HAWTHORNE — The city's long-debated revision of the building code took effect as an urgency measure Monday but questions arose immediately over whether it will have the intended effect of moderating the impact or the breakneck pace of apartment development in the city.
"I don't think it is going to slow down the building construction," City Manager Kenneth Jue said in an interview after the 4-1 vote.
Mayor Betty Ainsworth opposed the measure, saying it did not provide adequate protection to neighborhoods of single-family homes facing development pressure.
The measure calls for lower densities, additional setbacks in front yards and a lowered height limit, and sets requirements for landscaping and recreational space.
Three factors favor a rapid pace of continued construction, according to city officials.
- Even if few plans are submitted under the new provisions, an enormous backlog of building projects designed according to the former standards--many of them submitted in batches each time the council was scheduled to act on revising the code--remains in the Planning and Building departments undergoing checking procedures. City officials said the backlog is close to 2,000 units. An estimated additional 1,500 units are under construction.
- City officials do not expect that the restrictions voted Monday night will remove economic incentives favoring development. Planning Commissioner Ray Sulser said that the owner of a single-family home on a lot zoned for higher use will still reap a benefit by selling it to an apartment developer. Many lots in Hawthorne with single-family residences are zoned for multi-unit buildings, according to the Planning Department.
- Despite the lowered density mandated by the code revision, densities permitted in Hawthorne remain among the highest in the South Bay--topped only by the city's neighbor to the south, Lawndale. Said Councilman David York: "The developers and builders, they have got a roll going on and I don't know if it will slow down." He defended the measure as imposing better design standards on developers.
For more than a year, apartment construction, spurred by lower interest rates, favorable zoning and relaxed parking requirements, broke all records, reaching almost $100 million in 1985, according to the city.
But the construction boom brought a flood of residents to the City Council complaining that apartment construction was disrupting single-family neighborhoods. Six months ago, the council ordered the Planning Commission to devise new building standards that would lower height, decrease density and reduce the overshadowing of adjacent structures.
Every time council action was anticipated, developers rushed to submit plans and apply for building permits--a factor cited Monday by Councilman Chuck Bookhammer as a reason for adopting the standards as an urgency measure.
Permits for 764 Units
Between April 7 and April 28, according to records Bookhammer cited, the Building Department received applications for building permits for 52 apartment complexes with a total of 764 units.
In November, a similar rush occurred during the five-day period between a vote by the Planning Commission to recommend a 90-day moratorium and the next City Council meeting, at which the recommendation was ignored.
One last-minute filer was former Planning Director Jim Marquez, who pleaded no contest April 2 to a conflict-of-interest charge of using his position illegally to push through relaxed parking requirements in 1984 in order to build a 15-unit apartment house on a narrow lot.
On Monday, hours before the council imposed the new requirements, Marquez submitted plans for a six-unit apartment on another narrow lot. Under the new standards, he could only build a five-unit building, according to city planners.
More Study Urged
Marquez spoke at the council meeting, urging that the entire package of code revisions be sent back to the Planning Commission for further study.
Adoption of the measure as an urgency ordinance, which requires a four-vote majority of the five-member council and takes effect on adoption, was blocked for three weeks by Mayor Betty Ainsworth, who favored tougher restrictions on development.
Ainsworth opposed the code revision as inadequate. She argued that the change in the height limit would in effect lower heights by only about three feet from the existing limit of 35. City Manager Jue confirmed that Ainsworth's assessment was correct.
With Ainsworth in opposition, the support of council members Steve Andersen, Bookhammer and York was enough to pass the measure as a regular ordinance to take effect May 28, but not enough for its adoption as an urgency measure.
Lambert Adds Vote
Monday, newly elected council member Ginny Lambert provided the fourth vote required to pass the measure as an urgency ordinance.
Lambert abstained April 8, the day she was inaugurated, saying she had not studied the issue and she was concerned that it would impose overly strict requirements on small lots. She repeated her concern Monday but said she would vote for it because the flood of building permit applications required timely action.
Andersen said he supported the measures as a compromise.
"As such, it will probably delight no one," he said.