PASADENA — Mayor William Thomson's plan for community hearings to resolve the bitter debate over controlling development is being criticized by slow-growth advocates as "too little, too late."
Thomson proposed the hearings this month to quell the continued outcry over development despite the defeat in the June election of Proposition G, the city's first slow-growth initiative.
With the threat of another slow-growth initiative looming, Thomson said it is time for all sides to stop fighting at the ballot box and resolve the issue together.
But slow-growth advocates say the city has ignored complaints about the pace of development and add that they have little confidence the city is prepared to act.
The leaders of Pasadena Residents in Defense of their Environment (PRIDE) say they will attend the hearings, but will continue with their effort to put a slow-growth measure on the ballot next March.
Residents' Interests Subverted
"In every instance when we've had these citywide discussions, the interests of the residents have been subverted," said Anthony Thompson, a member of the group's steering committee. "You don't have to be very bright to realize that the city government is pro-development."
Claire Bogaard, executive director of the historical preservation group, Pasadena Heritage, said the community has been calling for more controls on development for years to no avail.
"It's healthy to discuss the issues, but too many years have passed and too many community groups have been ignored," she said. "I'm not overly confident of the outcome of these hearings."
The Northeast Pasadena Residents Assn., which sponsored Proposition G, is considering whether to attend the hearings.
Donald Zimbler, a leader of the group, called Thomson's plan a public relations move to defuse public complaints about development.
'Not Going to Listen'
"I am absolutely convinced they (board members) are not going to listen," Zimbler said.
The first hearing will be held July 19 at Victory Park. Later hearings will be held over the next three months in different locations throughout the city.
The hearings will be open to the public and invitations will be sent to slow-growth groups, neighborhood organizations, major developers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Realtors.
Thomson's call for unity on the growth issue, his first major act since becoming mayor in May, comes at a time of unprecedented development in the city.
According to building permits, the most accurate indicator of development trends, proposals for residential and commercial projects reached a record $216 million during only 11 months of the last fiscal year, which ended last month. The total will be higher when permits for June are tabulated.
The previous high of $190 million was set during the 1986-87 fiscal year. Before that, the record was $137 million in 1984-85.
Fights Over Development
There also has been increasing public unrest over development.
In the past year, the most controversial political fights in the city have been over development issues, such as the Rose Townhomes, a 184-unit residential project located north of Pasadena High School on Washington Boulevard, the Pasadena Marketplace, a 350,000-square-foot shopping mall in Old Pasadena, and Proposition G.
Thomson said the divisive and confusing campaign over Proposition G was one of the main reasons he asked all sides to sit down together to work out a solution.
The initiative called for a moratorium on major residential and commercial development until July 1, 1990, or until the city completed rewriting its General Plan to include stricter development standards.
Projects smaller than 25,000 square feet or those approved unanimously by the board would have been exempted from the moratorium.
It would have also required developers to pay several new fees aimed at discouraging building and ensuring that the city would be repaid for street, utility and sewage improvements that largely benefited businesses.
Thomson said Proposition G, which was defeated by a vote of 19,807 to 8,699, would have been a disaster.
In the furor of the campaign, it was difficult to ensure that voters knew enough about the proposal to make an informed decision on such a critical issue, Thomson said.
"The initiative process has a lot of good things about it, but when you try to apply it to something as complex as land use, all too often the resulting legislation is confusing," he said.
Fighting a slow-growth initiative also is costly, time-consuming and divisive, said Bruce Phillips, the executive director of Pasadena Marketplace Associates, which is developing the Marketplace shopping mall in Old Pasadena.
Phillips supports the hearings because they may help stop the squabbling that he said has benefited neither side.
"It's a good idea for everyone to sit down to avoid the confrontations that will inevitably occur otherwise," he said. "Certainly, it's a much better approach than letting fate have its way."