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Judge Questions City Motives in Housing Limits : Ruling: A Superior Court jurist says a Glendale moratorium on multifamily units appears designed to keep minorities out. City officials react angrily.

November 01, 1990|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Superior Court judge said Tuesday that Glendale's moratorium on new apartments and condominiums is vulnerable to legal attack because it seems to be aimed at keeping ethnic groups and minorities from moving into the city.

Judge Edward M. Ross criticized the city's planning tactics while upholding his Sept. 26 ruling on a related issue. On that date, he ordered Glendale to process three housing projects stalled by an earlier moratorium that was later invalidated by the courts. Glendale officials requested Tuesday's hearing to ask Ross to reverse his decision.

The judge said a new document submitted by Glendale officials suggested that city leaders halted construction of apartments and condominiums "because we have too many ethnics and minorities coming into our city, and we want to restrict them."

According to a transcript of the hearing, the judge said, "I think any time you file a declaration saying that, you make yourself very vulnerable to an attack."

The judge said he was not ruling on the legality of Glendale's growth-control measures. He said his observations came from reading a written statement filed by Glendale to explain why the city should not process the three housing projects.

Ross referred to a document submitted by J. Laurence Mintier, a planning consultant whose firm was hired by Glendale in 1989 to study the city's population growth and its relation to new apartments and condominiums.

"Many of the city of Glendale's new multifamily units are occupied by ethnic groups which historically have had larger families," Mintier said in his declaration.

He also stated, "The ethnic groups occupying the newer multifamily units also have a cultural tendency to use city park facilities in greater proportions than the population citywide and areawide."

At Tuesday's hearing, Ross told Assistant City Atty. Ron R. Braden that Mintier's declaration is "going to give you some real problems if your ordinance is ever attacked. . . . To the degree it shows the purpose is to put a damper on ethnic and minority populations because of their increased families moving in, I think your ordinance is very suspect."

When Ross suggested that the city's strategy is unconstitutional, Braden replied, "We are not excluding, we are not targeting ethnics or minorities."

"Sure you are," the judge responded.

City officials reacted angrily Wednesday to Ross' observation.

"It's a highly inappropriate and inaccurate comment," City Manager David Ramsay said. "I would hope a judge would stick to the points of law and not make social commentary. In this case, it was very inaccurate social commentary."

Mayor Larry Zarian added: "The judge has a real problem understanding the difference between a moratorium and racism. There's no correlation between the two. I don't understand his thinking. The judge is very confused."

City Council members said they froze development of multifamily units Sept. 27, 1988, because they were concerned that a construction boom was contributing to traffic congestion, school crowding and other problems. During the freeze, city officials have devised new planning rules aimed at reducing the number of new units that can be built and slowing the pace of construction.

The state Court of Appeal declared Glendale's original moratorium invalid one year after its adoption because the city had not allowed five days to elapse between its introduction and adoption. Another moratorium was adopted immediately and remains in effect until the new building rules are approved.

A committee of developers asked Ross in September to force the city to process three projects, together involving about 60 apartments and condominiums, that were turned away during the first moratorium. Ross said that because the freeze was illegal, the city must process the housing plans.

He upheld that decision Tuesday after describing Glendale's motion for reconsideration as frivolous.

Ross also said: "This court has serious doubts that the city of Glendale will, in fact, process the applications in good faith."

The judge therefore said he would retain jurisdiction over the case "for purposes of ensuring compliance with the prior court order."

Ramsay said Glendale will appeal the ruling.

The original ruling affects only three developers, who documented that their projects were ready for city processing when they were turned away by the illegal moratorium. City officials and local developers are uncertain how many other builders might try to seek permission to proceed with their stalled projects on the same grounds.

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