WILMINGTON — After listening to appeals from the community for four months, Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores has introduced a motion to the City Council that could lead to development limits here as early as mid-March.
Flores' motion, introduced last week, orders the city attorney and the Planning Department to prepare an ordinance imposing a moratorium on construction of high-density apartments in Wilmington and Harbor City. It was approved 11 to 1 on Wednesday, with Councilman David Cunningham opposed.
As written in the motion, the ordinance would restrict development to one housing unit per 1,500 square feet of lot--in effect, cutting density by half.
After the ordinance is prepared, it must be considered by the Planning Commission, the planning and environment committee and again by the City Council. If the ordinance as proposed is approved by the City Council and signed by the mayor, the moratorium would be in effect for one year, with the possibility of two 180-day extensions.
Flores said she will oversee the progress of the proposed ordinance to ensure that it is approved quickly. She said she expects its adoption within 30 days.
The moratorium is intended to last until the city adopts a new "community plan" for the area that has been under study for the last two years. That plan, expected to be approved within two years, outlines land use and other planning objectives and is expected to result in widespread down-zoning.
Flores' support for a moratorium comes in the wake of a Jan. 14 public meeting called by the councilwoman to garner public comment on three proposals she devised to control high-density development. Flores offered the proposals in response to community protest over the proliferation of high-density apartments in the two harbor-area communities, especially Wilmington.
A Wilmington homeowners group, which has been calling for a moratorium since October, estimates that at least 50 apartment developments, most of them high-density, have been built or planned in Wilmington in the last year. Homeowners assert that the developments will aggravate already pressing community problems such as school overcrowding, land-use conflicts, traffic congestion, noise and lack of adequate police protection.
The measure Flores is supporting is the most restrictive of the three that she offered for public comment. One of the other two proposals would have imposed a moratorium only in "problems areas" of the communities. The third proposed taking no action, pending the adoption of the community plan.
In an interview last week, Flores said she is pursuing the most restrictive of the proposals because she believes it is the fairest and the most widely supported by residents of the two communities. The proposal also was endorsed two weeks ago in a report issued by the Planning Department.
"I determined that the great majority of people do have concerns about high-density development that they feel will be offset by this interim control ordinance," Flores said.
Flores also said she believes that many developers in Wilmington and Harbor City, motivated only by profit, have ignored community needs.
"Many of the developers have pigged out, if you will," she said. "Many . . . have taken advantage of every rule and of every unit allowed, just to pack them in. Some developers have been irresponsible . . . by taking advantage of everything they can get."
Developers dispute Flores' view, saying that their projects are improving the community, not depressing it. Moreover, developers say the moratorium will hurt area property values.
"I think Flores' statement is a pretty poor statement," said Hubert G. Toll of H. G. Toll Co. "If she worked the numbers out, I think she'd realize that the only way you can economically, feasibly build low-cost housing is to pack them in. But packing them in is not necessarily bad. High density doesn't have to be junk. The developers I've met, all in all, aren't building junk and aren't interested in making a profit and leaving."
Matthew J. Vanderhorst of Dominguez Properties, which owns land on which 190 apartments have been planned, called Flores' action disappointing.
"We're hopeful that we may be able to complete our transaction. However, if the deal doesn't come to fruition, we will certainly be hurt by the moratorium. We could lose probably 50% of our property value with the moratorium because we will have the capability of building only half the number of units we'd be able to build otherwise."
As written, Flores' proposal would be considered an urgency ordinance, making it effective upon city publication, rather than 30 days later, as is usually the case.
But the ordinance will not contain a retroactive clause sought by some homeowners that would have made last Wednesday, the day the motion was introduced, the deadline for city approval of new high-density construction plans.