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Renewal Brings Class, Confusion to Neighborhood

December 06, 1987|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ and RICHARD SIMON | Times Staff Writers

In the office where redevelopment plans for a slumlike Northridge neighborhood are coordinated, an artist's rendering hangs, depicting how the renovated area will look. The drawing shows a gate-guarded, tree-lined community with Mercedes-Benzes driving in and out.

The rendering shows some of the physical and social changes that are supposed to transform the blighted Bryant Street-Vanalden Avenue neighborhood at the end of three years. As the first year of the $25-million renovation project ends, the predominantly low-income Latino area already is showing dramatic signs of change.

Bryant-Vanalden, once dubbed "Tijuanita," or little Tijuana, by locals, is looking more like "Park Parthenia," the name given by the developer to fit its new, spiffy image.

Streets and alleys are cleaner, grass grows in parkways, fresh paint and decorative redwood siding adorn the outside walls of the once-graffiti-strewn apartment buildings. Last week, the first stretch of handsome wrought-iron fencing depicted in the drawing went up.

So far, 38 of the area's 453 once-dilapidated apartments have been renovated into comfortable and more modern units, complete with new carpeting, drapes and a fresh coat of cream-colored paint. City inspectors will begin checking the units this week, and the first low-income tenants are expected to move in by Christmas.

The area is also beginning to shake its crime-tarnished image. Police say arrests for such offenses as drug dealing and prostitution have markedly decreased as the result of security measures in the project.

Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents the area and proposed the plan, said he is pleased with the results so far. "In my opinion, it's been very successful," he said.

But the improvements have come at a cost.

Residents say strict new rules are difficult to live with, and many feel that they are unduly harassed by management. They say they have been overwhelmed by a deluge of confusing contracts and paper work. Some say their privacy has been violated because workers routinely walk into their apartments unannounced.

The unprecedented renovation plan was approved by the City Council and Mayor Tom Bradley in November, 1986. It was the second plan aimed at transforming the deteriorating three-block stretch of 60 apartment buildings into a comfortable, well-groomed development that would be more in keeping with the fashionable Northridge community that surrounds it.

Earlier, Bernson had proposed a similar plan to fix up the area by making it easier for landlords to evict the 3,000 predominantly low-income Latino tenants so that a "new class of tenants" could be brought in. He abandoned the proposal because of a threatened veto by Bradley and intense protests from civil rights and tenants groups.

The second plan provided developer Devinder (Dave) Vadehra with $20.8 million in funds from tax-exempt bonds and a $4.2-million loan to buy and fix up 453 apartments in the neighborhood. The key point in the plan was assurance by Vadehra and Bernson that low-income tenants who wanted to stay in their apartments could do so. They were told that they could obtain government subsidies to pay for the more expensive remodeled units.

But in the midst of the renovation, there is confusion over the number of low-income tenants who will be allowed to stay in the Park Parthenia. City officials and the developer have given conflicting information.

At first, spokesmen for Vadehra said the number of government-subsidized units would be limited to 91. Then they said they were mistaken, and anyone who wanted to could stay.

Ralph Esparza, director of the city Community Development Department's housing division, agrees that there was no limit. But Friday, Barbara Zeidman, director of the department's rent stabilization division, said there indeed is one. She said the department favors the cap on subsidized units to prevent the development from turning into a public housing project, which can be plagued by crime and other problems.

In light of the conflicting information, Councilman Ernani Bernardi, the lone council opponent of the plan, said Friday that he will call for a city investigation into the project.

Angry and confused tenants met Friday night to vent their frustrations over the project and protest the new policies.

They said they were told that they would have to pay higher rents if they remained in the neighborhood after the renovation was completed. Dozens of those who have received housing subsidies said they were told by project managers that they would have to move elsewhere to get the aid.

Indeed, scores of families have left Bryant-Vanalden in the past year. At least 355 families have moved, and about a quarter of the apartments are vacant. The result is the most noticeable change in the neighborhood: There just aren't as many people around.

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