property values and increase congestion in the area. The developers say the project falls within limits outlined in the city's long-range planning guide and would benefit the school district, which has sold Calmark the land for $9.3 million, contingent on approval of the zoning change.

Although the referendum would affect only the area around the Rose Townhomes project, Hoagland said it signals an increasing aggressiveness in the traditionally quiet residential neighborhoods of northeast Pasadena.

In tandem with the referendum movement, the association has also begun an initiative movement that could affect the entire city.

An initiative is a legislative process that allows residents to propose and enact legislation through a citywide vote.

The association's initiative would:

Impose a moratorium on major development projects until at least July 1, 1990, unless the project had the unanimous support of the Board of Directors.

Ban the use of city money to finance street and utility improvements for any major project unless approved by a unanimous vote of the board.

Require that any housing lost because of a major development be replaced.

Require that developers of major projects pay to increase sewer, water and electrical capacity in the area surrounding their developments.

A major development, as defined by the association, would be larger than 25,000 square feet, higher than 32 feet or have more than 25 individual units.

New Group's Objectives

At the same time that Rose Townhome opponents are gearing up, the new slow-growth group, which calls itself PRIDE (Pasadena Residents in Defense of Their Environment) hopes to limit high-density construction citywide.

One of its leaders, Stanford Taylor, who was involved in a successful 1981 battle to stop the construction of twin high-rise office towers near the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Los Robles Avenue, said that his group has only begun organizing and has yet to prepare a concrete proposal.

But judging from the 30 to 40 residents involved in the formation of the group, Taylor said he does not expect it to be a "flashing star that fades quickly."

The founders include Claire Bogaard , executive director of Pasadena Heritage, the outspoken preservation group; Roland Zapata of the Northeast Pasadena Residents Assn., and Kit-Bacon Gressitt, a leader of the unsuccessful drive to stop the demolition of the Huntington Hotel.

Part of Wider Trend

Taylor said that PRIDE supports the fight against the Rose Townhomes, but will not join that battle because the group is still forming and because the issue is complicated by the potential benefits for the school district.

The slow-growth movement in Pasadena follows a series of similar movements throughout Southern California.

In the San Gabriel Valley, residents of Monterey Park and San Gabriel have voted to declare moratoriums on construction. Other cities, including Rosemead, South Pasadena and San Marino, have put new restrictions on the construction of large multi-unit apartment complexes.

The absence of a citywide slow-growth movement has surprised some, given Pasadena's involvement in the preservation of historic landmarks and neighborhoods.

Taylor said that in the past, some complaints were defused by the election of strong neighborhood advocates, such as William Bogaard, who resigned last year, and Rick Cole, to the Board of Directors. Their efforts to protect neighborhoods seemed to show that the city was making progress in controlling development.

Surge Kindles Opposition

In addition, the formation of a city task force to look at ways of mitigating the effects of development in the early 1980s helped to tone down organized opposition.

But during the past year, development has set records and reawakened concern.

The $190 million in new construction approved by the city during the last fiscal year eclipses the previous record of $137 million set during the construction boom in fiscal 1982-83.

Hoagland and Taylor stressed that their groups are not against all development and intend to limit their opposition to major projects that would burden the city with more traffic, congestion, pollution and utility costs.

Helping Blighted Areas

Taylor said PRIDE supports the rehabilitation of blighted areas and the development of retail projects that bring jobs to the city.

Director Kathryn Nack called the rise of a slow-growth movement in the city "absolutely inevitable."

But she said too many restrictions on development could cripple Pasadena's economic health.

The issue, Nack went on, is not controlling growth but determining how much control to exert.

"We're all trying to find where to draw the line," she said.

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