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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : When Industry Says 'NIMBY'

September 27, 1993

The need for residential hotels called SROs to house the working poor has been evident and demonstrated for some time in Orange County. However, bringing these units into existence in a county where low-income people somehow are seen but not always housed has been another story entirely.

After much debate, the county has in the pipeline only the 96-unit Costa Mesa Village, to open late this year in a converted former motel. That's too little for too great a demand.

Now a proposal for another SRO (single room occupancy) is running into controversy in Irvine but, interestingly, not because of the usual opposition from homeowners who fear that such housing will lower property values and bring undesirables into the neighborhood. Previous plans to locate the SRO closer to Irvine residential areas were shelved.

This time, it is businesses in a heavy-industry area that are raising objections. Their argument goes something like this: The introduction of residential units into an area where asphalt manufacturers, cement crushers, rubbish transfer stations and other businesses are welcome ultimately will create pressures on the businesses. That is, they argue, an SRO would set a precedent that would erode the special zoning protections for their businesses and open the door to new residents, and new complaints, about business.

In fact, a hotel--which is what an SRO is according to the zoning law--is permissible at the site on Jamboree Road in Irvine under city zoning provisions. And if proponents of residential hotels have learned anything from experience, it is that they must make accommodations with wary neighbors, especially those who themselves may feel unwanted to a degree. SRO planners say they will take great care to be good neighbors and ask people who rent to sign waivers acknowledging that the industries have a right to operate. There is every reason to believe that they will act in good faith.

But with or without the SRO, the businesses inevitably will have to reckon with change. When it is eventually converted, the nearby Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, slated for closure, probably will have a housing component. The Irvine Planning Commission, which is likely to consider the SRO proposal this fall, should be able to deal with the request for a special permit for the residential units in a way that provides for accommodation.

The NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome is never far below the surface of the debate wherever SROs are proposed. But they already have sprung up successfully alongside commercial and light industrial firms in San Diego. There is no reason why they can't do the same in Orange County.

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