PARAMOUNT — Caught between slow-growth proponents and developers with millions of dollars in projects at stake, the City Council has changed its position on growth and is now recommending its own measure to limit construction.
Last week, the council by a 5-0 vote asked its administrative staff to prepare an ordinance limiting multiple-family housing to 22 units per acre. The existing rule allows up to 70 units per acre. Housing for senior citizens would be exempt from the new limit.
Developers and slow-growth proponents are expected to fill the council chambers Tuesday when the ordinance is scheduled for discussion.
"We realize this issue is of great concern to people. We are trying to heal the old wounds," Mayor Charles R.Weldon said.
At least 10 projects valued at an estimated $65 million and in various stages of planning could be affected by passage of the ordinance, according to Patrick West, deputy city manager.
All Have Initial Approval
None is under construction, but the city has given initial approval to them. Most are well over the 22-unit proposed limit.
Weldon said the council took the steps to limit growth after the campaign for the April 12 election, when it became apparent that voters are dissatisfied with the rapid building going on in the city.
"No poll was taken, but going door-to-door and hearing what people were saying made the voters' sentiments clear to me," Weldon said.
Weldon, who was not up for reelection, supported Councilman Gerald A.Mulrooney. Mulrooney was reelected along with Councilwoman Esther Caldwell. Caldwell was the only person on the five-member council who had pushed to limit growth before the election.
The council's flip-flop may have been pushed by another event: circulation of petitions for a measure, almost identical to that proposed by the council, that Concerned Citizens for Controlled Growth wants put before the voters.
The group, which needs 15% of the 11,000 registered voters to qualify the initiative for a special election or the next regular election, started circulating petitions at the beginning of April. The group has until September to gather the signatures.
Weldon said he had hoped that the council's proposed ordinance would eliminate the need for a special election that could cost the city of 40,000 between $20,000 and $30,000.
But the slow-growth advocates will not stop gathering signatures, said George Tanner, chairman of the slow-growth movement.
"I don't trust the City Council," Tanner said. "What's to say the majority won't change its mind later?"
Tanner is aided in the petition drive by his son, Lloyd Tanner, a former city planning commissioner. In November, Lloyd Tanner was fired by the council after he questioned the building trend. Caldwell, who appointed Tanner to the commission, voted against his dismissal. Lloyd Tanner is Caldwell's son-in-law.
If the petition drive continues, Weldon said he thinks the council should drop its pursuit of the ordinance. "This is double overkill. I can't justify an ordinance if people are going ahead with this initiative," Weldon said. "I might recommend (on Tuesday) that the council drop the whole idea of the ordinance and let the voters decide."
Normally, an ordinance could not take effect immediately, requiring public hearings before a final vote, and then 30 to 60 days before it would become effective. However, the staff is also preparing an emergency moratorium on construction. This would place an immediate ban on building for 45 days.
As far as developers are concerned, Weldon said he anticipates that they will be "very vocal" at the council meeting.
Kirk Hankla of International City Mortgage in Bellflower said he will be there to give the council his view.
"This is nuts," Hankla said last week. "I'm not going to sit still for this."
Hankla said he will defend development Tuesday because he believes the slow-growth debate is based on fallacious arguments.
"I've heard all types of arguments, from the city schools will be impacted to hordes of Yuppies will descend on the city. It's crazy," Hankla said. He said his company has invested about $250,000 in a proposed project to construct 43 units on just over an acre of land in the 7227-7239 block of Richfield Street in Paramount.
Charles A. Smith, senior vice president of BentallDevelopment Co. of Orange, which has its parent organization in Canada, says he will be at Tuesday's meeting to observe.
"There is no cause for alarm over building in the city. After careful study, the city staff has made sure building occurs in an orderly fashion," he said.
Smith would not discuss the amount of money his company has invested, but he said almost five acres near Paramount Boulevard and the Century Freeway is now under construction. The company is also in the process of acquiring 2.85 acres in the city for another development.
The Bentall Co. has proposed placing 305 apartment units on the nearly five acres of land, according to city records, meaning it would violate the proposed new standards.
Since 1985, more than 24 acres of land in Paramount has been zoned for new housing, including single-family housing, apartments and condominiums. Fifteen acres remain as potential sites for residential development.
The developers have been solicited by the city as part of its effort to change a negative image of the city. A 1982 Rand Corp. report called the community one of the nation's suburban disaster areas.
The downtown, which has been redeveloped with more than $150 million in private and Redevelopment Agency funds since 1981, needs the housing projects to prosper, according to city officials.