Far-reaching ordinances to limit growth on Ventura Boulevard were signed into law Monday by acting Mayor John Ferraro, including an emergency ban that legal authorities said was enacted in time to block a controversial Sherman Oaks project from rising beyond two stories.
Opponents of the project earlier feared that Mayor Tom Bradley's failure to sign the plan before he left the city Sunday could open a path for construction of a three-story shopping mall.
The project by builder Jacky Gamliel at Ventura Boulevard and Woodman Avenue, former site of the Scene of the Crime Bookstore, has been opposed by neighboring homeowners and Councilman Mike Woo, who represents parts of Studio City and Sherman Oaks.
Gamliel's lawyer, Ben Reznik, responded that the builder will sue the city for a permit to build three stories, arguing that the emergency ordinance is illegally aimed specifically at him. It would not be economically feasible to go ahead with the mall if it is limited to two stories, he said.
Ferraro acted on the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan ordinances after Bradley left on a 10-day trip to the Far East on Sunday without signing them. In Bradley's absence, the mayor's powers devolve upon Ferraro, president of the City Council.
A handful of worried Sherman Oaks activists picketed the mayor's official residence in Hancock Park on Saturday to protest his inaction.
But Ferraro's signature on the ordinances appeared to end the activists' worries by completing passage of the far-reaching plan to control growth on a 17-mile stretch of Ventura Boulevard, the San Fernando Valley's "main street," from Studio City to Woodland Hills.
"We're in the driver's seat," said Tom Grant, a director of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. "It was a contentious race against the Gamliel project, and we won."
Others were still annoyed, however, that Bradley had not acted. "Mayor Bradley's failure to sign this was definitely hostile to Sherman Oaks residents," said Richard Close, president of the homeowners association.
Bradley's press secretary, Bill Chandler, said the mayor was unable to sign the ordinances before leaving for Hawaii and Indonesia because his staff had not completed its review of "serious questions" about their legality.
In addition to the sweeping specific plan to limit the size, height and scale of commercial structures along the boulevard for years to come, Ferraro signed an interim control ordinance that virtually bans issuance of any permits to build on Ventura Boulevard during the next 60 days--whether or not the applicants' projects conform to the specific plan.
To the satisfaction of uneasy opponents of Gamliel's project, an urgency clause put the interim law into effect Monday evening. The urgency language will prevent a rush of development applications, but was specifically counted on by the opponents as a way of blocking his project.
Sherman Oaks homeowners had been concerned that Bradley's failure to sign the interim ordinance before Monday would enable Gamliel to obtain a building permit, because his application is to be heard today by the city's Building and Safety Commission.
If Gamliel had obtained the permit before the interim ordinance took effect, he would have been able to build a three-story project--one story taller than would be allowed under the specific plan--if a substantial amount of the construction had been completed within 30 days.
Despite the serious setback to Gamliel's plans, Reznik vowed to carry the fight to court to win the right to build a three-story project. "We're going to throw everything at them, including the kitchen sink," he said.
Reznik said the city would be sued for violating Gamliel's civil rights. He said the city made "a special effort" in the emergency ordinance "to torpedo this project, and I think that doing this crossed the bounds of what's legal."
Reznik also alleged that the City Council's action failed to establish that the emergency measure was needed to preserve the city's "peace, health and safety" as is required by the City Charter.
Woo, who earlier said he was afraid that the interim ordinance would not take effect in time, said he was "pleasantly surprised" to learn that it would.
Woo said his staff had been erroneously advised by the city attorney's office that the ordinance would not go into effect until 24 hours after it was published in a legal newspaper, the Daily Commerce, which would have allowed Gamliel time to obtain a permit at the hearing today. But the city attorney's office said Monday that the ordinance would go into effect when the newspaper was published Monday evening.