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Pasadena Battle Looms Over Bid to Curb Growth

February 11, 1988|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — Just three days after a sweeping initiative proposal to restrict development was submitted at City Hall this week, the battle lines have begun to form in what could become a furious slow-growth fight similar to those that have engulfed other San Gabriel Valley cities.

Developers, business people and some city officials say the initiative could have a devastating impact on the city.

"It is the most destructive proposal I have ever seen," said Mayor John Crowley, who, along with the Chamber of Commerce and others, strongly opposes it.

At the same time, slow-growth advocates from around the city cheered the initiative, saying its sweeping restrictions may finally bring what they consider rampant development under control.

'Inevitable Reaction'

"We've reached a point where the level of development is intolerable," said City Director William Paparian. "This initiative is the inevitable reaction of people feeling they have lost control over what has happened."

The initiative, sponsored by the Northeast Pasadena Residents Assn., calls for a moratorium on all major commercial and residential development until at least July, 1990.

It would require developers to pay a number of new fees, not only to discourage development but also to ensure that the city would be repaid for street, utility and sewage improvements that largely benefit business.

The proposal also would require developers to replace any housing destroyed because of residential or commercial development.

Donald Zimbler, one of the organizers of the initiative, said the wide-ranging proposal attempts to strike at the problems created by rapid growth from many angles.

"We've included everything that everyone has ever discussed but no one has ever done anything about," Zimbler said. "The time is right. If it gets to the ballot, I have no doubt it will succeed."

'Grinding Halt'

But opponents say the initiative goes too far and could kill all growth in the city.

"It's an all-or-none panacea," said Bruce Ackerman, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce. "Everything that is not in the ground now is going to come to a grinding halt."

The Northeast Pasadena Residents Assn., a group formed to stop construction of the 184-unit Rose Townhomes development in their neighborhood, submitted the petition, with 7,847 signatures, to the city clerk Monday.

Under state law, the petition must be signed by at least 10% of the registered voters in a city, or 6,312 voters in Pasadena. If enough signatures are validated, the initiative will go before the voters.

Most observers concede that the initiative will qualify and will probably appear on the June 7 ballot.

Disgruntled residents throughout the state have increasingly used the initiative process, which allows citizens to draw up their own legislation and vote it into law.

For example, residents of San Gabriel last year successfully enacted a one-year moratorium on multi-unit housing projects.

The initiative proposal comes at a time of unprecedented development in Pasadena.

Record Eclipsed

In the last fiscal year, the city issued building permits for more than $190 million in new construction, far eclipsing the previous record of $137 million set in 1983.

In the first seven months of this fiscal year, permits on $93.5 million in new construction have been issued. While the figure is little off last year's pace, Don Nollar, the city's planning director, said he expects another record year because of several large projects in the works.

Zimbler said the moratorium would give residents and city officials time to study permanent ways to control growth.

Zimbler said the initiative's restrictions would allow some construction, but it would require the unanimous support of the Board of Directors.

Foes Respond

"If we're going to put something in and it is good for Pasadena, why wouldn't everyone agree to it?" he asked. "Why not be tough about it?"

Responded Crowley: "That's not rational government, that's government by veto."

The call for a moratorium has provoked a quick response from opponents, and the Chamber of Commerce has already begun organizing a group to fight it.

Director William Thomson said the initiative would stop any commercial development larger than 25,000 square feet or any residential development with more than 25 units.

"Those are very small projects," he said. "The initiative is styled as a limited-growth proposal, but actually it is a no-growth proposal."

Anthony Thompson, a longtime slow-growth advocate who has been involved in the formation of a slow-growth group called Pasadena Residents in Defense of Their Environment (PRIDE), said the moratorium would not hurt the city because it would be temporary.

'Household Word'

Zimbler added that a moratorium is hardly extreme, given the volume of new construction and the outcry from residents. " Moratorium is becoming a household word in Southern California," he said.

The imposition of new fees and condition on developers has also drawn criticism.

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