Torrance's Towering Issue

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Many people would be happy to get rid of an old, rusty water tank towering 130 feet above their homes.

Not in west Torrance. Residents of this middle-class enclave harbor warm feelings for their familiar "quiet neighbor"--a white, 750,000-gallon tank visible for miles.

"We all use it as a focal point for directions," said homeowner Karen Beverly.

So when a builder went before the Torrance Planning Commission recently seeking permission to replace the 44-year-old giant with three single-family homes, Beverly and other neighbors sprang into action. Seventy-nine signed a petition opposing the two-story houses to be built into a berm on which the tower stands.

"They'll be looking right into people's backyards," said resident Michael Stary, a Cal Poly Pomona professor and vocal opponent of the plan. On top of that, the proposed buildings are twice the size of existing homes on lots that are slightly smaller, "grossly changing the character of the area," he said.

"We know the water tower; we don't know these people," said homeowner Anna Wayman. "The water tower is a wonderful landmark."

That may be, but the tower--one of the last remaining in the South Bay--has no historic value and will probably be torn down whether the houses are built or not, according to owner California Water Service Co.

The aging tank, used to keep water pressure steady for thousands of customers, is difficult to paint and maintain, said John Foth, an engineering manager for the water company. It was built to less stringent earthquake standards than exist now, Foth said.

Alternative methods to ensure constant water pressure will be available as early as August to render the tank obsolete, Foth said.

Neighbors like Abby D'Amico say they would be sorry to see the tower go. "We have a special affection for it," she said.

That makes little sense to officials of JCC Homes, the Torrance builder that D'Amico and others are fighting.

"Maybe people get used to things," said firm partner Kurt Nelson. "But I can't help but wonder if we were here to put up a water tower, what they would say."

Nelson was to meet with concerned residents Monday evening to take them on a tour of the proposed home sites. Significant changes to their plans are not likely, he said. "Rightly or wrongly, we already turned in our best shot at minimizing the impact on the neighborhood."

The Torrance Planning Commission is expected to vote on the proposed homes off Tom Lee Drive on Wednesday. If the plans are approved, Stary said, residents will take their battle before the City Council.

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