A coalition of West Hollywood landlords and residents is exploring the possibility of suing the city over its recent decision that in effect allows Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups to meet in a United Methodist church building, according to a coalition leader.
John Parks, a landlord who has been the prime mover in attempts to force Crescent Heights United Methodist Church to provide more parking for the rehabilitation groups, said he had retained an attorney "to see whether we have a legal case against the city."
The City Council voted unanimously last week to uphold an earlier city Planning Commission ruling that spared the 72-year-old congregation the choice of finding 44 new parking spaces or evicting the rehabilitation groups, which have been the church's largest benefactors.
Parks' move comes as city officials are setting up a task force of neighbors, church leaders and representatives of the two self-help groups to work on long-standing parking and loitering problems in the area.
Mayor Stephen Schulte, who suggested the task force to soothe tensions between the church and its neighbors, warned that legal moves against the city could threaten the attempts at conciliation.
"I've heard rumblings about this," he said. "I think it would be counterproductive."
Parks insisted that any legal appeal of the council's recent decision would not become an obstacle to the task force's efforts.
"We're trying both avenues," Parks said. "We don't know what the task force will be able to accomplish. There are some fears that it is just a song and dance for our benefit."
Neighbors of the church have complained that members of the rehabilitation groups often park in front of their homes and apartment buildings, taking up the few available parking spaces in the area. There have also been complaints about loitering and litter allegedly left in the area by members of the two organizations.
The neighbors hoped to force the church to provide more parking or shut its doors to the groups. But Pastor Marian Stump and congregants insisted that the groups had a right to assemble at the church and claimed that they have been the congregation's most generous financial supporters.
The controversy over the church and the use of its building started in late 1985 when Parks tried to get city officials to force Crescent Heights United Methodist to evict the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenant-rights group that had opened headquarters there. The coalition has become the dominant political force in the city. Three of the five City Council members are on the group's steering committee.
Parks, a real estate broker and a landlord who owns a four-unit building near the church, was unsuccessful in that bid. He then turned his attention to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and found support from neighbors who were angry at the weekly loss of their parking spaces.
City officials at first backed the church. Community Development Director Mark Winogrond ruled that the church had to provide 15 more parking spaces but added that Crescent Heights United Methodist would not have to provide the space if it could prove that doing so would be a hardship.
When Parks and the neighbors appealed to the city Planning Commission, it tentatively sided with them, threatening to force the church to evict the rehabilitation groups if at least 44 new parking spaces were not found. The church said it could not provide that number of additional spaces.
But when the commission took its final vote in January, it deadlocked 2-2 on the issue. The tie vote upheld Winogrond's earlier decision.
Last week, the City Council ruled unanimously in favor of the church. Schulte said the council felt that the church "provides a real community service in giving space to groups that do charitable work in the city. There's a real shortage of that kind of meeting space."
Schulte said that city officials were prepared to discuss several ideas that might mitigate the parking problems. Suggestions include creation of a permit-parking zone in the area and painting parking stalls on the street to make sure that one car does not take up two spaces.
Winogrond also suggested that the city might beef up police enforcement of parking violations in the area.
And Pastor Stump said that the church was completing work that would add 18 new parking spaces to the 9 that the church already maintains.
Despite these efforts, Parks and other neighbors say they will pursue legal avenues if a case can be made.
"We have been totally disgusted by the kangaroo-court process we had to go through," Parks said.
Another neighborhood leader, Elizabeth Brady, said she supports Parks' efforts.
"We just don't think we've been listened to," she said. "If they can come up with some kind of satisfactory solution, fine. If not, we have to do whatever is necessary to get some kind of relief."