LONG BEACH — Councilwoman Jan Hall continued to benefit from her June reelection this week, when the City Council unanimously agreed after months of bitter debate to limit dwellings' heights in Naples and Belmont Shore to two stories.
The issue--whether three-story homes should be allowed in traditionally low-rise beach communities--had been argued seven times at three government levels since November before Tuesday's quick consensus vote.
The City Council had considered the matter four times and heard hours of emotional testimony from dozens of homeowners. The issue had also become central in Hall's District 3 reelection campaign against dentist Jim Serles, with Serles favoring a height standard that would allow three-story homes.
With two new council members and a switch of votes by Mayor Ernie Kell and Councilman Wallace Edgerton, Hall finally mustered a majority for a two-story limit she had maintained was favored all along by a majority of homeowners in Naples and Belmont Shore.
'What People Wanted'
Edgerton, who had joined Kell in supporting Serles and urging Hall's defeat before the June elections, said he changed his vote because "two-story is what people wanted, and we should be here to validate the electoral process."
Edgerton had branded Hall an "incompetent" legislator who refused to work with council colleagues in April, but Tuesday he congratulated the councilwoman on her victory and said, "This is a new show here."
Kell, who had said he supported Serles because he thought he would bring "more harmony" to the council, did not comment on his switch of votes.
In the peace-making mood of the evening, Hall called the council's support of two-story dwelling limits "incredibly important."
Speaking of dozens of supporters in the audience, Hall said to the council: "The people who came here are very pleased to see the council working together, and I intend to support you all on issues critical to your districts."
Councilman Edd Tuttle, a Hall supporter on the issue, had said previously that he thought some council members had voted against her because she too often refused to bow to their wishes on issues that involved only their districts.
Under the new height ordinance, dwellings in Belmont Shore and Naples, more than 90% of which are now one- or two-story high, will be limited to 24 feet at a roof's midpoint and a 28-foot maximum.
Previously, the height maximum at roof midpoint was 30 feet, which allows three-story construction. Loopholes in the old ordinance, however, had allowed some dwellings to reach 42 feet, about four stories. Such dwellings prompted formal reconsideration of the height ordinance, beginning with community meetings 18 months ago.
The new ordinance also leaves intact a three-story height limit for the Peninsula, an Alamitos Bay community where most dwellings are already that height.
Deputy City Atty. William Keiser said the ordinance does not have to be approved by the state Coastal Commission, as an amendment to the local coastal plan, because the commission has already recommended a two-story limit for Naples and Belmont Shore.