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Berman Seeks to Speed Up Repairs in 'Ghost Town' : North Hills:He asks Riordan to call a meeting of disaster officials and property owners in quake-hit area.

October 22, 1994|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying that repairs are moving too slowly at a quake-damaged "ghost town" in North Hills, Rep. Howard Berman called on Mayor Richard Riordan on Friday to convene a meeting of property owners and disaster officials to hasten repairs at the vacant buildings, which have become crime magnets.

In a letter to the mayor, Berman (D-Panorama City) said he is concerned that few repairs have begun in the heavily damaged neighborhood while repairs are further along in another ghost town in Sylmar.

"Why are things taking so long in North Hills?" he asked in the letter.

A Riordan spokeswoman said the mayor takes the ghost-town problem seriously and believes city agencies are doing their best to hasten repairs.

"You just can't get results overnight," said Noelia Rodriguez, Riordan's press aide.

The cluster of vacant, crumbling apartment buildings along Orion Avenue and Parthenia Street in North Hills have been identified by city housing officials as one of 15 "ghost town" clusters created by the Jan. 17 earthquake in the San Fernando, Hollywood and Mid-City areas.

To speed repairs and reduce crime in the areas, city officials have used federal emergency dollars to seal off the buildings and hire private, 24-hour security patrols for the neighborhoods.

Responding to heavy gang and drug sales problems in the vacant North Hills buildings, the city dispatched mounted police patrols in early September. The officers continue to be deployed there when available.

From a bankroll of more than $300 million in federal and local funds, housing officials also have offered zero- and low-interest loans to owners of quake-damaged apartments, condominiums and single-family homes.

Responding to Berman's letter, Gary Squier, general manager of the city's Housing Department, said his agency already meets regularly with property owners and federal disaster officials to try to quickly funnel zero- or low-interest loans to landlords in North Hills and other ghost towns.

"It's not as if we are just sitting back until someone calls us," he said.

But Squier added that more North Hills buildings are ending up in foreclosure than in any other ghost town in the city. This means repairs are delayed for months until new owners take over the properties.

Other property owners in the North Hills ghost town may be reluctant to accept the city's low-interest repair loans because the neighborhood has long been plagued by crime and gangs, making it difficult to attract tenants even before the quake.

"It has just been a very adverse social and economic climate," Squier said.

Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents the North Hills area, said he and Berman "share a lot of the same concerns" about the slow pace of repairs.

But he put the blame on some landlords who have not taken advantage of the city's attractive loan offer.

"Quite frankly, some of the owners have no intention of making repairs," he said.

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