For almost 30 years the people of housing Tract 7260 have struggled against Century City, a monstrous neighbor that is inching toward their quiet, residential streets in increments of restaurants, stores and cinemas.
Until recently, these 500 or so homeowners--who live in the shadow of the towering office buildings--could only complain about traffic and noise encroaching on their neighborhood of middle-class homes and well-tended yards.
Now the people of Tract 7260 have found a weapon to fight back.
They have filed complaints with the city office of zoning administration, which temporarily has blocked a series of liquor permits that Century City developers need for new restaurants.
To a certain extent, Tract 7260 is holding these permits hostage, forcing developers to negotiate on other issues such as parking, traffic flow and the hours that restaurants and shops can be open for business.
"We're smack against a wealthy development and we're under constant pressure to protect our homes," said John French, 75, a 40-year resident of the tract.
He said that opposing the liquor permits "gives the homeowners association some leverage. It's a bargaining tool to get the other things that concern us."
Indeed, the liquor permits are necessary for expansion of the Century City Shopping Center, said Mike Strle, general manager of the center.
In October, the center plans to open an international food hall with five restaurants and 27 fast-food counters. This complex will also include 14 cinemas and is at the heart of an effort to attract patrons in the evenings and on weekends, when Century City usually is quiet.
The zoning administration has delayed its decision on the permits for 30 days. It has asked the shopping center and residents to negotiate an agreement. The opposing parties hope to meet as soon as next week.
"I don't see that there will be any problem with coming to a compromise with the homeowners," Strle said. "We've had an excellent relationship with them. We always return their calls and respond to complaints and suggestions from their group."
Leaders of the Tract 7260 Assn. do not agree. They say the center sometimes ignores requests for actions that could improve life in their neighborhood, which is bordered by Century City to the east and Beverly Glen Boulevard to the west, Santa Monica Boulevard to the north and Pico Boulevard to south.
Government officials and homeowner activists say that use of the liquor-permit process to negotiate periphery issues is an unusual twist in the fight against development.
"There are precious few legal forums to be heard in when a community group is up against a large developer," said Patrick McCartney, president of the Coalition of Concerned Communities, a Westside umbrella group. "I applaud the efforts of the Century City neighbors who are using this process."
When deciding whether to issue a permit for alcohol sales, the office of zoning administration considers impact on surrounding residential neighborhoods. These impacts can include increased crime or loitering around liquor stores, or the possibility that a bar will attract patrons who drive and park on residential streets, especially at late hours.
If community members bring complaints, the office may grant the permit with conditions: The restaurant may be required to provide a larger parking lot or it may be required to close by a certain time.
If serious complaints are brought, the office may deny the permit.
Century City Shopping Center is asking for 21 permits for its food hall--eight for liquor and 13 for beer and wine. (Restaurateurs in the hall will also need to procure a state Alcohol Beverage Control license.)
Fifty residents of Tract 7260 showed up at a zoning office hearing on July 17, carrying a petition signed by 135 homeowners and an additional 32 letters of complaint.
Some residents would prefer that the permits be denied, but leaders of the homeowners association said they would rather that the permits be granted with restrictions that could protect the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.
These issues and restrictions will be decided when the homeowners meet with shopping center officials.
"It's not a question of blotting (Century City) off the map," said Donna Gottleib, the association's president. "It's a question of us living together and keeping our neighborhood intact."