Voters this fall will decide whether to ratify new commercial zoning regulations that have been approved by a divided City Council as an outgrowth of a yearlong planning and design project in the city.
The ballot measures are part of a plan aimed at remaking the city through an aggressive redevelopment program, zoning revisions, new standards for condominium, apartment and commercial construction, and the expenditure of millions of dollars on street widening, landscaping, parking structures and other public improvements.
Only the changes in commercial zoning require voter approval.
Councilman Chris Houseman said the zoning regulations and other parts of the design plan offer Monterey Park a "great opportunity to become a first-class city and not continue as an innocuous suburb." He said he is confident that voters will endorse the proposal.
But Mayor Cam Briglio said that the proposed zoning would lower property values and is headed for defeat. "I don't see it passing," he said. "I'm not going to support it."
The proposed commercial regulations are going on the ballot because an initiative approved in 1982 requires that zone changes be submitted to voters.
The revisions, adopted by the City Council in stages over the past few months, would rezone about 200 of the city's 481 acres of commercial land and set new minimum lot sizes, height limits and other requirements for all zones.
Senior planner Margo Wheeler said the council, which earlier had set the zoning election for Sept. 22, will be asked to reset it for Oct. 20 because of technical errors in the measures passed by the council.
The election will come four months after a June 16 vote in which two champions of the design project, council members Barry L. Hatch and Patricia Reichenberger, defeated a recall campaign that accused them of racism. Hatch and Reichenberger interpreted their victories not only as a rejection of the racism charges but also as an endorsement of the replanning effort.
Reichenberger, Hatch and Houseman won election to the council in 1986 by ousting three incumbents who, they said, had given developers a free rein.
"We were elected to stop growth," Reichenberger said, "but you can't do that." Instead of stopping growth, the council moved to bring it under tighter control. The council put a moratorium on construction, appointed consultants and a citizens committee to draft new development guidelines and hired other consultants to study traffic problems.
Then, after considering recommendations from the consultants and the citizens committee, the council imposed new restrictions on both commercial and residential projects, reducing the allowable density and increasing requirements for open space and parking.
As a result, Reichenberger said, "we have now made it more difficult to build."
Councilman G. Monty Manibog, who has opposed much of the replanning effort, said many of the restrictions, such as limits on the portion of a commercial lot that can be built upon, tend to make the property worth less.
'Taking Property Away'
In effect, he said, "what we did is downzoning, saying you can build so much less. This really was taking property away without compensation."
Manibog said he has seen no proof that property prices have fallen, but "many people have been grumbling," and he expects property owners who have been hurt to sue the city for losses.
"We are going to be faced with a multiplicity of lawsuits," he said. "We'll have lawsuits galore."
Briglio agreed that the city could face lawsuits from property owners and said the studies have already cost the city $500,000, mostly in fees for consultants.
Reichenberger said the adoption of more restrictive zoning will lower the value of commercial property temporarily so that large department and chain stores can afford to open businesses in Monterey Park, leading to a more stable economy and ultimately to even higher property values.
Although Reichenberger asserted that lowering property values is part of the city's strategy, Houseman disagreed. "I don't think there has been any strategy to lessen property values," he said. Instead, he said, prices of commercial land have been inflated in recent years by overseas investors and will return to realistic levels through market forces.
Houseman said property values are not determined by the number of residential units that can be built on a lot or by the maximum permitted size of a commercial building. The real limitations on development in Monterey Park now, he said, involve crowded streets and inadequate parking.
"Nobody is going to want to develop in a congested area," he said.
The city hopes to ease congestion through street widenings, construction of parking structures and other improvements to be carried out through redevelopment.