The Los Angeles Planning Commission voted last week to allow residents of a cul-de-sac near Century City to secede from Los Angeles so they can be annexed by Beverly Hills, a change that would enhance property values by at least $150,000 per home.
The real estate bonanza was not a matter of consideration for the commission, which based its unanimous decision Thursday on the claim that the 10 homes on Hillgreen Drive are inaccessible to Los Angeles emergency vehicles, placing residents in a life-threatening situation. The street's residents say they would receive better service from Beverly Hills.
Hillgreen resident Marie-France Salaun testified at the public hearing about an incident three years ago when her husband was in a diabetic coma and paramedics could not find their home. He survived, but has since died.
Though Hillgreen is steps away from Pico Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars, it cannot be reached by vehicle except by a roundabout route through Beverly Hills.
The matter moves to a Los Angeles City Council committee and then to the full council. Only then does Beverly Hills decide if it will take the properties. Beverly Hills has avoided taking a formal position on the annexation, but the Hillgreen residents have been sufficiently encouraged by their preliminary discussions with city officials to proceed with their plan.
It is highly unusual for Los Angeles to let its properties go under any circumstances and a first for Los Angeles Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, whose blessing is critical to the plan's success.
Yaroslavsky's council district encircles Beverly Hills and has had a longstanding policy against allowing properties to leave the city. But he said in an earlier interview that the cul-de-sac's circumstances were unique. "I wouldn't want it on my conscience if a paramedic unit didn't get to Hillgreen in time," he said.
A Yaroslavsky deputy voiced his support of the secession at the public hearing Thursday, which took place in Van Nuys.
Yaroslavsky foes are skeptical about his motives, suggesting that he is backing the move to assist a friendly constituent and campaign contributor who has spearheaded Hillgreen's drive for a Beverly Hills address.
The contributor, Abe Knobel, has given Yaroslavsky $2,100 since 1985, according to campaign records. At a news conference on Thursday, activist Laura Lake charged that Knobel was a Yaroslavsky-beholden chairman of a committee organized to study 20th Century Fox's controversial proposal to revamp and expand its lot.
Knobel, who has since resigned as chairman, insists that his motives are pure and that he has in no way been a crony of Yaroslavsky's.
Yaroslavsky spokeswoman Katharine Macdonald on Thursday branded Lake's charges "ludicrous." "I think Laura Lake is a failed candidate who doesn't seem to understand she lost the election and it's not time for another election," Macdonald said.
Lake, a Westwood activist, ran unsuccessfully against Yaroslavsky in 1989. She was joined at the news conference by a small group of Westside residents. "It's bad public policy," she said. "You don't give up your city because someone gives you $2,100 in campaign contributions."
Macdonald scoffed at the notion that her boss would be influenced by Knobel's financial support. She said Yaroslavsky did not remember refusing a similar request for detachment in the late 1970s, as Lake alleges, based on the statement of a former member of a city panel.
Los Angeles police and fire officials approved the plan to detach the homes based on safety considerations, but the city administrative office remains opposed because it sets a bad precedent and will cause a revenue loss for the city. A CAO estimate said the annual property tax and water-sale loss will be $9,945, with a one-time expense of $4,900 to detach from city services.
But Macdonald insisted that the actual amount would be lower because Hillgreen residents have agreed to bear the detachment costs. Besides, she said, not having to provide the residences with water during a drought is good for the city.
It will cost Beverly Hills about $19,000 to annex the homes, according to a city report.