Monterey Park Moves to Reduce Housing Growth

Times Staff Writer

Replaying earlier debates over controlling growth, the City Council voted 3 to 2 early Tuesday to reduce the number of condominiums, apartments and townhouses allowed per acre.

The vote represented one more attempt by city leaders to regain control over the growth in population and housing construction that in the last decade has transformed this community. In arguing their positions, council members and several residents invoked the specter of crowded streets and overburdened schools, sewers and water-supply system.

The vote came after nearly five hours of intense discussion. Since May, 1988, when the council enacted a ban on new construction of multifamily housing units, community leaders and planners have debated what to do about residential growth.

"The fewer condominiums on an acre, the better off we're going to be," Councilman Barry L. Hatch argued. "Unless we do something with the density, we're going to have the ghetto effect. People want single-family. They really do."

Voted Against Proposal

But, in the end, he did not vote to support the proposal that passed. It was not restrictive enough, said Hatch, who has long advocated that the council should do everything possible to stop condominium development.

Under the ordinance, the council set a limit of 20 multifamily housing units per acre in the highest density zoning, R-3. That represents a reduction of two units from the current level and is 10 less than the recommendation of the Planning Commission.

In the other multi-unit category, R-2, the council set a limit of 12 units per acre, which also is two less than the current level and is the same as the ceiling suggested by the Planning Commission.

In April, faced with opposition by residents, the council rejected a proposal to downzone about one-fifth of the city, mostly in the northeast sector, the same area now affected by the new ordinance.

On Tuesday, Christopher F. Houseman unsuccessfully tried to persuade his colleagues to table any vote on the matter of controlling housing density. "If this isn't downzoning disguised, I'll eat my hat," said Houseman, who also voted against the ordinance.

But Mayor Patricia M. Reichenberger and Councilwomen Judy Chu and Betty Couch rejected the idea of further delaying the issue, which had been postponed twice since April. The vote was taken long after the council's 11 p.m. curfew, even though last week Reichenberger had pushed for a postponement in the vote at that hour. At that time, she said the meeting was running late and she thought that such decisions shouldn't be made so late.

"We've had plenty of time to discuss this--a year," said Chu, who joined with Reichenberger and Couch to develop a compromise ordinance.

But the compromise proposal irked resident Tina Martin, one of a dozen speakers. "The Supreme Court has ruled that you can rezone, but you must pay us for the devaluation of our property," said Martin, a leader of a group called Citizens for Property Rights. She vowed: "We will sue."

She and other longtime residents who own property zoned for apartments and condominiums say they have banked their retirement plans on the idea that one day they would sell their property for development. At meeting after meeting, this group has argued that the reduced density requirements would lessen the value of their property and not solve problems of overcrowding.

Houseman supported this notion, saying the city already has enacted growth restrictions which are working. "We've made great progress. The density has been drastically reduced." In the late 1970s, Houseman said, the R-4 category, since eliminated, permitted up to 55 units per acre.

Houseman complained when other council members were attempting to reach agreement on the numbers of multifamily housing units to be allowed per acre. The discussion, he said, sounded like a "reverse auction." He told the council: "I would urge you to return to Earth at some point."

But Couch said: "We're the densest of the west end (of the San Gabriel Valley). Let's set a trend and go the other way."

Reichenberger said she wanted to reach some agreement on the issue and help beautify the look of the city. "I want to be proud to say that I live in Monterey Park."

Other residents urged the council to reduce the density of housing units allowed.

"We are being pushed out. This city will be impossible in 10 years," said Traude Gomez. "We really don't even know how many people are in this city." She cited a two-bedroom condominium she visited where a three-generation family of 10 had bunk beds throughout the house.

In an interview, she complained that this was typical of newcomers from Asia and that represented part of the problem the council needed to address.

Hatch complained during the meeting: "We have too many people right now. You know that."

He also complained of Pacific Rim investors "buying us up." He said, "We're 'maxed-out' with these cheap, crappy condominiums, and I'm 'maxed-out' with people who are worried about the almighty dollar. Let's not let some gold and tinkling of change corrupt us."

Even with today's standards, Hatch said, Monterey Park condominiums resemble the chicken coops on the farm where he once worked. "Each little chicken has their own cubicle."

But other council members said new standards enacted by the council already have greatly improved the look of condominiums, apartments and townhouses.


Some of the changes enacted Tuesday:

"Bowling alley" look: Driveways no longer permitted for full length of a property; now must be no longer than half.

Maximum units permitted in R-2 reduced from 14 per acre to 12.

R-3 maximums cut from 22 per acre to 20.

First-floor units visible from the street may not be higher than two feet above the natural grade of the property.

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