Community involvement in the multimillion-dollar North Hollywood Redevelopment plan has plunged to the lowest level in the project's history--at a time when critical decisions over the area's revitalization are about to be made.
The Community Redevelopment Agency will soon mount a campaign to seek public opinion as it begins a long process that would empower the agency to spend tens of millions of tax dollars to continue urban renewal in North Hollywood.
The agency will soon reach the $89-million cap imposed when the project was created in 1979 and no new development can be funded until an amendment is approved by CRA officials said.
At stake is the direction of redevelopment in North Hollywood. Will public money be used to stimulate further development of an upscale business and office district or to rehabilitate houses and encourage home ownership? Or, will the North Hollywood of the future be a combination of the two, a commercial center that doubles as a bustling community for those who live there?
The next year will tell. Local redevelopment officials are beginning to prepare studies and schedule public hearings on the future of the 740-acre redevelopment zone, once a prosperous San Fernando Valley commercial center that deteriorated in the 1960s with the advent of shopping malls.
More than $44 million has already been spent to buy old commercial buildings clustered around Magnolia and Lankershim boulevards, clearing the way for two towering office buildings and transformation of decaying houses into a street flanked by stucco apartment buildings. New curbs and sidewalks line residential neighborhoods.
The balance of the funds has been earmarked to pay interest on bonds and buy land for another office complex at Magnolia and Lankershim and a shopping center less than a mile away.
The impending call for public comment comes at a time when few in the community are talking to the officials who are directing the North Hollywood redevelopment plans. When initial plans for redevelopment were being drafted, more than 200 people would attend monthly community meetings, concerned about the impact of redevelopment in their neighborhood.
In recent years, though, only a handful of residents and business owners have attended monthly community meetings. Currently, nine seats on a citizens advisory board are vacant, and 16 positions are filled mainly with repeat members.
But while a spectrum of community voices are absent from most public meetings, on the street and in the neighborhoods, disparate views--from enthusiastic to frustrated--abound over the effects of the changing face of North Hollywood.
Redevelopment officials and members of the citizens advisory board, called the Project Area Committee, or PAC, say the lack of public participation is a reflection of agreement and satisfaction with the direction of North Hollywood redevelopment.
"We have a wonderful homogeneous group in both community attendance and on the PAC itself," said Ada Klevans, chairwoman of the citizens panel, and a tenant of a senior citizen housing complex built with redevelopment funds. "Our projects are progressing beautifully."
PAC members volunteer their time to attend monthly advisory meetings with CRA staff. They say their input over the last years has influenced nuts and bolts improvements such as landscaping and the look of apartment buildings, and has helped to preserve several small businesses in the area.
But some North Hollywood merchants, residents and former PAC members say that many in the community feel overwhelmed by a complex redevelopment process that was set in motion a decade ago. They perceive the CRA officials and community advisers--a panel comprised primarily of business owners--to be a tightly knit, entrenched group of longtime members who are intent on carrying out the early development plan.
"I feel like they are the big boys and we are the least men on the totem pole," said Norman Zalben, 35, president of Western Surplus, a business started by his father 30 years ago. His property at Magnolia and Lankershim boulevards has been condemned to make room for street widening and an office tower. "I have tried to keep in touch with redevelopment, but the plans seemed etched in stone. So what's the point of voicing opinions?"
Others have surfaced to criticize the plan. Members were put on the defensive when ousted members of Hollywood's redevelopment advisory committee attended a North Hollywood meeting and accused the North Hollywood PAC of conducting unfair elections last month.
The elections to fill nine vacant seats were called off when two members left in anger and a quorum was lost. In a heated exchange over election procedures, the meeting later degenerated into a pushing and shoving match between several in attendance.
The next PAC meeting will be in early May. No decision has been made as to whether another election will be held.