Ignoring the threat of a lawsuit by Westwood Village residents, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved two exemptions from a building moratorium on apartment construction near UCLA.
Approved were exemptions for developer Eugene St. John to replace 22 vacant apartments with a 120-unit complex at 11032-11064 1/2 Strathmore Ave. and for Westwood Properties to demolish a 36-unit building and replace it with the same number of units at 475-481 Gayley Ave.
The city Friday is scheduled to consider two other exemptions. One would allow a 24-unit apartment complex on a vacant lot at 952 Hilgard Ave. and the other would permit replacement of a six-unit apartment with 22 units at 445 Landfair Ave.
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents Westwood Village, said that the exemptions are justified because the developers had made significant progress toward gaining city approval for the projects before the moratorium last August.
"We also got the developers to either set aside 25% of the units for university-related housing at below-market rents or to provide more parking than was required by the existing zoning," he said.
The moratorium applies to housing areas immediately north and east of UCLA and was sponsored by Yaroslavsky to allow the completion of a revised Westwood building plan, scheduled to be finished late next year.
Residents had pushed for the moratorium because of what they said was a rash of demolitions of small apartment buildings inhabited by university students and moderate-income people and the building of large new rental complexes that such tenants could not afford.
Both before and immediately after the action Wednesday, Robert Breall, president of the North Westwood Village Residents' Assn., said that the group will consider filing a lawsuit "because the city clearly is not complying with state law."
Breall contended that the city, in failing to develop environmental impact reports on the exemptions, was in violation of California Environmental Quality Act requirements. The association, Breall said, also considers approval of the exemptions as "moratorium-busting."
Yaroslavsky disagreed. He said that the city attorney's office has ruled that environmental impact reports, which take at least six months to prepare, are not required on exemptions from a moratorium.
Yaroslavsky said that to require environmental impact reports for exemptions from moratoriums would deal a mortal blow to all future building moratoriums in Los Angeles.
"I have supported moratoriums before and have a few more in mind in the future," Yaroslavsky said. "But I can assure you that if the residents are successful in forcing the city to do environmental impact reports for every single exemption, the City Council would never pass another building moratorium."
Although Yaroslavsky and the North Westwood Village Residents' Assn. were allies in backing the building moratorium, they have been at odds over its enforcement.
Breall said that the exemptions undermine the basic desire of area residents to prevent over-building in an area already beset with parking and traffic problems.
Residents, who are also striving to keep housing affordable for students, faculty and workers at UCLA, hope to achieve their aims by seeking down-zoning around UCLA. Existing zoning allows for the construction of large apartment complexes.
Yaroslavsky has said that he, too, wants affordable housing in the area but that he is aware that others, including many property owners, want to redevelop the properties.
"It is not an open-and-shut case," Yaroslavsky said. "I know that the renters would prefer to save every dilapidated apartment building in the area. My view is that some of the buildings need to be replaced--and we will try to give buildings a density bonus if they provide a certain portion of the new buildings to students and others at the university at affordable rates."