As a teen-ager in New York City, Frances Parker looked forward to summers when she left the crowded city and visited friends in Hermosa Beach. So when her mother suggested they move to California, Parker jumped at the chance to buy a duplex five blocks from the beach in south Hermosa.
Today, nearly 25 years later, Parker lives in the same wood-and-stucco duplex on Loma Drive with her son, two dogs and several cats. The front unit, where her mother once lived, is now rented out.
On a clear day, she said, she can see as far as Santa Monica from her bedroom window.
"I have been getting fresh air all the way from Japan," said Parker, who teaches high school in Compton, as she cranked open some upstairs louver windows. "Now, all I am going to get is exhaust from people's cars and the trash trucks."
Parker's back windows overlook the playground of the former South School, which is slated to be torn down later this year to make way for a 34-unit condominium project. The development received final approval from the state Coastal Commission last week.
Although the South School development is just one of many new apartment or condominium projects being built in the city, it symbolizes for Parker all that has gone wrong in Hermosa Beach since she moved there.
"We just can't handle all these people," said Parker, 53, who is divorced. "When I bought here, there was one less house on this block, and I can walk down the street now and show you where old single-family houses have been torn down and replaced by bigger buildings."
According to census statistics compiled in 1980, Hermosa's population had increased by about 1,500 people--or 9%--since Parker moved to the city in the early 1960s. City officials caution, however, that the number is probably much higher because the data does not include people living in illegal apartments, such as garages or basements converted into separate units in violation of the zoning code. Such apartments are common throughout the southern end of the city.
Housing Units Increase
During the same period, the number of legal housing units in the city jumped from about 7,000 to more than 9,600. Statistics on the number of condominiums and apartments built during the past two decades are not available, but data compiled by the Building Department shows that about 200 units have been built in the city since 1980.
"Nobody who lives here will go to the beach anymore on a Saturday or a Sunday," said Parker, whose accent still rings of New York. "If you go out on a weekend, you'll come back and find cars parked in your driveway. It wasn't like this 10 or 20 years ago."
Parker is one of countless Hermosa Beach residents who have complained for years about parking problems, traffic congestion and overcrowded neighborhoods that they say the new construction has brought to the tiny beach city.
She is a vocal advocate of the density reductions proposed by the council, complaining only that they are long overdue. She rattles off a list of complaints when asked why she wants to stop new building in the city.
Parker lives on a dead-end street that is so narrow it has no sidewalks. Her 2,250-square-foot lot is so small that if she were to tear down her duplex she would be forbidden to build anything larger than a single-family home--under either the current zoning code or the proposed one.
When Parker has a dinner party, she has to shuttle her guests from the Clark Stadium parking lot several blocks away because there is nowhere for them to park near her home. When a neighbor has a party, cars sometimes are stacked three deep at the end of the street. Faded signs hang from her garage doors, warning, "Do Not Park in Driveway." Cars parked in driveways stick out into the street, sometimes several feet.
"I teach high school all day in Compton, and I want to be able to come home at night and relax and not have the kind of tension I put up with all day," she said. "I just don't want any more people around here than there already are."
The situation in Hermosa has gotten so bad, Parker said, that last year she bought a cabin in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead as a retreat from the noise and congestion. Her eyes widen and her voice turns to a near whisper when she speaks about peaceful weekends in the mountains.
"When the beach was quieter, I would walk on the Strand, and I didn't need to get away," she said. "Now, I go up to the mountains, and sometimes I don't see anybody. One time, I went up there and I could hear the snowflakes."