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CITYSCAPES / MATHIS CHAZANOV

On Sycamore Ave., Parking Lot Uproar Is Not Child's Play

July 22, 1995|MATHIS CHAZANOV

This is a story of some neighbors who just do not get along, and probably never will.

They live, study, worship and do business along and behind a quirky stretch of La Brea Avenue where hip meets holy, where young people in dark glasses hang out in coffeehouses near the homely synagogues of pious Jews who cling to old-country ways.

On the face of it, the problem has to do with the arcana of city zoning regulations.

But it also speaks to the sheer irritability that can possess us all from just living too close to other people.

Bottom line: When is a parking lot not a parking lot?

When it's a playground.

*

Talk to some of the people who live in the back apartments on leafy Sycamore Avenue, one block east of La Brea.

Their windows open onto an alley and the rear entrance of the Cheder of Los Angeles, an elementary school for boys from ultra-Orthodox Jewish families.

The noise, these neighbors say, is driving them nuts.

It starts just after dawn, when the faithful arrive for early morning prayers and slam their car doors.

Then school opens, and dozens of youngsters erupt into the fenced-off parking area to play at unpredictable hours until the late afternoon or early evening.

Weekends and holidays offer little relief because the kids are at play while their parents are at prayer in the synagogue on the corner.

"I'm forced to observe their holidays--they don't observe mine," said Dina Leousis, an artist and art dealer who lives in a one-bedroom ground-floor apartment on Sycamore.

Raised a Greek Orthodox Christian, she has learned to know--and dread--the Jewish holidays, especially Sukkoth, when observant Jews eat and sing in huts outdoors.

Sundays, Christmas, Memorial Day--she says it makes no difference.

"I want peace and quiet. I want to be able to read the paper on Sunday morning. I want to be able to come home after work and cook my dinner in peace."

Now talk to Robert W. Hirsh, attorney for the school.

"I don't see it as a secular vs. religious issue," he said. "I see it as a lot of mean-spirited neighbors who are anti-children and don't want a school there."

Leousis and her neighbors have been fighting Hirsh and his school about this for years at City Hall. A visitor wonders why the neighbors are upset about noise from a school playground. What else do they expect?

Aha! the neighbors say. This is one playground that was supposed to be a parking lot. Although they once might have gone along with a compromise allowing for strictly scheduled recesses and lunch breaks, what they want now is to see the lot filled with cars--and nothing else.

But it is a parking lot, Hirsh insists. If anybody wanted to park there, they could. It's just that no one does.

"These are little boys," he said. "They need to let off steam. Unfortunately, there are certain neighbors there who, for whatever reason, object to this."

*

The neighbors object so strongly that they won an order from a city building inspector that the lot must be used only for parking, complete with an attendant so cars can be parked behind one another. Zoning Administrator Horace E. Tramel Jr. upheld that order at a public hearing last month, but said this week that the paperwork has not been typed up.

Once Tramel's decision is official, Hirsh said, he is likely to appeal the ruling to the Board of Zoning Appeals, or to seek a variance that would allow for playing as well as parking in the lot.

The school administration asked parents in 1993 to help keep the noise down as part of what they described as an agreement to limit yard play to between 8:45 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. The letter went out to school parents after all sides met with an aide to then-City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. But the letter had the effect of making the neighbors madder: They insisted that there had never been an agreement.

"So rather than to resolve this situation, it was further exacerbated," Linda G. Greene, a longtime resident of an apartment that also backs on the alley, said in a letter to city officials.

To this day, rather than using the school's parking lot, visitors to the campus park on Sycamore, which is jammed with the cars of people who live in the street's spacious apartments. Or they take up the metered spots on La Brea, which makes some merchants mad.

Aaron Mood is not all that upset. To Mood, counter manager at the All Point Electric store next door, the sound of children playing is a blessing.

"If it's zoned for a parking lot, then they're really breaking the law, but it sounds to me like a petty technicality," he said. "These kids have to go somewhere."

But Raymond Ferra is hopping mad. He runs an antique lamp shop in a commercial building he owns next door to the school.

Ferra complains of customers who cannot find parking on La Brea, of schoolchildren running on his roof, of garbage thrown over the fence, of synagogue and school people using his parking lot to turn around, of mothers dropping their boys off, blocking the alley so delivery trucks cannot get through.

"I'm not mad because they're Jewish," Ferra said, eating a ham sandwich in the back room of his shop. "I just don't want to get stepped on."

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