By JOYZELLE DAVIS
With construction cranes roaring to life again, can Los Angeles expect renewed disputes between pro-growth and slow-growth forces?
Probably not, say industry observers. The painful recession has muted passions on both sides, and created a new spirit of compromise. But one factor remains unchanged: The need for developers to get support from local homeowner groups if they hope to get their projects off the ground.
Several groups made their influence known in 1997 one pressured Universal Studios Inc. to reduce its proposed Universal City expansion by 40 percent and another persuaded Cal State Northridge to develop a commercial office park on 65 acres of surplus land instead of a retail project that the school had initially pursued.
In Glendale, with the city poised to add perhaps as much as 1.6 million square feet of development in the next few years, homeowners have stepped up their activism as well. Gene Mestel, president of the Glendale Homeowners Coordinating Council, said he has seen attendance at his organization’s meetings increase from an average of 12 people two years ago to 45 people now.
Even with this more active interest, the dialogue so far has been more conversational than argumentative. For both Universal Studios and CSUN, community groups and developers were able to reach compromises that allowed development to proceed a characteristic that could mark other efforts.
“Both developers and community groups seemed to get a dose of reality from the recession,” said Liz Watson, a land-use and government regulations attorney at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger.
She noted that community groups seem to have shifted from “a no-growth stance to a what-kind-of-growth approach,” while developers are more willing to meet with community groups and not push every project to the maximum building density.
While some real estate observers predict a detente between homeowner groups and developers, others say it’s too early to make such rosy predictions.
“Essentially, I’ve seen no change,” said developer Gerald Katell, who plans to begin construction in early 1998 on his already entitled Warner Ridge office and residential project in the western San Fernando Valley. “And I have a hard time believing it will ever change.”
Others, however, do see a shift and cite the role of government in drawing up strategic plans for their cities over the last few years. Such plans give both homeowner groups and developers a framework for growth.
In these post-recession times, there is greater willingness for government to encourage and assist business growth, said Anthony Canzoneri, an attorney with the law firm of Brown, Winfield & Canzoneri whose clients include developer J.H. Snyder Co. and the cities of Monterey Park and Cerritos.
Homeowner groups seem to be more receptive to the idea that growth can potentially generate jobs, enhance residential property values, increase revenues to fund city services and possibly even improve public safety as foot traffic returns to blighted areas.
“There seems to be less of a knee-jerk reaction to growth,” Canzoneri said.
That doesn’t mean homeowner groups are no longer concerned about proposed developments. Community organizations in Westwood have been among the highest profile lately in their opposition to developer Ira Smedra’s proposed entertainment-retail complex.
Leaders of those organizations are quick to point out that they support development proposals within Westwood Village, as long as they comply with existing building and design restrictions. Smedra’s proposal would exceed current restrictions and require an amendment to the Village Specific Plan.
Some see the city of Glendale as more representative of what will happen in other areas as development picks up. The city is in the enviable position of having one of the tightest office markets in the region. A number of developers are chasing Glendale sites to build office and retail buildings. But Glendale residents have increasingly voiced concerns about the traffic that those proposed developments would generate in downtown.
During the last building boom, most Glendale residents were excited that the suburb was luring such corporate tenants as Nestle USA, Cigna HealthCare of California and IHOP Corp.
“And now that we have them, people are beginning to question if we really need more,” said Jeanne Armstrong, Glendale’s director of development services.
Mestel, who coordinates 22 homeowner associations in Glendale, said he supports efforts to attract new businesses. But he added that developers should have to take more financial responsibility for the impacts of their construction.
His council has not opposed any of the new office buildings proposed for downtown Glendale, but it does advocate that developers pay for infrastructure improvements to mitigate increased traffic congestion, he said.