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Development Tops Agenda for Laws in '90 : Government: Despite the waning housing market, several cities passed slow-growth measures. Other issues included noise, smoking and the longevity of city officials.

January 06, 1991|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So what's on people's minds these days?

If city laws passed in 1990 are any indication, San Gabriel Valley residents are worried about noisy neighbors and tobacco smoke, stewing about never-say-die city officials and graffiti vandals.

But more than anything, they're still fretting about overdevelopment.

"It's still an issue, even though most cities have reined in the development process," San Gabriel City Manager Robert Clute said.

Consider some of the "slow-growth" laws passed last year, even as the housing market was shrinking like wet rawhide:

* At least three cities--Arcadia, Pasadena and San Gabriel--passed "anti-mansionization" laws, restricting the expansion of single-family homes.

* Sierra Madre and Pasadena imposed new restrictions on hillside development.

* West Covina prohibited the construction of second residential units on single lots, even where property is zoned for multiple-family use.

* Rosemead put tight restrictions on what developers and property owners can do to native oak trees--a prime part of the San Gabriel Valley landscape a century ago.

Despite gloomy economic forecasts, parts of the San Gabriel Valley continue to be prime targets for developers. "There's still money coming in from overseas," Monterey Park Councilwoman Betty Couch said, referring to Asian developers who have found lucrative investments in the region.

Developers continue to look hungrily at vacant hillside locations, with their broad stretches of forested land and prime views.

Sierra Madre City Manager James E. McRea pointed out neighboring cities where houses stretch high into the San Gabriel foothills as examples of what his city is trying to avoid. "All you have to do is look at Glendale and Burbank," he said. "Look at what happened to Monrovia and Arcadia in the 1980s."

At the same time, single-family homeowners, feeling financial strains, are more inclined to spread out on their own property than to invest in larger homes. That brings the prospect of rows of shoulder-to-shoulder two-story houses, city officials said.

"I think it's disturbed a lot of people," Clute said. "There have been a lot of complaints to city councils and planning commissions that some of the two-story houses are too big for their lots, that they overwhelm the houses next to them."

The anti-mansionization laws limit how much property owners can build or add to their houses. In San Gabriel, for example, new second stories can have no more than 75% of the floor space of the first stories.

In effect, Clute said, the city is banning box-like colonial-style homes. "Who would have thought the day would come when a colonial house was outlawed?" he asked.

Some officials predict, however, that the slow-growth sentiment will cool down. "Based on the economy and on the focus that's been given to that issue in the past, I don't see it as an issue in the year ahead," Pasadena City Director Rick Cole said.

Then there were the noise ordinances.

Maybe it's an outgrowth of development or part of the baggage of suburban living. But based on legislative action in the region last year, life in the San Gabriel Valley seems to be getting noisier.

There was South El Monte's "loud party" ordinance, making it a violation to play music that can be heard 50 feet from its source. There was Claremont's attack on those growling leaf blowers, making it illegal to use the gasoline-powered version of the device but not the electric or battery-powered ones.

And there were some legislative attacks on burglar alarms that go off accidentally. Irwindale and Arcadia imposed fines on owners of burglar alarms that go off three times in a year. In Irwindale, there was the additional possibility of having an alarm system declared a public nuisance and disconnected permanently.

There were also health and safety concerns expressed legislatively. South El Monte prohibited smoking in city-owned buildings. Soon after the Glendale and Santa Barbara fires in July, Covina banned wood-shake roofs. El Monte imposed strict registration requirements on local motels to discourage such illegal activities as prostitution.

Meanwhile, Pomona decided to elect its City Council members from districts rather than at-large, and Sierra Madre limited all commission members to two consecutive terms.

Are these laws all symptomatic of deep community sentiment? Not necessarily. Some officials said ordinances can be the product of the idiosyncrasies of a council member or two.

Couch of Monterey Park cited her city's new mandate that businesses keep spray paint under lock and key as an anti-graffiti measure. Couch, who voted against the measure as ineffective, said Councilwoman Marie T. Purvis had imposed "her own personal direction" on the city.

But Purvis, who proposed the ordinance, said she was "responding to a cry from the public. . . . Go through my city and see the mess."

Purvis said she proposed the law after one constituent complained that she had seen a teen-ager buying spray paint from a hardware store in violation of a state law prohibiting such sales to minors. There had been no hesitation by the store's clerk, Purvis said.

"I felt one way to stop (sales to minors) was to make the sales clerk put some time in," she said. "If you make him take a key out and walk over to a case, he might look at the kid and say, 'He's not of age.' "

Looking ahead, officials said city finances will be the big issue in recession-plagued 1991. Some already were predicting new tax initiatives and measures allowing city governments to spend municipal reserves.

"A lot of cities have reached the end of their rope," Clute said. "There will be an end to shifting finances around to keep fire and police going. Many city revenues are just not going to be there."

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