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Bryant-Vanalden Strategy Criticized : Opponents Say Existing Law, Not Eviction, Can Curb Area's Crime and Blight

September 01, 1985|RICHARD SIMON and STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, in seeking to evict all 3,000 residents from a troubled neighborhood in his Northridge district, has contended that he has tried just about everything possible under existing law to clean up the area, but crime and unsightly conditions persist.

Bernson's critics, however, have questioned whether the city has done all it can to improve the Bryant Street-Vanalden Avenue area.

Questions have emerged in the wake of the City Council's initial approval in early August of an unprecedented plan by Bernson that would make it easier to evict the predominantly low-income Latinos living in the Bryant-Vanalden apartments. The plan, which must go back to the council for another vote before it can be implemented, has been criticized by civil rights and tenant groups as racist and illegal.

Under the plan, the City Council would grant owners of the 30 buildings a one-time exemption to the city rent-control law, allowing them to evict tenants if they will spend $7,500 to renovate an apartment--instead of the $10,000 now required--in order to attract what a council committee report called "a different class of people."

$40-Million Bond Issue

The plan, which also calls for a $40-million tax-exempt bond issue to finance renovations, is expected to transform the neighborhood into a gated, middle-class community.

One of the major objections to the plan, raised by Councilman Ernani Bernardi, is that the city should be able to deal with problems in the area by enforcing existing laws against crime and substandard housing.

Bernson has contended that he has tried to do this, but with limited success.

Ted Goldstein, an administrative aide to City Atty. James K. Hahn, said Bernson had been "very vigilant" in working with the city attorney's office to try to enforce laws already on the books "to keep this area up to a standard that does exist in the larger Northridge area."

Goldstein said Bernson has brought the problems to the attention of the departments of building and safety and health, the city attorney's office, the Fire and Police departments and Immigration and Naturalization Service. "All have been into the area," Goldstein said. "There have been literally hundreds of citations issued." He said that, although most of the violations have been corrected, "the problems begin to amass again."

Sweep for Violations

Bernson, for example, led city and county inspectors on a sweep through the area in October, 1981, when inspectors issued 3,000 citations for such health and safety violations as broken windows, torn carpeting, stopped-up toilets and cockroach infestations.

All of those violations were corrected, city building inspector Lamond Powell said.

But, Bernson has contended, many of the violations have reappeared.

Powell said he has "no idea" whether all 650 Bryant-Vanalden apartments are currently in compliance with the required housing standards. He said he does not have time to routinely inspect the buildings.

City building inspectors disputed references to the Bryant-Vanalden area as a slum, saying that most building code violations found there are minor, such as broken windows, leaky faucets and "knobs off kitchen cabinets."

A Relative 'Garden Spot'

They said that, although the area is run-down in contrast with the surrounding middle-class neighborhood, it is no different and, in some cases, better than many other parts of Los Angeles, particularly the inner city.

"In certain parts of the city, that area would be a garden spot," Powell said. "But in Bernson's area, it is less than desirable."

This, said Frank Kroeger, general manager of the Department of Building and Safety, is one reason why he is unwilling to assign his limited staff to conduct routine inspections of the area.

Bernson has argued that, no matter how many citations the city issues, the neighborhood, as presently constituted, will remain an eyesore. Buildings are constantly fixed up only to become run-down again, he has said.

Bernson, who is out of the country on vacation, could not be reached for comment this week. His aides refused to comment.

'It's a People Problem'

Frank Listick, who enforces laws for the county Department of Health Services requiring sanitary living conditions in dwellings, agreed with Bernson. "You issue an order to clean up trash. It gets corrected," said Listick, who declined to take a position on the mass eviction plan. "You go back a month later, and you have the same problem all over again."

"It's a people problem," said Jim Carney, a supervising building inspector. "The people are bad."

"Tenants throw garbage out the window," Listick added.

Patricia Clemens, head of the city attorney's task force that prosecutes slumlords, said landlords can, under existing law, evict troublesome renters. The task force has not been involved in the Bryant-Vanalden area because it deals with serious health hazards, such as lack of heat or water in apartments. This hasn't been the case in Northridge, Goldstein said.

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