Horse riders and homeowners are banding together for a showdown with developers who want to tear down a popular Atwater horse stable and build condominiums or apartments in its place.
The stable is one of several on the east bank of the Los Angeles River that are popular with horse owners because they are just a few minutes' ride, via a tunnel under the Golden State Freeway, to the nearly 60 miles of horse trails at Griffith Park. But over the years, about half the stables there have been demolished for residential development.
Parkview Apartments, a Los Angeles partnership, has applied for a zoning change that would permit construction of 60 to 80 apartments or condominiums on the Rigali Avenue site of the 60-year-old Los Feliz Stables, at the end of Garden Avenue. A public hearing on the matter is set for Tuesday morning at Los Angeles City Hall.
"I wish they would just leave us alone," said Jim Rosser, manager of the nearby Saddle and Sirloin horse club, "because this is history here."
The seven remaining stables in the neighborhood, most built during the 1920s and '30s, board more than 500 horses for people who live in nearby urban areas and saddle up mainly on evenings and weekends. Longtime riders fear that all the stables would eventually be turned into parking lots and apartments if zoning for the two-acre Los Feliz Stables property is changed from that permitting only agricultural uses to that allowing multiple-unit dwellings.
"I used to ride my bike down here when I was a kid and there were at least twice as many horse stables then as there are now," said Jane Shaw, 43, manager of Los Feliz Stables. She now leases the stables from the developers.
Some Atwater residents fear that the project will increase crime and traffic congestion. However, several other homeowners near the stables said they would prefer the asphalt and concrete of the apartments to the dust and horseflies of the stables.
Gary W. Neilsen, executive vice president of Parkview Apartments, said company officials want to build apartments because the stables are not profitable. Neilsen would not discuss the specifics of the finances other than to say that for the stables to remain, he would "probably have to more than double" the monthly lease, which Shaw said is about $2,500. Neilsen's firm owned and recently sold the 217-unit Los Feliz Village Apartments, which border the Los Feliz Stables on the east.
Shaw said she probably could not afford such an increase without making great personal sacrifices and substantially raising boarding fees, which run from $175 to $225 per month, about average for stables in the area.
However, she said she understood Neilsen's position.
"I don't blame him for trying to do something else," she said. "It's fair. But as long as he can try, then it's fair for me to try to see what I can do."
Ed Waite, president of the Atwater Homeowners Assn., has spearheaded a homeowners drive against the apartment construction by circulating petitions door-to-door and meeting with an aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs.
Traffic Problem Feared
"These streets are too narrow and can hardly support the traffic that is already there," Waite said.
Arline DeSanctis, a field deputy for Wachs who met with Waite and Shaw, said her office is taking no position on the zoning change at this time. "We're just watching it very closely to see what kind of impact this is having on the community," she said.
About 50 horse riders and homeowners gathered Tuesday night at the Griffith Park ranger station on Crystal Springs Drive for a meeting organized by the Griffith Park Horse Assn., which represents riders from Glendale, Burbank and Los Angeles.
Petitions were passed around as association president Dave Schmutz encouraged people to write to ask Wachs and members of the Planning Commission to attend Tuesday's hearing.
"It's only by going downtown and being vocal as hell that we can change something like this," he told the group. Schmutz said the association is planning to bus homeowners and horse riders to the hearing.
Some Dislike Stables
But there are those who would not mourn the disappearance of the stables.
"I'm kind of glad," said Joe Medel, who owns a Garden Avenue home that overlooks the stable property. "The flies and the dust are unbelievable. We get a breeze here in the mornings and in the evenings, and it gets everything covered with grime. Maybe if they kept the stable watered down it wouldn't be too bad."
Medel's next-door neighbor, Wanda Boggs, said, "When the wind blows, if I leave the windows open, it looks like a snowstorm in here. If I have the table set, I have to go wash the red grit off my dishes. The dust even gets in the cupboard. Our Jacuzzi has been empty for three years because we had to clean it so much, because it would just fill up with dirt that blew over from the stables."
Horse riders were successful in defeating several attempts to replace stables with apartment developments in the early 1970s.