Responding to an initiative campaign by slow-growth advocates, the Culver City Council on Monday ordered public hearings to reevaluate the city's 12-story height limit.
After a bitter debate with backers of the initiative, council members also voted to review a law that allows them to ignore city building height restrictions for certain Redevelopment Agency projects.
But sponsors of the initiative, which would cut the maximum height of new buildings in the city from 12 stories to four, vowed to continue the campaign, saying the council's action did not accomplish their goal of stopping four high-rises at Corporate Pointe near Fox Hills Mall. "I'm very dissatisfied," said initiative co-sponsor Richard E. Pachtman, a council candidate. "I think they could have gone a step forward and placed a (building) moratorium on what is yet to come."
Earlier Monday, sponsors submitted to the city clerk an initiative petition that they said listed more than 3,600 signatures from residents supporting a new height limit.
Tempers flared Monday night during discussion of the initiative, which has emerged as a major issue in the April 12 council election.
The three incumbents have called it an election-year ploy, while supporters, including four council challengers, argue that it reflects a legitimate dissatisfaction with the council and its record on development.
Council candidate Jim Boulgarides, who supports the initiative, voiced his dismay over the eight-page staff report prepared for the council that pointed out the initiative's legal flaws and discussed ways it could be circumvented.
"I don't see how you can ignore" the petition, Boulgarides said. "It gets to the heart of the question of whether we really have self-determination in Culver City, whether when the people speak, anybody listens."
Pachtman, who authored the initiative, agreed.
"Your staff seeks to show you that this initiative is defective in some ways, that they think it won't do what its proponents want it to do," he told council members.
Councilman Richard Alexander told Pachtman: "I think you miss the point . . . and the point is that the initiative is so poorly worded, in a legal sense, that it's flawed."
"That's your fault," Alexander added. "You're the attorney, you wrote it."
Alexander, who is not up for reelection in April, was the only council member to vote against reviewing the height limits.
Responded Pachtman: "Since you know what the intent is, why don't you work to accomplish it rather than playing your game and claiming it ain't no good."
Alexander defended the council's record on limiting growth and said the perception that Culver City is overbuilt is based on "distortion, lies and panic."
"I hate to do anything on the basis of perception," he said of his decision to oppose reviewing the height limits. "I think when the smoke blows away it will show that the City Council has not done a bad job at all."
But Councilman Paul Jacobs, who proposed the motion for the review, said: "The job of political leaders is to bring some consensus between perception and reality. If there is a gap (between them), that is the failure of yours and mine, Councilman Alexander, and that has to be remedied."
City staff will reevaluate the maximum height limits of buildings in areas zoned C-3 (now 167 feet), C-3MR (97 feet), S-1 (167 feet) and PD (height limit set case by case).
Also under review is a section of the zoning code that allows the council to approve buildings of any height in redevelopment areas if the Redevelopment Agency sets development guidelines for the project and it is approved by the Planning Commission.
The council also voted to prohibit the issuing of building permits for unapproved projects higher than 97 feet (about seven stories) during the review process, but did not address plans for the four 12-story buildings that have been approved for Corporate Pointe.
City Atty. Joseph Pannone said that the city clerk has 30 days to review the signatures on the petition before it is presented to the City Council.
The council, at its meeting on March 14 or 28, can adopt the initiative or reject it and let voters decide, he said.
If 15% of registered voters in Culver City, about 3,000 people, have signed the petition, a special election for the initiative will probably be called between June 22 and July 7, he said.