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Bell Gardens Enacts Major Zoning Change : Planning: Despite loud protests, councilmen adopt ordinances that will rezone more than one-third of all properties.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Twenty years from now, if all goes as city leaders plan, apartment buildings will begin to disappear from residential neighborhoods. Markets, manufacturing plants and small shops will close or relocate to the borders of town, leaving neat blocks of homes with plenty of yard space. Commercial centers will replace small pockets of businesses now scattered throughout residential and industrial areas.

On paper, it is a rezoning plan that establishes uniform commercial, residential and industrial districts, and holds down population density by reducing the number of housing units allowed on one lot.

But critics say the plan, which was approved Monday by the City Council, actually is a thinly disguised plot to drive out poor residents by transforming Bell Gardens into a city where they can no longer afford to live.

On Monday, hundreds of critics, including homeowners, tenants and business people, descended on the City Council to denounce the plan. The council, however, stuck to its vision of the city’s future and gave final approval to several ordinances that will rezone more than one-third of the properties in the city.

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The zoning changes will not be enforced for at least 20 years to provide for an orderly transition.

Opponents of the plan said they will either sue the city or launch a referendum to give voters a chance to vote on zoning change.

“There seems to be some dark motive here, because you can clearly see the economic damage that is going to be done here to these people, but you don’t care,” 19-year resident Jose Gradilla told the council. “This is not a debatable issue. It is clear that the people don’t want change. They don’t need change.”

Council members made no comment before casting their votes, but during a break in the meeting a grim Mayor Allen Shelby said: “Whatever I can do to make this city a better place to live, I am going to do.”

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About 300 people showed up to protest the rezoning plan. Although about 100 were allowed inside the chamber, fire codes kept most outdoors. Bell Gardens police officers stood guard at both entrances to City Hall and inside the chamber.

A color television monitor had been set up in the back courtyard of City Hall for those who could not get inside the council chamber, but most of the demonstrators remained in front of the building where their signs and chants of “No Rezoning” could be clearly seen and heard by passersby. Several disrupted the meeting by pounding on the walls and windows outside the chamber.

Before the meeting, city officials circulated one-page flyers warning residents “DON’T BELIEVE THE BIG LIE!” The flyers, printed in English on one side and Spanish on the other, said that “some opponents of rezoning . . . are attempting to scare the fine citizens of Bell Gardens with lies and half-truths concerning the rezoning . . . the truth is rezoning is good for the city.”

City leaders have said the zoning changes must be passed for two reasons:

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* The General Plan, which is the blueprint for a city’s future, calls for an end to the haphazard zoning that now allows businesses to be built next to homes. According to state law, the city’s Zoning Code must be consistent with the General Plan.

* Bell Gardens is one of the most densely populated cities in the county, and its sewer and water systems will not tolerate the stress of more than 42,000 people living in a city of 2.4 square miles. City leaders said the results of such a high population density are depressingly clear: a double-digit dropout rate in the city’s overcrowded junior high and high schools, dilapidated housing, property damage, more gang activity and higher costs for municipal services.

William Ross, a land-use attorney hired by the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the council left the public in the dark by failing to make copies of the General Plan available to compare with the zoning changes.

He said he was only able to review portions of the plan, but still found inconsistencies with the zoning changes, particularly in the area of housing.

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“The goal of the General Plan is to increase the availability of housing . . . the project would limit residential development,” Ross said. He also questioned whether the zoning changes meet General Plan requirements that “decent and affordable housing” be available to residents.

City Manager Claude Booker said only portions of the General Plan have been available since December because the plan is being transferred to a computer. He said, however, that the new zoning changes address the community’s housing needs.

“We are actually creating more housing because we are cutting back on the amount of commercial,” he said.

The southern end of Eastern and Garfield avenues will be changed to a residential zone from commercial and manufacturing zones, and most apartments will be located in that area, he said. He also predicted that it will be no more expensive to live in Bell Gardens in 25 years than it is now because many of the tenants in the city currently pay exorbitant rents.

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