MONTEREY PARK — City Council members, accused of discriminating against the poor, the elderly and the nonwhite by blocking a senior-citizen housing project, has denied the allegations and said they are willing to reconsider the project if a better location can be found.
"We haven't turned (the project) down," insisted Councilman Cam Briglio. "We've turned the location down."
Carol S. Larson, attorney for the Taiwanese-American Affiliated Committee on Aging, the group seeking to build the $2.1-million project, said it is willing to consider alternative sites.
However, she said that there are advantages to the location already chosen, on the eastern border of the city on Whitmore Street, east of New Avenue, and that the city has no reason to reject it.
The committee filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday seeking a court order to compel the city to clear the way for a 43-unit apartment building on the Whitmore site.
The suit charges that the City Council blocked the project "with the knowledge and intent that their actions would have a discriminatory effect on the basis of race, national origin, wealth and age."
The suit seeks a court order directing the city to approve a zone change for the project and to exempt it from a building moratorium that currently blocks construction of all apartments.
The council turned down the zone change in April at the same time it imposed the moratorium to give the city time to raise standards for multifamily housing. The moratorium will be in effect until April 28, 1987.
'They Must Be Kidding'
Councilwoman Patricia Reichenberger labeled the suit ridiculous and scoffed at allegations that the council is motivated by racism.
"When I heard about the suit, I thought they must be kidding," she said, insisting that her vote was based on concern for proper planning, not race.
"I voted against the project for very honest reasons," she said.
Reichenberger said the Whitmore site is bordered by single-family homes and noted that neighbors had vociferously opposed the project at hearings before the council.
Residents complained about increased congestion and said the proposed three-story apartments would obstruct views and intrude on the privacy of neighboring homes.
Briglio said the Whitmore location would leave senior citizens "with no place to walk to."
"Why put these people at the edge of town?" Briglio asked.
He said that the city has "spent a ton of money" developing a senior-citizen center at Langley Park more than a mile away and that senior-citizen housing should be placed in that area. He noted that the city has two other housing projects for the elderly near Langley.
Briglio, Reichenberger and Councilman Barry L. Hatch all suggested that the city might approve the project after the moratorium expires if a more convenient location can be found.
Briglio said he has offered on three occasions to work with the Taiwanese group and the city staff to find an alternative site, but the offer has never been accepted.
The suit filed by Larson points out that the Whitmore site is only a block from bus service on Garvey Avenue and that a supermarket and other businesses are just a block and a half away.
The suit alleges that the council decision on the project "was made in the midst of racial conflict, that race and national origin were raised as factors when the project was considered and that the majority of the City Council who voted against the project was sympathetic to and improperly took actions to appease persons expressing racial- and national origin-related concerns."
Larson filed the suit on behalf of both the Taiwanese-American committee and three individuals who need subsidized housing.
She said that one of the plaintiffs, Chen-Hwa Chua, 75, is living with his wife near Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles because he cannot find better housing.
Cannot Afford Apartment
Another plaintiff, Khun San Tsay, 68, a Taiwanese immigrant, and his wife are sharing an apartment in Monterey Park with another couple because they cannot afford an apartment of their own, she said.
And the third plaintiff, Ten Far Chen, 77, of Cerritos has applied with his wife for subsidized housing in other cities, but the waiting lists are so long that they may never qualify, Larson said.
She said the council rejected the project even though it knew there were 500 people on the waiting lists for subsidized apartments in Monterey Park and 200 on waiting lists in Alhambra.
The Taiwanese-American Affiliated Committee on Aging was organized as a nonprofit corporation in 1979 and has spent $15,000 trying to develop a housing project for low-income elderly people in Monterey Park, Larson said.
She said the group holds an option to buy the Whitmore Street property from Mission Way Corp. at 75% of its market value and has a commitment for a construction loan at favorable rates from General Bank in Los Angeles.