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Judge Rules Apartment Building Ban Illegal

February 09, 1989|SANTIAGO O'DONNELL | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Monday ruled that Glendale's moratorium against apartment construction is illegal, citing a series of procedural errors that she said showed city officials were acting in bad faith.

Judge Miriam Vogel, reversing an earlier decision upholding the moratorium, ordered the city to begin processing the estimated 35 building proposals that were held up by the five-month ban.

"This entire case is not passing the smell test," Vogel said. "At this point, I think the city is in court with unclean hands."

The judge had told city officials twice before that they failed to follow their city charter in adopting the moratorium and, on Monday, was angered by the city's failure to file court documents on time.

City Atty. Frank Manzano said Tuesday that he believes the judge is wrong. He said the city will appeal her decision.

Five Days

Vogel faulted the city for not waiting the five days that the city charter requires for public comment before adopting the moratorium. She ordered Glendale officials to treat whatever building applications were pending on the date the ordinance was adopted "in the same manner they would have been processed but for the illegal adoption of the ordinance."

Vogel said she will sign an order Thursday declaring the moratorium illegal, but will allow the city 10 days to prepare its appeal of her decision.

Vogel's involvement with the case began in December, when she ruled that the moratorium was legal but that it had been improperly enacted because the city had not allowed the five-day waiting period.

Again, in a related hearing last month, Vogel criticized city officials for extending the moratorium without waiting for public comment, but she did not overturn it.

On Monday, the judge became angered when she learned that city attorneys had failed to deliver a court document to the lawyers of the Moratorium Litigation Committee, a developers group that challenged the moratorium in court.

In addition, she learned during Monday's hearing that the city had ignored her concerns and extended the moratorium Jan. 10 without a waiting period.

"I'm looking at the city of Glendale and its attorneys, and I can't understand how mistake after mistake keeps happening," Vogel said Monday. "It just doesn't fly."

One of the mistakes Vogel referred to was the city's failure to provide in time for the hearing a written explanation of why the moratorium was extended without the five-day wait.

Senior Assistant City Atty. Scott Howard pleaded that the city was caught unaware.

"It's like the Hundred Year's rain," Howard said. "You can prepare as much as you want, but when it comes there's nothing you can do about it."

Vogel was not impressed. "That explanation is totally inadequate to me," she told Howard.

Jan. 31, the City Council had started the process of readopting the extension with a five-day waiting period for public comment. On Tuesday, the City Council met in a closed session to discuss the consequences of Vogel's decision.

After the session, the council voted to extend the moratorium 90 days for a second time, apparently confident that the five-day waiting period requirement had been satisfied.

Howard said the city might not approve any building permits before the city's expected adoption of tougher zoning laws. He said a 1974 court decision in favor of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors allows cities to withhold building permits, pending legislation to reform zoning laws.

'Disastrous Ramifications'

But, Howard said in court, Vogel's decision "could have disastrous consequences and ramifications." The projects held up by the moratorium amount to about 250 building units, said Dana Sherman, an attorney representing the builders.

The initial apartment construction moratorium was adopted last September to avoid a flood of building permit applications during the city's re-evaluation of building and zoning codes.

The City Council voted to extend the moratorium until April 24 because the city was unable to draw up the new zoning guidelines in time.

Tuesday, as the City Council voted to extend the ordinance, developers in the audience sighed in disbelief. "This is incredible," said Haik Vartanian, the leader of the Fair Growth Coalition, a builders' consortium that opposes the moratorium.

"The council has such an ego problem that they are aggravating the situation and making the problem worse," Vartanian said. "If they think Vogel doesn't stand for anything they are mistaken."

A court reporter was present at the meeting, recording it for the Fair Growth Coalition, which intends to use the information to challenge the city.

City Council members agreed not to comment on their decision, and have referred all questions to Manzano. "The judge is totally wrong about the law and the facts of this case," Manzano said. "Do I need to say more?"

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