SOUTH PASADENA — Worried that proposed restrictions on commercial development in nearby Los Angeles may prompt developers to try to erect new all-night stores and mini-malls in this quiet residential community, the City Council has imposed a 45-day moratorium on all commercial development here.
Next, the council will consider a series of recommendations from the Planning Commission to inhibit the building of 24-hour convenience stores and mini-malls.
"We have a number of properties that are zoned and located so that they'd seem likely candidates for that kind of development," said City Planner Charles La Claire. "We're just trying to address the issue before it becomes a problem for the community."
Residents have complained that existing commercial properties, particularly mini-malls on Fair Oaks and Fremont avenues, are already creating traffic problems, serving as a magnet for criminals and disrupting the tranquility of their neighborhoods.
A group called Citizens for Common Sense in Government presented the council Wednesday with petitions signed by more than 500 residents demanding a moratorium on commercial development, limits on the hours that local businesses may stay open, restrictions on the proximity of businesses to residential areas and other limitations.
"Another two or three mini-malls would clog up the streets so much that we wouldn't be able to move in our own community," said Fred Samaha, the group's president. Samaha's group pressed successfully last year for limits on new apartment construction. Last fall, the city placed a 60-unit-a-year cap on new residential development.
Wednesday's unanimous council vote for a moratorium on commercial development reversed another unanimous council vote May 6 that rejected such a moratorium. La Claire said that when the earlier vote was cast, there was no urgency to the issue because no new commercial developments were in the planning stages.
"But in the interim, some individuals submitted plans" to the city, he said.
The B. H. Partnership of Pasadena applied last month for a permit to build a 13-store mini-mall on a site at Fremont Avenue and Huntington Drive. "With new plans actually submitted," said La Claire, "there was an urgency to the question." Principals of the B. H. Partnership could not be reached for comment.
Mayor James Hodge said the May vote was, in effect, a matter of returning the matter to the Planning Commission for more specifics. "We wanted something concrete from the Planning Commission," he said.
The commission responded with a proposed 12-part amendment to the Municipal Code. If the amendment is passed, developers would have to provide more parking spaces than now required, build at least 50 feet away from residences and build stores of at least 1,000 square feet. Store operators would not be able to do business between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. And the design process would be subject to review by the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission had originally proposed a 90-day moratorium, but state law limits such actions to 45 days. The council can, however, extend the moratorium for another 45 days.
Hodge said mini-malls tend to create both fiscal and social problems. "They're utilitarian in many respects," he conceded. "But once the developer puts people in there, he's gone. These people (store owners) can go belly up, sometimes because the financing is not there, and then you've got a vacant store. Basically, there's a lot of duplication of services."
In Los Angeles, Mayor Tom Bradley has proposed restrictions on mini-malls, such as requiring that parking facilities be placed either behind the stores or in underground garages.
Could Create Pressures
Hodge said such restrictions in Los Angeles could create pressures in South Pasadena for stepped-up commercial development. "You could see more emphasis on the suburbs if the hub city no longer accepts mini-malls," he said. City officials say South Pasadena has already become a focus for such outlets as video stores and tanning salons.
The South Pasadena council will hold a public hearing July 1 on the proposed amendment. Hodge said the earliest that new development restrictions could take effect would be mid-August.
But Samaha said that if the council delays action, his group is determined to take the issue to a referendum.
"If for some reason they hedge or play games," he said, "that will leave us no other choice but to demand that the issue be placed on the ballot."