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Councilwoman, Schools Chief : No-Growth Alliance Is All in the Family

January 10, 1988|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

A recent housing boom in Paramount has revived debate over whether growth is good for the former hay-growing, dairy-farming city of 40,000.

Since 1985, more than 24 acres of land in Paramount have been zoned for new housing. Another 15 acres remain as potential sites for residential development. Contractors have been busy putting up both single-family and multifamily homes.

Most City Council members support such growth, but one councilwoman--along with the Paramount Unified School District, headed by her husband--wants it to stop.

A leading supporter of the building trend, Councilman Charles R. Weldon, said: "When I was elected in 1978, there were slum conditions (in Paramount). Today, they would be proud to have these developments in Beverly Hills."

Dire Consequences Seen

By contrast, Councilwoman Esther Caldwell fears that proposed apartment and condominium projects will bring traffic congestion and slums to the city.

"Any apartment is nice when it is first built, but in time can become a slum," said Caldwell, the wife of school Supt. Richard B. Caldwell.

Councilwoman Caldwell said she has supported housing development in the past, especially single-family units, but has concluded that "building has gotten out of hand." She recently tried to persuade her colleagues to hire a consultant to study the city's density, but her motion died for lack of a second.

Weldon dismisses the debate as "politics" created as a campaign issue by "the Caldwells for Esther's reelection bid." Councilwoman Caldwell is on the ballot in April. Both she and her husband deny that the debate is political.

Crowding Resolution

On Dec. 8, the Paramount school board unanimously adopted a resolution that opposed the growth trend in the community, saying the school district is already overcrowded.

"My name is not on that resolution. The board signed it," Supt. Caldwell said. "The board is concerned about a district that is almost at total maximum student capacity."

State law permits a school district to demand a public hearing from a redevelopment agency on the effects of new building on the school population. The district can negotiate with the agency for funds to alleviate or eliminate overcrowding.

On Dec. 16, a letter signed by Mayor Manuel Guillen was sent by the city to the school district, asking for a meeting between the two agencies.

"We will not respond to the city's letter," Caldwell said. "The board's resolution merely put the city on notice. There will be no answers until the impact becomes better known and we have all of our statistics. We are studying it."

Direct Payment Provided

The school district is entitled to collect fees on new development. In the last two years, the district has received nearly $500,000 in fees, according to Al Burke, district superintendent for business. In 1986, more than $233,000 came from fees collected by the city from developers. Then, a change in the law allowed the school district to collect directly from developers. This year, the district has collected more than $261,000.

However, Supt. Caldwell said the fees are "insignificant, peanuts," compared to what the district would need to build a school. He said a new elementary school, for instance, would cost $10 million.

The resolution said the district's enrollment had increased from 8,940 in September, 1973, to 11,567 in September, 1987, and continues to rise.

Any new students brought by development would only burden the district, which is expected to have an enrollment of 14,000 by 1990, Burke said.

The city's letter, however, said the school board's resolution ". . . fails to show that overcrowding exists and that the overcrowding results from actions taken by the Redevelopment Agency."

Origins of Dispute

The political stir has been created by five projects--including single-family housing, apartments and condominiums--in various stages of completion.

The developments have been wooed by a city that has sought to change its negative image ever since a Rand Corp. report in 1982 called Paramount one of the nation's suburban disaster areas.

The downtown, which has been redeveloped with an infusion of more than $150 million in private and Redevelopment Agency funds since 1981, needs the housing projects to thrive, officials say.

About 4,000 mostly middle-income residents had to move in the mid-1970s when the state bought their land to build the Century Freeway. Officials say the new housing is being encouraged to bring these people and others back to the city.

Recently, 128 single-family homes with two, three and four bedrooms were completed at Somerset Boulevard and Downey Avenue, and 35 more were completed at Century Boulevard and Ruther Street. More than 65 of these homes have been occupied by families whose annual incomes average nearly $40,000, said Patrick West, the deputy city manager.

Under construction are 172 apartments and condominiums at Alondra Boulevard and Vermont Avenue and 192 apartments and condominiums at Downey and Somerset avenues.

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