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CRA's N. Hollywood Nemesis Packing It In and Moving On

Politics: After battling redevelopment officials for a decade, a fed-up Mildred Weller is headed for Arizona. 'The city is totally dysfunctional,' she says.

October 09, 2000|PATRICK MCGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mildred Weller spent the last decade as the proverbial wrench in the gears of the Community Redevelopment Agency, taking powerful politicians to court, badgering bureaucrats and even reducing one city official to tears.

As president of North Hollywood Concerned Citizens and a member of the redevelopment agency's elected Project Area Committee, Weller was the agency's chief critic in North Hollywood, charging that it failed to revitalize the community despite spending more than $110 million.

But Weller has fired off her last scathing letter, and pounded her last table.

She and her husband, Ed, have sold their North Hollywood office building and packed their marketing business off to what she hopes will be greener pastures in Tucson.

Weller said her disgust with the lack of progress by the agency in staving off the spread of blight in North Hollywood was a key factor in her decision to move out of state.

"The city is totally dysfunctional," Weller said. "I was born in Los Angeles, and I saw a beautiful city turned into a ghetto."

Some North Hollywood civic leaders privately welcome Weller's departure, saying she was an obstructionist.

Others regret her leaving. They say she could be an asset now that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has opened a new subway station and a developer has proposed a major entertainment and office complex.

"I hope she will come back and visit in two years and be pleasantly surprised," said Loretta Dash, president of the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

Dash politely said she and Weller "had different perspectives."

But others said Weller kept the city agency from running roughshod over homeowners and merchants in the area, energizing the community to stand up for its rights against a powerful agency.

"She had a tremendous impact," said Glenn Hoiby, who chairs the North Hollywood Project Area Committee, created by the City Council to oversee redevelopment. "She put in hundreds of hours to get people involved in what was going on."

Weller said she believes she served as a check on the CRA's powers.

"I got them to be more realistic about what they do by exposing their failures," she said.

A stickler for detail, Weller recently turned over to other activists more than 40 boxes of documents she had collected in her decade-long battle against the CRA.

Hoiby has been elected to replace Weller as president of the 40-member North Hollywood Concerned Citizens, and he vowed to keep up the pressure.

Critical of Developer Perks

Weller, who was born in East Los Angeles and moved to the San Fernando Valley in the 1950s, believes it is wrong for the CRA to divert property tax money from police and fire services to pay for a bureaucracy that provides incentives to developers.

In 1992, she led a group of CRA critics that won election to the Project Area Committee, frustrating City Council members who supported redevelopment efforts.

Council President John Ferraro, who represents much of North Hollywood, persuaded the council to dissolve the panel and hold new elections. The anti-CRA block won again.

In an incident that cemented Weller's reputation in North Hollywood, Ferraro sent one of his deputies to take control of the Project Area Committee after Weller had become its chair.

Rather than give up her position, Weller ruled Ferraro's aide out of order.

"[The aide] tried to say, 'I'm taking over,' but I pounded this large gavel I had, and she finally walked out in tears," Weller recalls.

A few years later, Weller was a principal in a lawsuit that blocked extension of redevelopment activity in North Hollywood for more than a year on grounds that the City Council had not complied with rules requiring public input.

"I certainly did not agree with her views of redevelopment," said Keith Richman, a former agency commissioner. "But Mildred Weller was a conscientious person who was interested in making North Hollywood a better place."

Weller also was part of a group that secured a legal opinion from the state attorney general that concluded the agency was wrong to exclude PAC members from information on developments in the project.

The Wellers recently sold their large North Hollywood office building, home for their food marketing business. The building, which the Wellers bought in 1969, is just a few blocks away from ground zero for redevelopment, the corner of Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards.

Area Has Become 'Disaster,' She Says

Nearby, a proposal has existed for more than a decade to transform vacant land into a major office and entertainment development. That project has not been built, although redevelopment officials are still trying to secure a developer.

Not even the opening of a new subway station a few blocks away from Weller's building could convince her to stay. Vast acres around the station remain undeveloped.

"We just felt the whole area was a disaster," Weller said.

"I'm sure the people at CRA are going to throw a party to celebrate my leaving," she added.

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