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Mar Vista Landlords Accused of Racial Bias

February 05, 1987|TRACEY KAPLAN | Times Staff Writer

A civil rights group has filed a lawsuit charging the owners and managers of Woodmere Apartments in Mar Vista with discrimination against black applicants.

The Westside Fair Housing Council, which filed the suit in U.S. District Court on Jan. 12, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from general partners J. P. Jones and John J. McCulloch, assistant manager Bobbie Ervin and manager Ann Rice.

The suit alleges that black applicants who sought housing in the luxury apartment complex on Sepulveda Boulevard were treated differently than white applicants on three occasions.

Twice last May and once in June, the council sent checkers to Woodmere Apartments to apply as renters. The suit alleges that black checkers Gwen Robinson, Marcella Brown and Sharron Hillery were told that no units were available, while white checkers were shown apartments almost immediately before and after the blacks were turned away.

'I Was Shocked'

The interval between checks was about half an hour, said Brown, a plaintiff in the suit.

"I don't remember turning anyone down," Ervin said. "I was so shocked I had to read the suit over three times before I understood it."

"It's a little ridiculous," Rice said. "I don't know who's behind it or why."

"We don't go forward unless we have an egregious case with plenty of backup (evidence)," said Blanche Rosloff, the council's executive director.

The Westside council, which was founded in 1968, is one of four affiliated councils in the Los Angeles area. It files about 150 lawsuits per year on the Westside, Rosloff said.

In a typical quarter, from April through June of last year, the council handled 41 complaints based on national origin, 22 based on race and 33 involving renters with children.

In December, 1985, the council won an out-of-court settlement of $80,000 in a lawsuit charging that a black man had been denied access to an apartment that had a "for rent" sign posted.

In the current case, a large "for rent" banner draped over the front of the building attracted the checkers to Woodmere Apartments during a periodic sweep of the area, said Stephanie Knapik, the council's program coordinator and a plaintiff in the suit.

Both Rice and Ervin live in the four-story building, which has a swimming pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, billiard room and tennis courts. Monthly rents range from $640 to $1,050 per unit, each of which has a fireplace.

Rice said three blacks live in the 182-unit complex.

'It Isn't Fair'

"It (the suit) isn't fair," she said. "We have all kinds here. I'm part American Indian myself."

Joseph S. Dzida, attorney for the apartment owners and managers, said he intends to call current and former black residents to testify on behalf of his clients.

Ingrid Fields, 28, has lived in the Woodmere Apartments for four years. She said she and her husband, both of whom are black, have had no trouble with their landlords.

"I think they're just being careful about the quality of the people who live here," said Fields, a sales representative. "Of course, they couldn't tell I was black at first because I am so light-skinned."

Kelly Williams, 52, is a former resident. He said he never experienced any prejudice during his three years there.

"My appearance may not create prejudice," Williams said. "I am very fair and may look Latino to some people."

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