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Panel Delays Review on Complaint Over Access to Disabled

April 26, 1990|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles City Council panel Wednesday delayed its review of a complaint that city bureaucrats violated state law by allowing construction of a 760-unit apartment complex in Woodland Hills that has no unit fully accessible to the handicapped.

The case involves an appeal of a city Building and Safety Department ruling that the complex satisfied state regulations designed to make privately constructed apartments more accessible to persons confined to wheelchairs.

The city's Board of Referred Powers postponed the case after Richard Smith, who has led the appeals fight, did not show up.

Smith later said he missed the hearing because Councilman Hal Bernson's office had told him the board--which meets after the council's regular sessions adjourn--would meet about 1 p.m. Instead, the board met shortly after 11 a.m.

Smith and the Los Angeles City Advisory Council on Disability have asked the city to revoke occupancy permits for the 760-unit complex on Oxnard Street. The complex, known as the Summit Apartments, is owned by Palmer Warner Center Ltd.

John Cropsey, who has multiple sclerosis and is a former member of the advisory council, said he visited the project and found the situation "absurd."

"Sure they've got a lot of accessibility features--like grab bars and levered door knobs--but a person in a wheelchair can't live there," he said. He said the room designs keep persons in wheelchairs out of bedrooms and bathrooms.

But Jim Ring, who represents the Summit's owners, and city officials say the developer has complied with a state law that requires the builders of private apartment complexes to spend $774 per "affected" unit to make the buildings more accessible to the handicapped. Only 190 units in the Summit complex were deemed to be "affected" by the state's so-called "cost cap" regulations.

Frank Orbin, head of the city building department's handicapped unit, told the Board of Referred Powers that activists for the handicapped basically disagree with the city's interpretation of state rules.

According to Orbin, the state law requires only that developers spend a certain amount of money on amenities for the handicapped, not that they provide any fully accessible units. The activists' true quarrel is with the state, Orbin said.

But Smith, left a quadriplegic by a swimming accident 19 years ago, said the city has the authority to require developers to spend their budgeted amount for handicapped improvements to provide a reasonable number of fully accessible units, instead of dissipating the funds on half measures.

Smith said the Summit project was singled out because of its size and because it represented a classic case of the problem. "I can show you plenty of buildings like this all over the city," he said in an interview.

Although a state law took effect Jan. 1 that requires developers to make 5% of their units fully accessible to the handicapped, Smith said it is not a moot point to seek a stronger interpretation of the previous "cost cap" law. Developers are now building many apartment projects under permits issued under the old law, Smith said.

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