Seven years ago, Ramona Whitney's neighborhood in the Fairfax area changed for the worse. Where once there had been delicatessens, banks, movie theaters and general merchandise stores, there suddenly appeared auto repair and body shops.
Whitney, appalled by the pollution, noise and blight that came with the repair shops, decided to form a community group and petition her city councilman to help prevent further deterioration of the community.
Six years passed, and the influx of auto repair shops continued. None of Whitney's efforts, involving numerous letters to Los Angeles City Councilman David Cunningham, whose 10th District includes the neighborhood north of Pico Boulevard between Fairfax and La Brea avenues, was successful.
Although Cunningham last spring called for better enforcement of existing zoning requirements and initiated a motion in the city Planning Commission to prevent additional auto repair shops in the area, Whitney and other residents are still bitter that it took him six years to act on their complaints.
"If you are a taxpayer and working with a community problem and the city is not listening, then the city is contributing to the deterioration of a community," Whitney said. "Is that not city neglect?"
Whitney, who has lived at the same address on South Burnside Avenue since 1964, said she is especially upset because an auto shop moratorium was passed last fall for a section of Pico Boulevard west of Fairfax, in Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky's district.
"We should not have had to go through all of this," she said. "The people in Zev Yaroslavsky's district have a resolution to their problem. We were treated differently."
Cunningham and his aides failed to return repeated telephone calls from The Times, but letters from his staff members to Maxine Steinberg, the attorney representing the neighborhood group, show that Cunningham last February initiated a motion in the city Planning Commission asking for a zoning change that would prohibit further auto repair shops.
The proposed change from C2 to C4 zoning would also prohibit boxing arenas, massage parlors, penny arcades, striptease shows and pool halls.
A public hearing to discuss the change could come as early as next month, said Arch Crouch, chief examiner for the Planning Commission. The commission would have one month after the hearing to vote on the motion, he said.
Cunningham has also proposed a City Council ordinance regulating the number of unregistered vehicles on neighborhood streets and enforcing auto shop compliance with existing zoning requirements.
Steinberg said Cunningham offered to meet with residents and shop owners in July to discuss the issue. But many residents were unable to attend, she said, so the meeting was called off.
Unconvinced of Sincerity
Whitney said she is unconvinced that Cunningham is sincere in his efforts to improve the neighborhood.
"In the meantime (since Cunningham proposed the change in February), we got some more auto shops," she said. "That was disgusting. He's going to meet with us after we got all those auto shops and we've been working on this since 1977. They're probably going to start forgetting about it after the heat is off."
Out of 641 businesses between Venice and Olympic boulevards and La Brea and Fairfax avenues, 112, or 17%, are auto shops, according to an environmental impact report prepared for Steinberg. More than half of those businesses, 59, are on Pico Boulevard between La Brea and Fairfax.
The report said carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides and particles entering the air from the repair shops may pose a health threat to residents if the substances occur in concentrated amounts.
Neighbors also complain of visual blight created by razor wire on top of security fences, ugly cars parked in shop lots and residential streets and graffiti on walls.
Jacqueline Dunklin, who lives next to a repair shop at the corner of Pico and South Cochran Avenue, said the south wall of her house is a favorite target for graffiti-spraying youths who loiter near the auto shops.
Edward Couture, who has lived on Curson Avenue north of Pico since 1980, said the shops routinely drain oil and radiator fluid onto residential streets.
"It was supposed to be a balanced community," Steinberg said. "The city hasn't complied at all."