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With 10 years of residential growth slowing, the city looks for ways to lessen the
impact on infrastructure and quality of life.

By Nick Green
STAFF WRITER

Torrance's almost decadelong residential building boom is over, done in by a
combination of political and economic forces.

Last year the number of approved housing units in the city declined to double digits
-- 61 -- for the first time since 1996, when just a dozen were given the green light.


But the legacy of that boom -- an increase in traffic, a strain on some municipal
services and, perhaps most significantly, an unprecedented shift in the city's
political climate -- remains.

"It will take us some time to adjust to the additional population we have in the city
of Torrance," said Mayor Frank Scotto, elected last June along with two other council
members who shared a platform of dramatically slowing the pace of residential
development.

"We now have to try to catch up with the city services that are being impacted by the
addition of all these homes," he added. "Where do we find the money to add more
paramedic units? Where do we find the monies to add more police officers? That's the
problem."

To be sure, there are still large-scale housing projects going on in the city of
Torrance. A half-dozen are under way, sprinkled throughout the city, that together
account for roughly 750 homes.

But all but one of those were approved in 2003, the year residential development
approvals peaked in Torrance at almost 600 housing units.

There could have been many more, possibly inadvertently creating a housing glut given
the slowing real estate market.

More than 1,400 proposed homes in three dense developments -- 104 condominiums on the
former Days Inn site on Pacific Coast Highway, 917 condominiums at Del Amo Fashion
Center and 409 more near the Costco between Skypark Drive and Lomita Boulevard --
were spiked by city officials before they got too far along. Another 226 proposed
homes behind the Del Amo Financial Center were rejected by the City Council in 2005.

Today, the prospects for new large-scale subdivisions or condominium projects in
Torrance are poor given the economic and political climate, said developer Doug
Maupin of Torrance-based Maupin Development Inc., which has built several hundred
homes locally in the past six years.

Economically, Maupin said he has noticed the slowdown at a 60-unit senior condominium
project his company built at Torrance Boulevard and Madrona Avenue. "We're at about
half the (sales) pace we used to be," he said.

Politically, Maupin said, pressure from Torrance's powerful homeowner associations
has been a major factor in putting the brakes on large housing projects.

"They feel it's overcrowded in the South Bay -- there's too many people," he said.

While studies have shown that commercial development and commuter traffic are more to
blame for the increased number of cars on Torrance's streets than housing
construction, the perception of rampant residential growth caught the attention of
residents and policy-makers.

The 1,400 homes built in the past six years is more than double the number built in
the preceding six.

That's added an estimated 4,400 people to the county's sixth largest city since 2000,
sending the population to more than 142,000 in 2005, according to the U.S. Census
Bureau.

"Traffic, I think, would be the main thing people have noticed in particular," said
Todd Hays, co-president of the Old Torrance Neighborhood Association and chairman of
a committee Scotto appointed to examine uses for the Del Amo parcel once considered
for the dense condominium project.

"It just seems there's a lot more people on the roads, especially at rush hour," he
added.

The tipping point for residential development came about not solely because of the
sheer volume of homes being approved -- although that was certainly a factor -- but
because of how it was being done.

Large parcels of former industrial or commercial land were being rezoned residential,
infuriating residents who had long cherished the notion -- true or not -- that
Torrance was a balanced city, as its slogan goes.

Moreover, critics believed those moves often violated the city's own General Plan --
its blueprint for growth. A plan update has been halted over concerns it was hijacked
by pro-growth factions and will be reworked with greater community input.

"When they put in these massive condominium blocks in what used to be commercial
areas or industrial areas, it just kind of tears at the fabric of the community,"
Hays said. "The backlash against the tremendous residential development that went on
there for a few years has put the reins on the current development climate."

That backlash also claimed the political careers of former Mayor Dan Walker and two
City Council incumbents last June.

It was the first time in the city's history voters had dumped an incumbent first-term
mayor, Scotto said.

The election results confirmed a survey the previous year performed by a coalition of
Torrance homeowners associations, said Robert Thompson, president of the Madrona
Homeowners Association.

"(The survey) showed us what the people wanted and the election verified that," he
said. "(A total of) 98 percent of the people were upset about the way the growth in
the city was going and the election reflected their feelings."

The scale of the win, which many believe mirrored the depth of the electorate's
discontent, caught even candidates who triumphed, like Councilman Bill Sutherland,
unawares.

"I thought it was going to be close, but it wasn't close in the least," he said. "It
was quite a mandate."

With that mandate Scotto and the new council have turned their attention to
infrastructure they believe has suffered from the development.

For instance, the council wants to add a fifth paramedic unit during peak daytime
hours.

No additional paramedic units have been added since 1996, said David Dumais, the Fire
Department's operations division chief.

Meanwhile, the number of incidents the department has responded to increased from
10,000 in 1998 to 12,500 last year.

"We've been on an increase the last five years," Dumais said. "We've had an average
rise in incidents of about 5 percent in the last five years. If it continues, are we
going to catch up? That's the question."

The aging population has played a role in the increase in paramedic calls -- as has
the fact that more commuters means more traffic accidents, he said.

More traffic also puts more strain on city streets.

That's prompted a renewed focus on street projects, for example, and the city has
allocated $1.5 million to repave 190th Street in conjunction with neighboring Redondo
Beach.

But in the wake of the growth the city plans to reassess all its needs -- from
recreational amenities such as gyms and swimming pools to public transit and
affordable housing.

The buzzword now is smart growth rather than unrestrained growth.

"The sad part of all this is that with all this building we haven't addressed the
social issues -- we haven't even built any affordable senior housing," Scotto said.
"There's locations in the city that potentially could be park sites and things like
that rather than more housing development.

"This council recognizes that we need to do everything in our power to increase these
services," he added. "Hopefully in the next three to five years we'll be able to do
that catch-up we need to do."

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