About 400 people turned out at a public meeting this week to urge City Council President Pat Russell to oppose a proposed town house development on a 1-mile railroad right of way that runs down the middle of Culver Boulevard.
The protesters, representing a newly formed group called the Mar Vista Del Rey Homeowners' Assn., bombarded Russell with questions and demanded that she promise to oppose the 180-unit development.
Russell declined to state her position on the development and used the hearing to explain city permit procedures to residents.
The developers, Watt/Parker Inc. and Oliver A. Tragg Jr., purchased the 60-foot-wide median for $4.5 million from the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corp. They first proposed a two-phase project for the strip last month. City planners are considering each phase separately.
The developers submitted an application for Phase 1, which would include 82 units between Sawtelle and Inglewood boulevards, on Aug. 1. The Planning Commission approved it Aug. 15, although a city hearing examiner recommended denial because it was inconsistent with the community plan. The city Department of Transportation also recommended denial on the same grounds. Phase 1 must be approved by the City Council.
Phase 2, which calls for 98 units between Inglewood Avenue and McConnell Boulevard, was considered at a public hearing on Aug. 26. The city Planning Department has recommended denial of the application and a spokesman said the transportation committee will also recommend denial. Phase 2 was scheduled to go before the Planning Commission today but a commission spokesman said that the developer had asked that the matter be delayed to Oct. 3.
The 1-mile section of Culver Boulevard is 49 feet wide. There is a narrow access road on the north side of the railroad right of way, commonly referred to as "Little Culver Boulevard." Culver Boulevard proper, to the south of the right of way, is a two-lane street.
The right of way is undeveloped between McConnell and Sawtelle boulevards.
Culver Boulevard has been designated as a major highway in city plans. The city transportation department says that major highways must be 80 to 84 feet wide.
At Monday night's meeting, residents said that building town houses in the middle of the street would prevent widening it beyond its present two lanes. They said Culver Boulevard must be widened to avoid gridlock.
Edie Szabo, a Mar Vista resident who has spearheaded the movement to stop the development, told Russell that the project does not meet the criteria of the Palms-Mar Vista Del Rey Community Plan, formulated with the assistance of the community in 1976. The plan, she said, designates the Culver Boulevard median as open space and as a transportation corridor.
Russell said the two phases should have been considered as a package. She said, however, that she must consider both sides when making her decision.
"When we have a planning decision to be made in the city, we have a careful planning process outlined in the city Charter," she said. "If the community group comes to me and says, 'Kill this project,' I can't do that. If a developer says, 'I will be good to you; approve my project,' I can't do that."
Although many at the meeting voiced concern about such issues as the lack of an environmental impact report on the project, its inconsistency with the city general use plan, added traffic and the possibility of gridlock, the most emotional issue to surface was the fear that the neighborhood would deteriorate if more low-cost housing is built.
The development would be financed by state funds earmarked to house people displaced by the Century Freeway. According to state law, up to 49% of the units may be designated low-income units.
Several people complained about Mar Vista Gardens, a nearby low-income housing project which has been the site of gang and narcotics activity for years.
Mar Vista Gardens is bounded by Braddock Drive on the north, Ballona Creek on the south, Inglewood Boulevard on the west and Slauson Avenue on the east.
"My view," one man said, "is that I believe this part of the city already has enough low-cost housing in it. There is a growing crime situation.
"This is a middle-class, hard-working community. We don't want more degrading of the community. We don't want slums on Centinela Avenue."
A woman describing herself as a real estate dealer and property owner said, "If they want low-income housing, put it in Beverly Hills or Brentwood."
"We don't want it," another man said. "We would like you (Russell) to present it downtown that you don't want it. You represent us."