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City May Kill Controversial '1-for-1' Housing Plan : Development: Council action is seen as a victory for developers. A moratorium is extended on the demolition of low-income units.

February 14, 1991|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Bowing to months of pressure and criticism from the development community, the City Council this week signaled its readiness to kill a year-old law intended to preserve the city's stock of low-income apartments.

After an extended and at times contentious debate, the council voted Tuesday to draft an ordinance that would repeal the controversial measure, while at the same time extending for 45 days a moratorium imposed last fall on the demolition of low-income apartments in the city.

In continuing the moratorium, several council members expressed hope that the search would continue for a compromise proposal to replace the so-called "one-for-one ordinance," which requires developers who tear down low-cost units to either replace them with the same number of new affordable units or pay fees to a city housing fund.

Such a compromise has yet to be struck, despite numerous meetings between developers, city representatives and housing advocates, and it remained unclear during the council session just how close the various sides are to agreement.

"We are still not close to a compromise. . . . We seem to have hit a wall," said Rich Johnson, director of public affairs for the Long Beach Board of Realtors.

Others seemed more optimistic. "We need more time. . . . We're going to come back with a solution," said Councilman Jeffrey A. Kellogg, who has helped lead the charge to repeal the one-for-one ordinance.

The politically powerful development community has attacked the law as illegal and unfair, arguing that it puts the burden of building new low-cost housing on their industry and makes it prohibitively expensive to build new, higher-density projects.

Last week, the matter was thrown into Superior Court when the Apartment Assn. of Los Angeles County filed a lawsuit against the city, challenging the ordinance.

Even before the lawsuit, the ordinance's legality was being questioned by the city's own attorney, John R. Calhoun, who--in an opinion released by Kellogg--concluded last fall that a recent court ruling in a similar San Francisco case invalidated the Long Beach law.

Housing advocates have countered that Calhoun's interpretation is just one lawyer's opinion. "We believe one-for-one is perfectly legal and perfectly defendable," argued Long Beach Legal Aid attorney Dennis Rockway. "The city should get behind its law and defend it."

But the council, in a radical turnaround since its initial embrace of the ordinance in 1989, seems more interested in getting rid of it. Of the nine councilmen, only Ray Grabinski voted against Doug Drummond's motion to prepare for next week's council meeting a proposal to repeal the housing regulation. The motion to extend the moratorium passed 7 to 2, with Drummond and Wallace Edgerton opposed.

In the course of the council's more than two-hour discussion of the matter, Grabinski lambasted business interests for urging the council to scuttle the housing law before coming up with a new proposal.

"I cannot believe the business community is bailing out like this," he declared.

The atmosphere was much more cordial when the one-for-one requirement was unanimously approved in mid-1989. There were no protests then from the business community, and Edgerton lauded the ordinance as "an excellent beginning" to the city's efforts to preserve its low-income housing stock.

Indeed, the one-for-one regulations were seen as the most palatable of several proposals made by housing advocates, who for years have criticized the city for not doing more to provide affordable housing for the city's sizeable population of poor. Of Long Beach's 78,000 low-income families, it is estimated that nearly half pay more than 30% of their income for rent--the standard rule of thumb for what a family should spend on housing. As of 1989, government planners also said that another 5,000 low-income units were needed to accommodate population growth over the next few years.

As the one-for-one requirements became better known, however, developers mounted an intensive attack, and Edgerton and other council members came to regret their approval. "The day we passed it unanimously, we made a mistake," Edgerton said Tuesday, insisting that the council didn't fully realize what the law was about then.

He went on to question whether the city even has a shortage of affordable housing. "I can take people to block after block of vacancies. Part of the issue (in renting them) is safety. But it doesn't necessarily mean we don't have enough affordable housing already."

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