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School's In and Families Are Out

The Valley

December 12, 2001|DAVID PIERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With unanimous approval Tuesday of a plan to build another elementary school in North Hollywood, the Los Angeles Unified School District board set in motion the largest relocation of residents in the district.

Beginning in January, about 123 families who rent and eight homeowners will have to be removed from a 4.15-acre neighborhood surrounding Lankershim Boulevard and Tiara Street.

Some residents have opposed the new school because of the relocation.

"These people are literally losing sleep as the days go by," said Esther Portillo of the Coalition for Economic Survival, an advocacy group for low-income tenants in Los Angeles. "What a horrible way to spend Christmas."

The district will now make offers to owners of homes and apartment buildings in the predominantly low-income neighborhood. It can use eminent domain if some owners refuse to sell, said Mott Smith, director of the district's housing and relocation program.

Los Angeles Unified has 12 elementary schools in North Hollywood. The new campus will relieve overcrowding at Victory Boulevard and Oxnard Street elementary schools, district officials said. The district is attempting to build 85 schools and expand 75 others. Forty of those projects require the relocation of a total of 1,250 families, Smith said.

After the North Hollywood project, the second-largest relocation is for a new elementary school in Central Los Angeles that will remove 106 families, he said.

Smith said the district is offering several packages to families. They include a lump sum payment equivalent to 3 1/2 years of the families' current rent or 30% of their income to buy a new home, and placing them at the top of the waiting list to redeem Section 8 vouchers.

At Tuesday's meeting, board member David Tokofsky said the North Hollywood project will serve as a model for what the district is doing right or wrong under its relocation plan, and he called for "extra vigilance" to ensure that the residents are treated fairly.

Maria Esther Santoy said her family of six will need the district's assistance.

"We can't leave here," said Santoy, whose family has lived in the one-bedroom, one-bath apartment for 13 years and pays $460 a month in rent. "The rent is cheap here. In other places, it's more expensive. We're worried."

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Staff writers Caitlin Liu and Erika Hayaski contributed to this report.

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