Controversial Rezoning of PCH Strip OKd by Lomita Planners

Times Staff Writer

A proposed ordinance to rezone a mile-long corridor of Pacific Coast Highway in Lomita was approved unanimously Tuesday by the city's Planning Commission, despite opposition from residents who say the change will force out small businesses and dramatically increase traffic.

About 150 residents crammed the council chambers to voice opposition to the ordinance, which would prohibit or restrict a variety of businesses, including small motels, nail shops, auto repair shops and liquor stores. Churches would be prohibited.

The ordinance, which will come before the City Council next month, would require commercial lots to be at least 100 feet wide and at least 10,000 square feet. New motels would have to be 50 units or larger and liquor stores would have to be at least 1,500 feet apart.

The issues--including a moratorium on new development on the Pacific Coast Highway while the ordinance is studied--have galvanized many residents and business owners in the normally quiet community of 20,000.

'Protect Lomita' Stickers

Residents have plastered the neighborhood with literature opposing the ordinance, and at Tuesday's hearing opponents distributed stickers that read "Protect Lomita!"

Opponents of the ordinance argue that if it is passed, it will alter irrevocably the city's small-town character.

Resident Toni King, whose family has lived in Lomita since 1938, told the commission they have remained "because we like the small-town atmosphere. We like dealing with the shopkeepers and with the personal, customized service they give us."

Opponents also argued that the ordinance would lower property values and that the value of businesses on nonconforming lots would decrease. Several business owners also said they are concerned that traffic congestion will drive away customers.

But city officials say the ordinance is a good way to tighten control over hodgepodge development along Pacific Coast Highway, increase the city's tax base and maintain the city's services and infrastructure.

"No matter what we do, traffic (on Pacific Coast Highway) will be horribly impacted by the year 2000," Commissioner Dave Wilkinson said. "There's nothing your city Planning Commission can do about that. It's a fact of life we're impacted by our neighbors."

33,500 Cars a Day

According to state Department of Transportation figures for 1986--the most recent available--about 33,500 cars a day pass through Lomita on Pacific Coast Highway. If the ordinance is approved and more retail businesses are allowed in the 19-acre area affected by the ordinance, that figure would increase between 18% and 54% over a 20-year period, according to a traffic study conducted for the city.

Members of a residents' group,Citizens for a Better Lomita, disputed those figures, contending they are too low. Mark Hays, an organizer of the citizens' group, said a summary of the study misinterprets a chart on traffic generated by various businesses.

He also criticized former Lawndale City Manager Paul Philips, head of Planning and Research Associates, the Manhattan Beach firm that conducted the study. He said Philips is unqualified to do the study because he is not a traffic engineer and because of his job history in Lawndale and South El Monte.

Philips was fired as city manager of South El Monte in 1981 after he applied for another job in violation of a clause in his contract. In 1987, Philips resigned under fire as Lawndale city manager following council criticism of his job performance and alleged irregularities in the Planning Department.

However, City Administrator Walker J. Ritter defended the report.

"It's what we asked for," Ritter said. "All we wanted was an idea of the impact on traffic the change in the zoning would have."

The citizens group has also criticized a City Council decision in April to exempt a Torrance developer from the building moratorium. The council approved an ordinance allowing developer Norman La Caze to build a 30,000-square-foot shopping center on the northeast corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Eshelman Avenue.

In a letter addressed to Ritter earlier this month, the citizens' group challenged the legality of the exemption, arguing that it was passed in violation of the state Government Code. The city had initially introduced the measure as an urgency ordinance, but a shorter version was passed as a regular ordinance without proper public notification, the letter claimed.

City Atty. Leland Dolley said the council introduced the ordinance for a first reading and subsequently went through the usual process for notice.

"In my opinion the city has acted in a proper manner and the challenge is without merit," Dolley said.

An adversarial tone between opponents of the ordinance and city officials was set before Tuesday's meeting, during an exchange between Hays and Ritter.

As Hays addressed a group of about 50 residents assembled in the council chambers 30 minutes before the commission meeting began, Ritter interrupted and asked to speak with Hays privately. But Hays refused and the group adjourned en masse to the City Hall courtyard to continue its discussion.

The group returned to the council chambers shortly before the Planning Commission meeting began.

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