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Western Avenue Businesses Turn to L.A. in Boundary Battle : Merchants Seek to Block Move by Rancho Palos Verdes to Annex Their Signs and Parking Spaces

September 28, 1986|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

As a piece of real estate, it doesn't amount to much:

A crescent-shaped, 600-foot commercial strip--never wider than 20 feet--along Western Avenue, containing four business signs and some parking spaces.

But wait a minute:

The signs and parking spaces are in the city of Los Angeles, while the businesses they serve are in Rancho Palos Verdes. The city boundary--created when Rancho Palos Verdes annexed unincorporated Los Angeles County territory three years ago--runs between the two.

Bad planning but not hard to fix, Rancho Palos Verdes officials thought a year ago as they filed an application with the county's Local Agency Formation Commission--which oversees annexation and incorporation matters--to have the narrow strip detached from Los Angeles and brought within Rancho Palos Verdes.

But hold on, said the handful of people who own the five business properties on the west side of Western between Trudie and Park Western drives. They are strong critics of the 1983 annexation and want to get out of Rancho Palos Verdes, not farther into it.

And these property owners persuaded Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents neighboring San Pedro, and the council's Planning and Environment Committee to go along with them.

Los Angeles must consent to any property detachment, and the committee's decision on Sept. 16 merely to "receive and file" the Rancho Palos Verdes request, in effect, killed it. Although the full council must still vote, a reversal of the committee is considered unlikely because of Flores' support for the property owners.

Buoyed by the victory, the businessmen--who contend that Rancho Palos Verdes' codes, particularly sign controls, are too restrictive to permit fair competition with Los Angeles businesses just across the street--said they now will petition for transfer of the whole Western Avenue business strip to Los Angeles.

'End Up in Court'

"We are interested in getting the hell out of Rancho Palos Verdes," said Nels M. Ostrem, who first developed the properties at Western and Trudie more than 30 years ago when they were in the county. He said the matter will "end up in court" because Rancho Palos Verdes will oppose the transfer, just as Los Angeles did.

But if the action gladdened the business people, it left Rancho Palos Verdes officials and Flores, whose areas share several miles of border, trading accusations about what happened and why.

"It is a misalignment that should be a very simple thing between two cities to fix, but Mrs. Flores has seen fit to politicize it," said Rancho Palos Verdes City Councilman John McTaggart. "That's unfortunate for both cities."

Another council member, Jacki Bacharach, contended that Flores had said she would conditionally support the city's annexation petition, but "never defined her conditions of support, never discussed it with us" and then changed her position.

Makes No Sense

She said the boundary line--which zigzags across about half a mile of Western--is "ridiculous" and makes no sense for either city.

But Ann D'Amato, Flores' deputy, asserted that the councilwoman's staff was in touch with the Rancho Palos Verdes city manager "for three months" and said the annexation could not be supported unless Rancho Palos Verdes permitted the business signs to stay up for a specific amount of time. She said the signs, which were put up years ago when the Western strip was in the county, conform to current Los Angeles city sign standards.

D'Amato also said that the sign question was raised at an earlier Planning and Environment Committee meeting three months ago, which Rancho Palos Verdes officials did not attend. The city says it was not notified of the meeting.

The four signs, which range in height from 15 to 21 feet, do not conform to Rancho Palos Verdes sign regulations, which limit the height of free-standing signs to six feet, but permit the Planning Commission to approve signs up to 16 feet if lots are deemed large enough. Nonconforming signs must be removed within five years after property owners are notified.

No Notices Sent

But Greg Fuz, the Rancho Palos Verdes city planner who handles Western Avenue, said owners have not yet been sent notices and when they are, they can request taller signs. "This property would qualify," he said.

Rancho Palos Verdes was without a permanent planning chief for several months and its city manager for more than five years left in August. McTaggart conceded that the Flores compromise "could possibly have fallen through the cracks," but he said he does not think there were any negotiations.

"If we had someone from our city negotiating with Los Angeles, it would be in our weekly council status report," he said. "We would know about it."

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