As a child growing up in Los Angeles Tract 7260, Steve Saltzman played in a quiet Westside neighborhood marked by leafy oak and jacaranda trees and curving hillside streets.
He can still point out the pink, two-story home where he was born 37 years ago and the small white house his grandmother built for $6,000 in 1933.
But today there's a new look about the old neighborhood.
Above the rooftops of the carefully preserved, neatly tailored homes loom the towering offices of Century City. On Olympic Boulevard, which runs through the heart of the neighborhood, work crews with cement trucks are constructing side-by-side hotels. A two-story mini-mall is planned across the street and a four-story office building has just opened on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Fourteen new movie theaters are about to be added in Century City and a 375-room Marriott hotel will soon create another tower there. About a mile to the northwest, the Westwood skyline encroaches on the horizon.
"No matter where you stand in Tract No. 7260, you can't look up in the sky and have the feeling you're in the same neighborhood you once lived in," Saltzman said.
'New York Atmosphere'
Saltzman moved away from the neighborhood for a time but returned several years ago. It seems less and less like home, he said. "Some people like all the building," Saltzman said. "They like a New York atmosphere. I don't. Most people know in their gut the quality of life has gone down."
No matter how voters act Tuesday on Proposition U, an initiative that would cut in half the amount of commercial development allowed throughout much of Los Angeles, residents of the tract say their neighborhood will feel little direct impact. The growth, Saltzman said, already has arrived--about 4 million square feet of it within a mile and a half of the neighborhood.
"There's virtually nothing left here to stop," he said.
Yet the ballot measure, introduced by Westside Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, is the major issue in the community, bounded by Santa Monica Boulevard on the north, Pico Boulevard on the south, Fox Hills Drive and Century City on the east, and Beverly Glen Boulevard on the west.
The neighborhood's 1,500 residents, many of whom commute to Westwood, Century City and downtown Los Angeles, are taking sides on the issue, mostly in support of the measure. Green campaign signs urging Proposition U's passage are sprouting on lawn after lawn "like exotic plants," one homeowner said.
Proponents said they hope the measure, expected to win easy adoption in the absence of an organized campaign against it, will limit growth before multistory commercial buildings dominate major streets for miles in all directions.
"I've lived here 27 years," said Simon Schnitzer, 61, who added that increasing traffic may soon prompt him to sell his home and move. "It used to be . . . if you went west of Sepulveda (on Olympic Boulevard), you'd see nothing but nurseries and empty lots and one-story buildings. On Santa Monica Boulevard there were just little one-story buildings. . . . They're fast disappearing.
"Every year it's something more, something more, something more. There's just too much of it."
Aljean Harmetz, a resident for 20 years, said the trees and homes of the neighborhood are largely unchanged. "We're still a bit of suburban living . . . a little bit of an island," she said. "But every year we're getting more and more surrounded by the city. At this point, there's just not enough room for the traffic. We're bursting like a sausage."
Not everyone agrees. Natalie Torrence, who moved in during 1941, described the newly constructed buildings near the neighborhood as beautiful. She said the planned mini-mall will bring new stores within easy walking distance. Traffic is bad, but has always been so, she said.
"In the buildings I see going up, they're providing parking spaces, which I think is smart, intelligent planning," Torrence said.
Marion L. Gillick, whose tan, split-level home is in the shadow of Century City's new, 34-story Fox Tower office building, was even more enthusiastic. She called the growth wonderful. "We can walk right around the corner and find a cleaners, get fast food," she said. "It's just a marvelous situation to be in. I really enjoy progress, and boy, we've got it now."
The neighborhood is unlike almost any other on the Westside, according to Yaroslavsky, who has co-sponsored the initiative with Councilman Marvin Braude. Much of the new development affecting homeowners is in Century City, where a 1980 master plan allows continuing growth within strict limits.
The Fox Tower, for example, which contains about 700,000 square feet of office space, is the only structure permitted on a parcel that once was zoned for 5 million square feet, Yaroslavsky said.
So the effects on the neighborhood could be far worse, he said. By all accounts, the community has managed to survive--and even thrive--during the long development of Century City.