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Homeowner Leader Proves Formidable as Enemy of Growth

November 22, 1987|JAMES QUINN | Times Staff Writer

He openly yearns for the San Fernando Valley of the 1950s, which he recalls as clean, uncluttered and almost exclusively suburban. And he is determined that the urbanized Valley that business leaders envision shall not come to pass.

Thus has homeowner activist Gerald A. Silver set himself on a collision course with the Valley's fast-paced growth.

Silver, acknowledged leader of the Valley's more militant homeowner groups, leaped into the spotlight last week when he played a key role in persuading the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission to stop consideration of a Valley light-rail line.

In an interview after the triumph of light-rail opponents, Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, had no regrets about the apparent loss of the proposed trolley line.

Valley traffic congestion will be "maybe 5%" worse without a light-rail line, he said.

But, with a light-rail line, congestion will be "at least 95% worse" because, he says, builders will inevitably use the existence of mass transit to argue for larger developments.

Silver's math as well as his logic have been scoffed at for years by those with more moderate views on development.

Brushes Off Critics

They have called him and other militants "irresponsible nay-sayers," and have predicted that Valley residents will pay a stiff price in congestion if the views of Silver and his allies prevail.

"What critics think about me is not important," Silver said in a display of the single-mindedness that exasperates adversaries. "It's only what happens regarding growth and other issues that matters to me."

And Silver has been winning converts.

The unexpected light-rail victory occurred after he put together a coalition of 12 homeowner and anti-rail groups that repeatedly demanded that county transportation commissioners scuttle their trolley plans, at least for now. Halting light rail, Silver said, "is the sort of thing that's needed to bring the politicians and the business community up short and make them face the fact that Valley growth is out of control."

It does not matter to Silver that transportation commissioners have no control over planning and zoning; he insists that blocking such projects is the only way to get the attention of those elected officials who do control development.

Pressure for Severe Curbs

Once their attention is secured, Silver and like-minded homeowner leaders plan to pressure them to impose severe restrictions on growth.

Unless such restrictions are enacted, Silver has little use for traffic improvement measures such as the upcoming widening of the Ventura Freeway, which he unsuccessfully fought, and the proposed upper deck for the Ventura Freeway, which he is also fighting.

"Those are not really improvements at all," Silver said. "If they are not tied to tough growth-control measures, they will simply trigger a massive new wave of building that threatens to engulf us all."

But Silver ventures far beyond most of his allies when he adds:

"There may be no way to get a grip on what developers have done except to tear down some of the buildings, especially large structures that were foolishly allowed near already congested areas."

A 55-year-old father of four children, Silver recalls moving to the Valley in 1956 "when streets were uncluttered and air was clean and there were lots of single-family houses."

"It was a wonderful place, and what has been done to it is diabolical."

Silver, a part-time professor of business administration at Los Angeles City College, said he spends up to 40 hours a week on homeowner issues.

Usually clad in a polo shirt and casual slacks, he attends more than a dozen public meetings a month. Many an elected official chairing a meeting has winced at the sound of his high-pitched voice demanding that one project or another be stopped or drastically scaled back.

Silver said that, during three decades of battling development, first in North Hollywood before moving to Encino in 1978, he has found that public officials respond best to constituents who are "strident and persistent and well-informed, and so that's what I strive to be."

Unlike other homeowner leaders, Silver seldom praises elected officials when they take actions approved by homeowners.

"It's their job to do what we want," he said. "I fail to see why we should always praise them for it."

Silver's Encino group, which he founded in 1980, has been at the forefront of efforts to halt development of large buildings on Ventura Boulevard, to force the removal of billboards and sharply reduce on-site business signs.

His group was about four years ahead of similar organizations in neighboring communities in demanding a halt to development of high-rise office buildings along Ventura Boulevard. Reflecting what was seen as growing sentiment throughout the city for slowing growth, the Los Angeles City Council passed the moratorium in October, 1986.

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