With a citizens’ campaign to put a slow-growth measure on the March ballot building momentum, the Board of Directors has launched its own slow-growth plan, which will ban most office construction for up to two years.
The board’s proposal, which was developed after four months of study, will allow construction of office buildings only in redevelopment areas, and even that will be limited to no more than a total of 150,000 square feet a year.
Board Review Required
The board also approved tightening controls on demolishing affordable housing, requiring board review of all major retail and commercial projects, and placing annual limits on the construction of apartments and condominiums.
The plan is similar to the citizens’ initiative sponsored by Pasadena Residents in Defense of their Environment. PRIDE leaders said that although they support parts of the board’s plan, they will continue with their own initiative.
The board’s plan must still be fleshed out by the city staff and drafted into an ordinance, which will take at least three more months to finish.
Unless the PRIDE initiative passes in March, the ordinance will stay in place for up to two years while the city works on a permanent growth-control plan, which will include placing annual caps on all types of development. If the initiative is passed, it would overrule the ordinance.
Grapple With Construction
The interim plan approved last week marks the first comprehensive effort by the board to grapple with the unprecedented level of construction in the city, particularly in the last two years.
Mayor William Thomson, who led the effort, said the plan represents a consensus of the board and the community.
Thomson sponsored a series of meetings during the summer to hear the concerns of the public. And to reach a consensus of the board, meetings were held for two days last week with Thomson declaring that no plan would be adopted unless all board members agreed.
Although there were few ecstatic cheers for the plan, neither was there open hostility.
Chamber of Commerce President Don Pollard said he was concerned about the ban on office construction, but generally supported the plan because it left City Hall in charge of deciding growth-control policies.
In a surprising twist, Director Rick Cole, one of the most outspoken slow-growth advocates on the board, argued against the ban, saying it was too extreme. Cole urged the board to adopt PRIDE’s initiative.
But he later agreed to the proposal, saying: “I have no real problems. What they came up with is essentially downtown’s worst fears about what Rick Cole would have done if he were in control of the board.”
Surprised at Restrictions
Michael Salazar, co-chairman of PRIDE, which is sponsoring the latest citizens’ slow-growth initiative, also was surprised at the restrictions of the board’s plan.
“It leaves me speechless,” he said. “It’s amazing they would support a ban. It verges on the drastic.”
But Salazar said even though the plan went further than PRIDE’s initiative, it was hard to complain since it incorporated many of the same ideas.
“It’s essentially our initiative,” he said. “I think they’re trying some one-upmanship.”
PRIDE’s proposal, the second slow-growth initiative to appear in the city in the last year, establishes annual limits on construction. Proposition G, which was sponsored by a group of residents in northeast Pasadena, was defeated in the June election by a vote of 20,441 to 8,971.
Under PRIDE’s proposal, no more than 250 housing units and 250,000 square feet of non-residential development could be built each year. Single-family homes and projects smaller than 25,000 square feet would be exempted.
The proposal would require that all projects larger than 25,000 square feet win support from two-thirds of the 7-member Board of Directors and would prohibit the demolition of affordable housing, unless it was replaced elsewhere in the city.
The initiative is written in broad terms and allows the city to flesh out the details. For example, the city could institute a ban on office construction, such as the board did last week, to stay within the annual building limits.
PRIDE is now circulating petitions to put the initiative on the ballot. The group needs about 6,300 valid signatures by the end of October to qualify the measure.
The board’s plan is largely consistent with PRIDE’s initiative, although it does not specify a maximum number of residential units that can be built each year, nor does it require a two-thirds majority of the board to approve major projects.
Who Will Control Growth
Cole said the real difference is who will control the city’s growth policy--the city or the voters.
Thomson has said that planning issues should not be decided in election campaigns, where technical issues are often boiled down to simplistic slogans.
He also said an initiative would restrict the city’s ability to deal with constantly changing land-use issues.
The restrictions in PRIDE’s initiative, for example, would stay in place until 1999, or until the voters agreed to change the deadline.
“Planning is an ongoing process,” Thomson said. “What is sensible today may not be in 10 years or even two years.”
Bruce Ackerman, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, agreed: “We have always maintained that controlling growth should come from City Hall, not a voter initiative or some other knee-jerk process.”
But supporters of PRIDE say a citywide policy on controlling growth should be decided by the voters.
Salazar said the public has lost confidence in City Hall, which has repeatedly approved projects over the objections of residents.
Clear Message to Board
He said an initiative would not only send a clear message to the board, but it also would force the city to obey the policy set by the voters.
“People see City Hall as ineffective and they don’t trust City Hall anymore. These are the same people who brought us Gateway Plaza and the Ahmanson project,” he said, referring to two large office towers the city has approved.
During the board’s meetings last week, Cole asked his fellow directors to endorse PRIDE’s initiative, but he was turned down. Only Cole and Directors William Paparian and Jess Hughston supported the proposal.
Hughston, however, predicted that the defeat will be only temporary since he believed PRIDE’s initiative will pass in March and overrule the board’s own slow-growth plan.
“What we’re doing is therapeutic, but it has really been a waste of our time,” he said during the board’s meeting. “I don’t think there is any question of PRIDE’s initiative passing. I’m convinced the sucker is going to pass.”