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Discrimination Against Minorities, Poor Charged : Builder Sues Torrance Over Denial of Project

July 10, 1986|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

TORRANCE — A week after filing suit against its partners in the Park Del Amo residential and commercial project, a development company has sued Torrance, claiming that the city intended to discriminate against the poor and ethnic minorities when it rejected the company's plans to build and rent out a 416-unit residential complex.

Lincoln Property Co. filed a suit this week in federal court and a separate suit in Los Angeles Superior Court. The suits say that the city's denial violated a 1983 agreement between the city and Torrance Investment Co., the primary developer of the project, that allows construction of 1,485 residential units.

City Atty. Stanley Remelmeyer said the suits were not unexpected, but had only one comment: "Anyone can allege anything in a lawsuit."

The suits followed a seven-hour council meeting on June 27 at which the City Council denied Lincoln's plans and a separate proposal for a 132-unit apartment complex for the elderly by Watt Homes Inc.

Marsh a Stumbling Block

The council did approve Watt Homes' plans for a 422-unit condominium complex and for 146 detached town houses, but the council said it would not issue building permits for those projects until a dispute between the city and Torrance Investment over ownership of the Madrona Marsh is resolved. Watt Homes is owned by developer Ray Watt, a partner in Torrance Investment.

The city and Torrance Investment have been hassling over the marsh since 1983 when the developers agreed to dedicate part of the marsh to the city in exchange for being allowed to build the 1,485 residential units and 850,000 square feet of commercial office space. The dispute, which centers on terms of ownership, is pending in court.

Last week Lincoln filed a $110-million suit against Torrance Investment, claiming that its failure to settle the marsh dispute was responsible for Lincoln's plans being denied by the city, and said Torrance Investment should have known that Lincoln's plans to rent the units would be resisted by the city.

Higher Building Standard

Lincoln's suits against the city also seek $110 million in damages and ask the courts to force the city to allow it to build its project as rental units. Lincoln had proposed building the project under the more stringent building standards for condominiums, but planned to retain ownership and rent them as apartments.

"We are an innocent party, caught in a situation that we cannot control," Lincoln attorney Douglas Ring said in an interview.

The federal suit, in which the council members are also named individually, alleges that the denial of Lincoln's project violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The suit claims the council feared that the rental project would attract low-income people and ethnic minorities.

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