Last fall, a controversy over construction of a condominium on Sunset Boulevard brought the Pacific Palisades Civic League into the limelight for the first time in years.
Neighbors opposed to the condo accused the low-profile league of refusing to exercise its legal authority over the outward appearance of buildings in Tract 9300, which consists of 4,000 lots that cover most of the Palisades. They criticized the league's domination by real estate agents and architects.
The 71-foot-high condominium stands nearly complete now, its beige exterior trimmed in blue.
But the building's impact on the Civic League will last long after the condo's 18 units are occupied.
In the aftermath of the condo controversy, the Civic League's dues-paying membership has grown from 100 to 230, according to Secretary-Treasurer Catherine Sanders. Early this year, the board increased from 12 to 19, including two members of the Mid-Sunset Residents Assn, a newly formed organization of neighbors of the condo.
Specific guidelines are being drawn up for the league to follow in considering project proposals. Steps are being taken to ensure that nearby residents are notified of projects coming before the league.
And two weeks ago, in the first contested league election in memory, the Mid-Sunset group succeeded in ousting four board members, replacing them with a slate pledged to a more aggressive stance toward developers planning to build in the league's jurisdiction.
Among those deposed was league President Doug Uhler, a real estate agent who was accused of conflict of interest for helping the condominium developer, Alex Furlotti, find storage space for construction materials. Uhler denied a conflict--both he and Furlotti said no pay was involved--but abstained from votes on the project after the allegations were aired.
Architect Heinz Meier, chairman of a league committee charged with making recommendations on builder proposals, also lost his place on the board.
Uhler and Meier both had been nominated by the board to retain their positions.
"A lot of people in the Palisades had given up on the Civic League," said Gary Nash, president of the Mid-Sunset organization. "We think we have brought the league back into the common philosophy of other active groups in the Palisades, and that is the protection of the character of the Palisades and preventing commercial development from overwhelming the area."
"It was felt that the league was oriented toward developers, excessively so," said Ronald Dean, one of the new board members elected on the Mid-Sunset slate. "This was meant as a signal of change." Dean also is president of the Pacific Palisades Residents Assn., a homeowners' group representing about 1,700 families.
The new makeup of the board is not universally popular, however. Two reelected board members, Ernest Buchholz and Edna Oleson, have resigned.
"The people who have worked very hard, to just dump them I don't think was fair," Oleson said.
The Civic League has potentially stronger powers than any of the numerous other homeowners' groups in the Palisades, where residents boast that their efforts have maintained a distinct village atmosphere in their cliffside community, even though it is part of the sprawling city of Los Angeles.
The league was established in 1943, as successor to the Palisades Assn., a realty company formed in 1920 by the community's Methodist founders. The league took on the disbanding association's responsibility to oversee "outward appearance and design."
The deeds in Tract 9300 forbid owners to build or remodel structures on their lots without the league's written approval. Violators' property can be seized by the league.
By last year, though, many residents of the tract had little or no knowledge of the league. Board members recruited new members from among their acquaintances, and it was difficult to fill slots.
No Time or Money
The private group met once a month at the local library to review applications, usually without an audience. There was no time, money or manpower to search out those who did not comply with the deed restrictions.
"The issues were more or less reviewing garage additions," said R. B. Wilken, a re-elected board member who is the new league president.
When Furlotti decided to build a condominium on the north side of Sunset, near Muskingum Avenue, the neighbors on the ridge above were angry. They said the building would block their ocean views and invade their privacy.
They became aware of the deed restrictions that grant the league the right to decide whether to permit certain designs to be built. The league had approved preliminary plans for the condo.
The neighbors said they had no grounds to contest the approval until Furlotti erected a wooden frame that left no doubt that the building would be three feet higher than shown on his plans--enough, they say, to blot out the last sliver of ocean blue visible from their back windows and patios.
Upset With League