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VALLEY NEWS

Residents Lose Appeal on Housing

Development: Despite planning group's rebuff, Lake View Terrace neighbors vow to continue fighting low-income units and a city official's role in project.

November 17, 2000|PATRICK MCGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lake View Terrace neighbors Thursday lost an appeal challenging a low-income housing project that Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla had intervened earlier with city regulators to support.

After Padilla stepped in, city engineers relaxed requirements for such items as sidewalks alongside the controversial building, which was proposed, in part, by a close political advisor to Padilla.

The project is Lakeview Manor, which is being developed with a $2.8-million city loan by a joint venture partnership that includes Capital Vision Equities Inc. and Neighborhood Empowerment and Economic Development Inc. (NEED), headed by James Acevedo, a city fire commissioner.

But a group of residents pledged to keep fighting the project and protesting Padilla's role despite the rebuff Thursday from a local planning group. The residents have complained the building would be a prominent eyesore, worsen traffic and bring a disproportionate number of the poor to their community.

The North Valley Area Planning Commission did not have the votes Thursday to overturn the planning department's approval of the project.

NEED was criticized in 1997 for delays in making repairs at what turned out to be Los Angeles' last ghost town after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Acevedo worked as a consultant on Padilla's election campaign last year and received $25,000 from the Padilla campaign for providing phone bank services and a building for the operations.

After receiving calls from an aide to Padilla, the city engineer's office exempted the 56-unit Lakeview Manor from city standards that would have required developers to go to great expense to cut into a hillside and build a retaining wall for a 10-foot-wide sidewalk and a widening of Foothill Boulevard.

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Division engineer Frank Bonoff said he considered it a good compromise to allow developers to only provide a four-foot-wide sidewalk, and to keep the distance from the center line of Foothill Boulevard to the edge of the street at 28 feet instead of widening it to 40 feet. The wider street and sidewalk would have met the standards for a major highway, Bonoff said.

"They said, 'This is the standard, but is there something we can do to make this project work?' " Bonoff said of aides for Padilla and Mayor Richard Riordan. "What's the worst thing that can happen?" Bonoff added. "We would have a narrower sidewalk, but there is no sidewalk there now."

To comply with city standards, the developers would have had to spend "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to cut back the side of a bluff and build a large retaining wall, city engineers said, adding it might have made the project financially infeasible.

Padilla downplayed the role aide Mark Dierking played in meeting with city engineers.

"I wouldn't say we paved the way for the project to happen," Padilla said, but added: "I recognize the big need for affordable housing in the northeast Valley and this is a piece of property that is available for that purpose. There were a number of technical things that needed to be worked out."

The heads of two neighborhood groups that submitted petitions with more than 300 signatures opposed to the project said they believe Padilla has put his political allies ahead of the interests of the community.

"We think it's wrong. He should be looking out for us and not his campaign people," said Phyllis Hines, president of the Lake View Terrace Improvement Assn. "It's a situation of 'you scratched my back and I'll scratch yours.' He is not looking out for the community."

Nancy Snider, president of the 400-member Lake View Terrace Homeowners Assn., also questioned Padilla's allegiances.

"I think he should stand by his community and not go with the people who campaigned for him," Snider said.

Hines said if meeting the design standards makes the project too expensive, then the 2.5-acre project should be scrapped.

"Whatever is required of any other developer should be required for this," Hines said. "There should be no exceptions to the rule."

Neighbors said the three-story building would be an eyesore on a prominent bluff overlooking the Hansen Dam recreation area. Residents also complained that inadequate parking would add to traffic problems.

"The project as proposed will overburden this small community with a high concentration of the city's poor," one opposing petition stated.

Padilla denied showing favoritism to political cronies.

"That is not an issue here," Padilla said. "There are a number of projects, both affordable and market rate housing, throughout my district and I welcome scrutiny on all of them."

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Acevedo and NEED have been controversial. The Times disclosed NEED had been loaned more than $7 million by the city Housing Department to repair six quake-damaged apartment buildings in the Valley, even though the group had no previous experience in housing rehabilitation.

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