LONG BEACH — The City Council has approved an emergency six-month moratorium on development aimed at controlling overcrowding and crime in the waterfront district.
The freeze, enacted last month after three hours of emotional debate, affects only a small portion of the city's 2nd District. However, supporters and critics said the action challenges the foundation of the city's redevelopment policy. Some city officials and community activists also expressed fear that it raises issues that could splinter the city.
The moratorium, the most recent in a spate of such actions this year, bans construction of buildings over 25 feet high--two-stories--along the district's major arteries, including Broadway, 4th, 7th and 10th streets.
A plan developed a year ago called for the city to concentrate multistory housing along such thoroughfares. But area residents sought the moratorium that temporarily bans such multistory projects because they blame them for increasing congestion and crime.
City Planning Director Robert Paternoster said that at least two planned multistory projects will be frozen by the council's action.
Over the past 10 years, Long Beach officials have been pushed by community activists to construct low-income housing throughout the city. Such projects have been a part of an aggressive redevelopment program that has stressed growth.
But adoption of the 2nd District's construction moratorium, as well as similar freezes enacted by the council earlier this year for other districts, signals a shift away from that redevelopment policy.
In recent years, development has increased dramatically in the 2nd District, a mix of neighborhoods encompassing some of the city's most affluent and most impoverished areas. It also includes several blocks of middle-class neighborhoods dominated by old-fashioned California bungalows and palm trees.
A dozen residents of these areas showed up at last week's meeting to complain that development of low-income housing has increased the number of drug deals, assaults and robberies in their streets.
"We're fed up with rampant development and the crime it's brought to the community," said Catherine LaRosa.
But Paternoster called such comments "too simplistic." He said that low-income housing is being unfairly blamed for the city's problems.
City councilmen, though, have found themselves increasingly squeezed in a political vice as they try to reconcile pressure from anti-growth residents and pro-growth real estate agents. On Tuesday, several said they are concerned that some of the same developments they and their predecessors voted for this past decade are destroying middle-class neighborhoods.
"Blocks and blocks of bungalows have been replaced with brand new, cheap apartment buildings jammed with welfare people and other low-income people," Councilman Wallace Edgerton said. He said he had proposed the "emergency" moratorium to cut down on crime in his district.
It passed 7 to 2. The two councilmen who opposed Edgerton's proposal voiced concern that the restrictions implied that poor people are responsible for the city's growing crime.
Evan Anderson Braude, councilman for the downtown 1st District, also said he voted against the measure because it was a scattershot approach to public policy. "We must look at the city as a whole," he said. "We can't look at it in segments."
Adoption of the moratorium created an unlikely alliance of developers and advocates for low-income housing.
The developers complained that the moratorium will stymie projects they have planned for the 2nd District.
The activists expressed fears that the moratorium was the beginning of a "backlash" against the poor. "We're pretty shook up. This could lead to a real polarization of the city," said Alan Lowenthal, president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved.
Edgerton said he expects to win the council's support for a permanent zoning ordinance banning tall buildings in his district when the six-month moratorium ends.
But some of his colleagues said the city should consider some type of broader moratorium on building.
"We're concerned that this change is just a panacea," said Councilman Les Robbins, who called for a major reappraisal of the city's housing objectives and its crime problem. "I'm supporting it in deference to my colleague Wally. But I don't think it's the answer."