GARDENA — For Laura Shipley, the issue of whether a developer should be allowed to build a large apartment complex a couple of blocks from her home boils down to one of "the little fish being gobbled up by the big fish."
The little fish, in Shipley's view, are homeowners like her, who fear that such a complex could cause their neighborhood to deteriorate. The big fish are the developer and those city officials who have supported a zoning change that would pave the way for the complex to be built.
"It is really a very emotional situation," said Shipley, a registered nurse. "We just don't feel the complex would be safe for the public health or welfare."
Shipley is chairwoman of a group of residents, numbering no more than 50, who are working to defeat Proposition A, a ballot measure that would rezone a large chunk of property near their homes for the 84-unit complex. The groups calls itself the No on Proposition A Committee.
Although Proposition A is not the only issue Gardena voters will decide when they go the polls April 8--four candidates are seeking two City Council seats and Mayor Donald Dear is running unopposed for a third consecutive term--it has served to ignite an election that has thus far been void of fiery issues.
Specifically, Proposition A asks voters to decide whether a 4.45-acre parcel on Budlong Avenue near the city's western border should be rezoned to allow the construction of multiple-family dwellings. The land now is zoned for single-family dwellings, but for more than six decades has been a garden nursery.
Last year the City Council, by a 3-2 vote, approved the zone change, clearing the way for the Bidamar Corp., a Glendale-based development firm, to buy the land and construct the apartment complex. Kazuo Minami, whose father founded the nursery in 1923, said he and his brother want to sell the property and retire.
However, neighborhood residents rallied against the zoning change, and gathered the voter signatures needed for a referendum to force the council to reverse its decision, or place the issue on the ballot. The council chose the latter.
But opponents of the zoning change face a tough battle from its supporters, who have formed their own group, Citizens for a Better Gardena. According to campaign disclosure statements filed late last month with the city clerk, the group thus far had received one contribution--$6,900 from the Bidamar Corp.--and spent $5,000 of it to hire the Los Angeles political consulting firm, Winner, Taylor & Associates Inc.
The No on Proposition A Committee had received contributions totaling $100, according to the statements.
Jill Gomes, chairwoman for Citizens for a Better Gardena, said the group includes a large number of supporters, but she did not know exactly how many. She said its members believe that the apartment complex will be attractive and provide much-needed rental housing for the city and that it could attract more residents to Gardena and, hence, generate more commercial activity and tax revenues.
"I don't live too far from the (proposed) project," said Gomes, a senior vice president and manager for a bank. "I know the area and I was raised in Gardena. If I didn't think the project would enhance our community, I wouldn't support it."
Opponents of Proposition A said, however, that they believe the apartment building will increase crime and traffic problems in their neighborhood. They also say proponents of the proposition are misleading voters by stating that more rental housing is needed because the city's rental vacancy rate is1.9%--a figure supporters said they received from a private economic research firm.
Opponents, pointing to statistics provided by the city's Planning Department, said the vacancy rate as of last November was 4.8%.
Additionally, the group said the complex, which would be built in an area where many parcels of land have already been rezoned for apartments, would set yet another precedent that could lead to a decrease in the number of single-family dwellings in the city. That view has been voiced most vociferously by Terry Kennedy, who led the early opposition against the zoning change and later decided to become a City Council candidate largely because of it.
"The single-family home is becoming an endangered species in Gardena," said Kennedy, who lives about two blocks from the nursery. "We are essentially being surrounded by apartments, and if this project goes in here, it will be the straw the breaks the camel's back. I feel we are taking a last-ditch stand to save our neighborhood."
Resident 16 Years
Kennedy, a 44-year-old U.S. Customs supervisor, is challenging incumbent council members Mas Fukai and Gwen Duffy, as well as the other candidate, business consultant Ollie B. Hadley. Council members, who are paid $200 a month for the part-time job, serve for four years. The mayor, who also sits on the council and is paid $300 a month, serves for two years.