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Losing Their Edge : Sherman Oaks Residents Upset About L.A.'s Plans to Claim Parts of Back Yards to Build an Alley

February 11, 1988|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

Geraldine Cronin says Los Angeles officials have gone off the deep end over her back-yard swimming pool.

City officials have ordered the Sherman Oaks woman to dig it up because it extends into a 20-foot strip of land that officials want to use as an alley for two new apartment buildings.

Cronin and nearly four dozen neighbors living along Fulton and Longridge avenues have been told to clear out fences, landscaping and structures by April 1 to make way for the new alley, homeowners say.

"The city has told us if we don't do it, the city will--and then bill us for it," said neighbor Steve Lelles.

"We're scared to death. Our lives will change dramatically," said Lelles, who stands to lose a block wall, decades of landscaping and a vegetable garden.

Four pools have been targeted by the city, as have numerous back-yard garage additions, sheds and workshops. A private contractor has told Cronin that it will cost $8,000 to rip out her pool and fill in the hole.

"My first reaction was to sell the house and move," said resident George Fernandez, who also has a back-yard pool. "But who's going to buy it?"

City engineers say the city has had an easement that allows it to build an alley through the back yards since the neighborhood was built in the late 1930s and '40s. Until now, however, there has been no need for one.

But developers' plans to build new apartment units along Fulton Avenue south of the Ventura Freeway have changed that.

The builders are restricted from connecting their apartment driveways to the busy avenue. They have been told to build an alley through the back-yard easements for their tenants' use.

The developers aren't happy about that, said Jacob Gerblich, who may have to redesign his 31-unit project because of the driveway issue. He said he prefers a regular driveway to an alley--particularly because the alley requirement has led to a delay in the city issuing him a building permit.

Homeowners say they are angry that long-established single-family homes in the neighborhood are being sacrificed to make way for the new apartments. They say surrendering 10 feet from each of their back yards to make way for the apartments is adding injury to insult.

"We went to meeting after meeting to fight the density of those apartments and didn't get anywhere," complained June Morris, who has lived in her 51-year-old house for 32 years.

Rick Roberts, a 15-year resident of the neighborhood, said construction of the alley will require the removal of tall, dense back-yard shrubs and trees he needs to screen the view of a multistory apartment to be built behind him.

On Wednesday, Roberts led a delegation of neighbors representing the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. to ask City Councilman Mike Woo to kill the alley plan.

In a meeting with Woo's aides and officials from the city's engineering and legal offices, the residents learned that may be difficult to do.

Ed Howell, assistant district engineer for the Department of Public Works' Bureau of Engineering, said the alley easement was reviewed by officials in 1965. At that time, the City Council refused to remove it from city zoning maps because of the Fulton Avenue driveway problem.

'Revocable Permit'

Howell pointed out that each homeowner who has built such things as pools in the easement has done so after obtaining a "revocable permit" from the city. The city is now revoking the permits, he said.

Kenneth Cirlin, a deputy city attorney, told homeowners that they could try again to get the council to approve a resolution vacating the alley easement. But that will take a minimum of six months--even if Woo intercedes and the city postpones the April 1 yard cleanup deadline, he said.

"The council can always change its mind" and alter its 1965 position on the Fulton Avenue driveways, Cirlin said.

Woo aide Eric Roth said his boss may ask council colleagues to do just that.

"I can tell you now Councilman Woo won't stand for it," Roth told homeowners. "The world has changed in 22 years."

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