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Like Residents, the Council Should Have to Abide by the Law : Yaroslavsky's proposal to raise the height of a building by five feet--in violation of the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan--would set a dangerous precedent.

November 06, 1994|ALFRED E. F. STERN | Alfred E. F. Stern is a member of the Ventura-Woodman Committee of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn

A few years ago we decided to have a carport built at the foot of our driveway. As building began, an inspector drove up and measured the distance between the edge of our driveway and our neighbor's house. He ordered us to stop.

"You don't have the necessary space between his house and your structure," he said. "You can't build that close."

Our argument that we were only a foot off had no merit in his book. "It's still a structure," he said. "A foot is still a foot. It's the law." For a private citizen and a conscientious inspector, the law prevailed.

Cut to more recent times. A committee of carefully selected citizens was appointed to develop a plan that would maintain the pleasant atmosphere of Ventura Boulevard through a Specific Plan while permitting moderate growth.

After five years of citizen and community meetings from Woodland Hills to Studio City, the City Council enacted what it considered the best of the ideas offered. Then, with much fanfare, it made the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan the law of the city.

Now City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky has decided he and the other council members are above the law that prevents private citizens from infringing on their neighbor's proximity by a foot. He is asking the council to ignore the law the council itself passed by raising the height of a building planned on Ventura Boulevard near Woodman Avenue by five illegal feet.

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This is the block that once housed the Scene of the Crime bookstore, the block for which a city-supported senior-citizen, low-income housing project is being proposed with Yaroslavsky's backing. On Wednesday, the council is to take the crucial step of voting on a low-interest loan for the developer.

It is against the law. Nowhere in the City Charter do members of the City Council have more rights than private citizens to break the law. Actions of this sort are exactly why the public is right in losing faith in its government.

If the plan goes through, those five illegal feet will create a precedent. They will open a hole that would make the Raider and Ram offenses' mouths water. Hence forth, the lawyers representing builders wanting to exceed the plan's limits will win every time, because despite the pious protests on the part of the city, a precedent will have been established that courts will not be able to deny. So much for years of planning.

The Woodman-Ventura Committee of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. is not against a building on Ventura Boulevard between Woodman and Ventura Canyon avenues. It opposes council members' breaking the law to attain a favor for special interests.

The committee questions the validity of placing a senior citizen housing development directly on Ventura Boulevard, with its 24-hour-a-day noisy traffic and high incidence of crime.

For those living near the block, the building's plan for parking displays severe shortcomings. The builder proposes 96 parking spots, up from 89 that were proposed until the committee pointed out the dereliction but still fewer than needed.

In a proposal to Mayor Richard Riordan in July entitled "Findings of Consistency," the city Planning Department recommended that an additional one-fourth of a parking space be made available per unit for guest parking. That would increase the required number to 116. Fewer would mean more street parking, contrary to the interests of businesses and homeowners.

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The city's so-called mitigated negative declaration, required by the California Environmental Quality Act to justify projects that will cause no problems, claims there will be "no significant effect on the environment" from the apartment house.

If that is so, it is curious that the Housing Department was slow in releasing to the committee significant documents relating to the project. It makes one suspicious that they have something to hide.

Councilman Yaroslavsky and the Housing Department have essentially declared this project a good one, despite its violations, discrepancies and hiding from the public facts relating to the environment. They are using every possible means to push through the $2.4-million land acquisition loan.

The council vote will come just before Yaroslavsky moves on to the county Board of Supervisors, leaving the public with a questionable project costing 2.4 million federal dollars for a mixed-use building that violates the law.

With this going on, the public has a right to wonder: Is this a government for the people?

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