It was billed as a “town meeting"--an open forum for the residents of San Pedro--and it was held on a sunny Saturday afternoon when most people might be otherwise occupied. Shanaz Ardehali-Kordich, the anti-growth activist who planned the event, feared turnout would be low.
She was clearly wrong.
Nearly 400 residents packed the Peck Park auditorium March 18 to discuss what has become the hottest issue in San Pedro: downzoning.
Nearly 10 years after ethnically diverse San Pedro became the first community in Los Angeles to place strict curbs on its potential growth, many residents are saying they did not go far enough.
Residents complain that shoe box-shaped apartments are scarring the single-family complexion of their seaside community. And the debate is taking on intensely emotional tones as people argue about how best to preserve the community for their children and their children’s children.
“This is like the last undeveloped beach city,” said Ardehali-Kordich, chairwoman of the San Pedro Downzoning Committee, a grass-roots group that advocates a ban on all apartment construction, with the exception of duplexes. “We have to save it.”
The debate, however, will not be one-sided.
Some builders and business people argue that a ban on new apartment construction would cause rents and home prices to skyrocket in San Pedro, which is already becoming unaffordable for people who grew up there.
“This is going to be a very emotional issue,” said Leron Gubler, executive director of the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. “People do not want to lose the character and flavor of the community. The question is, ‘How do we achieve that?’ ”
Gubler noted that banning apartments could squeeze low-income people out of San Pedro. In an interview, he predicted opposition to downzoning on the part of some “old San Pedro families” who bought property with the intent of building apartments to provide retirement income.
A member of one such family is real estate agent Bob Bradarich, who said his in-laws have property they had intended to develop. Bradarich said he is against blanket downzoning, saying he believes there are some parts of San Pedro where growth should be curtailed and others where it should be allowed.
“It’s my opinion,” he said in an interview, “that these people that are adamantly wanting the downzoning are not really thinking in the best interests of the community. . . . There’s going to be another 20,000 people in San Pedro in the next 10 years, and this is not going to accomplish what these people want.”
Last week, a 25-member citizens committee, appointed by Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, began what promises to be a lengthy examination of the zoning laws that govern development in San Pedro. Ardehali-Kordich, Gubler and Bradarich all were named to the committee, which is to make recommendations for change to Flores.
The committee is limited to San Pedro residents, and it is weighted more heavily toward neighborhood representatives than business people. Only 10 of the 25 members do business in San Pedro and none are developers. The chairman, Noah Modisett, is president of the San Pedro & Peninsula Homeowners Coalition, while the vice chairman, Bill Lusby, is a local architect.
The committee’s first order of business will likely be whether to recommend an “interim control ordinance"--a temporary measure that would forestall new developments while the panel conducts its review.
Flores said she limited the committee to residents because she wanted its recommendations to reflect a vested interest in San Pedro, and excluded developers because she feels it is difficult to “look at this unselfishly when all of your future earnings are tied up with the decisions that are being made.”
She said some developers were appointed to--but eventually quit--the committee that drew up the current San Pedro Community Plan. That plan, adopted in 1980 by the Los Angeles City Council, cut San Pedro’s potential growth from a maximum population of 240,000 to 103,000. The community has about 70,000 residents now.
Anti-growth activists say that one of the problems with the current plan, and the zoning that goes along with it, is that it allows apartments to be built in single-family neighborhoods under the RD1.5 zone.
RD1.5 permits one apartment for every 1,500 square feet of lot. On a standard 5,000-square-foot lot, three apartments are allowed. Developers have taken advantage of that zone to tear down single-family homes and replace them with apartments.
In addition, the RD1.5 zone allows developers to string lots together to squeeze in more apartments. Other zones--such as R2, which permits duplexes--do not allow developers to put lots together for bigger projects.
“There’s a lot of apprehension right now about the RD1.5 loophole,” said Jerry Gaines, a member of Flores’ committee. “There’s a lot of emotion right now, and it comes from example after example of old houses being removed quickly, overnight, and large boxes being put in their place.”
Flores asked the committee, which has no timetable to meet, to study the RD1.5 matter and also to consider such issues as parking, landscaping and views when they look at the zoning code.
The committee also is expected to look at apartment development along Pacific Avenue, which once was San Pedro’s main commercial thoroughfare but has declined in recent years with the rise of business activities on Gaffey Street and Western Avenue.
At the committee’s first meeting Thursday, Flores urged the panel to be open to compromise and to come up with “creative, pointed” solutions.
The councilwoman also marveled at the changes in San Pedro since the current plan was adopted. Many said then that the new development blueprint would hurt San Pedro’s economy by scaring builders away.
“It was revolutionary,” Flores said. “At that time, people thought it was so restrictive that it would never work. Who would have suspected that, eight years later, that plan would be out of date?”