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Temple's Expansion Plan Draws Opposition : Development: About 275 residents pack the annual meeting of the Westwood Homeowners' Assn. to speak out against Sinai Temple proposal.

February 09, 1995|SCOTT SHIBUYA BROWN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It should have been an opportunity for the Westwood Homeowners' Assn. to conduct routine business: the election of a new board of directors. But with an overflow crowd of 275 anxious residents--many of whom had gathered to voice opposition to two major development projects in the area--Monday evening's annual meeting was anything but routine.

During the two-hour meeting at Fairburn Avenue Elementary School, the crowd did hold its election. And the results, released Wednesday, showed that all 13 members of the board of directors were reelected.

But the focus of attention at the meeting was two projects long mired in controversy: a plan to turn Santa Monica Boulevard into a 10-lane corridor and a proposed expansion of Sinai Temple.

According to plans, the temple--at Wilshire and Beverly Glen boulevards--will increase school enrollment by 250 students, nearly double its existing space of 96,000 square feet and add about 400 underground parking spaces.

Both Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky took the podium at Fairburn Avenue Elementary School to field questions--most of them hostile--about the expansion, estimated to cost $20 million.

The project is opposed by the homeowners' board, which also is appealing the city zoning administrator's approval of the expansion. But the plan has outraged so many in the community that some association members have criticized the board, saying it has not been aggressive enough in opposing the development.

Despite resistance to the project, Yaroslavsky maintained that an expansion of some sort would take place and that it was up to homeowners to find a compromise. Yaroslavsky, who said he also has questions about many aspects of the development, urged residents to "deal themselves (into) the negotiating process" because the city traditionally approves expansion plans by churches and temples.

"The city will not turn down Sinai's application," Yaroslavsky said to boos from the audience. "And it shouldn't turn it down outright."

Galanter also declined to oppose the project, but acknowledged that she would be willing to study other possibilities for the Temple's expansion.

In contrast to the dispute over that project, the parties at Monday's meeting were united in their opposition to the proposed $69.1 million expansion of Santa Monica Boulevard.

In December, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority released a report that proposed turning the congested boulevard into a 10-lane corridor, with separate bus lanes and an island median for pedestrians and cyclists.

But at Monday's meeting, MTA Project Manager Patti Helm said that because of concerns expressed by Galanter, Yaroslavsky and the mayor's office, the agency has put the project on hold--an announcement that drew applause and cheers.

Other than that brief moment of unity, the meeting was rancorous and punctuated with outbursts by residents impatient to debate the expansion issues and bypass the meeting's regular agenda.

One homeowner who has attended meetings for more than a decade shook his head at the tenor of the gathering. "This was the most fractious meeting ever," he said.

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