WEST COVINA — A proposed ordinance that would have allowed some residential property next to commercial areas to be converted into parking lots was defeated by the City Council this week after two members changed their stand because of spirited opposition from homeowners.
"I'm reminded of an incident that occurred in the Vietnam War, of having to destroy a village to save it," said resident Tony Falco, one of more than 100 people who filled the council chambers Monday night. "We're all going to suffer," Falco said. "The homes closest to (the parking lots) are going to suffer most."
Falco was referring to fears by homeowners that businesses would purchase entire blocks to use for parking and that the land would eventually be used for other commercial purposes. He and other residents argued that the measure's projected benefits were not worth the risk of lowering property values and causing homes to deteriorate.
Mayor Forest Tennant and Councilman Chester Shearer changed their stand on the ordinance after listening to the complaints.
"It may be a good idea, but if it's highly unpopular, it ceases to be a good idea," Shearer said.
Tennant said he voted against the proposal because it had been introduced at the wrong time.
Redevelopment projects, such as one planned for commercial and residential property along the San Bernardino Freeway, have created a climate of uncertainty about the future of some neighborhoods because plans have not been completed, Tennant said. The proposed ordinance, he added, increased concerns of residents about how their neighborhoods might change.
After voting unanimously to kill the measure, the council instructed the city's planning staff, which had proposed the measure, to study alternatives for providing commercial parking in residential neighborhoods.
Developers would have had to own the residential property before being eligible to convert the land to parking.
Arguments for Lots
Attorney Ronald Ballard, one of the few speakers who supported the ordinance, argued that the measure would help neighborhoods by reducing overflow parking from nightclubs and restaurants. Ballard, who also spoke on behalf of property owner Louis Brutocao, said the measure would reduce traffic near commercial areas and make neighborhood streets safer for children.
Ballard said that Brutocao, the owner of a now-vacant restaurant, had lost a potential tenant because the property lacked adequate parking. If the ordinance had passed, Ballard said, Brutocao and other business owners might have been able to attract new clients and revenues to the city.
City planning officials argued that the ordinance would make it easier for businesses to meet parking needs.
Paul Curtis, city planning director, said he had no estimate of the number of homes next to property that would have been affected by the ordinance.
But residents at the council meeting argued that the measure would have harmed neighborhoods.
"I am concerned that the city would unknowingly create a leapfrog situation" in which commercial development would gradually force its way into residential areas, homeowner Russell Gordon said.
As developers bought residential property for parking lots, they would be eligible to buy additional land next to the lots to expand their holdings, Gordon said.
Real estate agent and homeowner Phillip Smith said that the ordinance would encourage real estate speculation, which would eventually lower property values because absentee landlords would allow homes near parking lots to deteriorate.
Curtis tried to allay homeowner fears by pointing out that the only property affected would be land adjacent to commercially zoned property and near streets in areas already zoned for commercial use.
Smith suggested that the council consider methods used by other cities to increase parking. For example, he said, Laguna Beach requires businesses to obtain special-use permits before land in residential areas can be used for parking.
Shearer attempted to calm fears that developers would be allowed to level entire blocks for parking lots and said the measure would not authorize the city to use its powers of condemnation to help developers buy residential properties.
Curtis also said that the public would have been assured of input on each parking lot application because it would be reviewed by the Planning Commission, which would in turn require a public hearing before granting a permit. He said residents would also have the option of appealing any Planning Commission action to the City Council.
Ronald Spence, whose backyard abuts an office parking lot in the center of the city, said he has had a series of problems in connection with the lot.
"I make (repeated) calls to the police to clear the lot" because of rowdy youths who gather there to drink, use drugs and race cars, Spence said.
"My neighbors have been robbed three times" by burglars who entered their home from the parking lot, he said.