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Valley Perspective

Miracle Workers Needed

February 04, 2001

The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency--and, by extension, the community of North Hollywood--was in a bind. A developer on a project plagued by eleventh-hour changes failed to meet his deadline.

Toss out the deal and risk even more delays by reopening the project to bids? Or give the developer and his new partner one more chance on yet another last-minute plan?

Given the circumstances, the CRA made the right call: another chance.

The CRA has been working exclusively for 18 months with developer J. Allen Radford on a commercial and retail hub around North Hollywood's newly opened Metro Red Line subway station. But Radford failed to deliver a final development deal by last week's deadline.

Not only that, the deal that he now promises to have in place by next week is substantially different from the one he first proposed. In the months that he's worked with the city, Radford has scaled back the proposed development to 22 acres from 43. He dropped plans for sound stages, condominiums and, most recently, a 14-screen movie theater.

Now Radford is scaling back his own involvement--which, all things considered, may not be a bad thing--in favor of developer Jerry Snyder, who turned up unexpectedly last week as Radford's new partner on the deal with plans to take over as lead developer.

Adding to the general confusion is the Los Angeles Unified School District, which, to the consternation of development-hungry North Hollywood community leaders, is eyeing land next to or near the subway for a badly needed new high school.

The last-minute changes and inability to meet the deadline argue for reopening the deal to bids. Other developers are making noises that they will sue to force the city to do just that, although the CRA board obtained a city attorney's opinion saying it can still sign an agreement after the exclusive negotiations period expires.

But to reopen the process would mean still more delays for beleaguered North Hollywood, which has endured all the downsides of the subway's construction but has yet to reap any of the benefits.

Snyder says he would not only build the shops, restaurants and offices in Radford's plan but would add apartments back to the mix. That would be a most welcome addition.

Not only is housing needed in the ever more crowded east San Fernando Valley, but clustering apartments or condominiums around the subway station is the kind of smart development Los Angeles needs if its traffic-choked freeways and streets aren't going to come to a complete stop.

Snyder also says he can accommodate a new high school. That is a trickier proposition.

North Hollywood business and community leaders have long been promised that the subway would help turn around this shabby area, now a wasteland of empty lots and boarded-up buildings. They argue that for this to happen, vacant land must be put to commercial use.

The city owes North Hollywood more than promises, and whoever develops the property adjoining or near the subway must be flexible regarding neighbors' wishes. But market research shows no need for more sound stages or movie theaters--and there is a great need for schools.

Can the area around the subway station accommodate community development in the fullest sense, a development that includes housing, retail, restaurants, offices and, yes, a school?

To say a lot is resting on Snyder's presentation to the CRA board next week is an understatement. He, Radford, LAUSD officials and Mayor Richard Riordan, who supports both commercial development and the school, have until Wednesday to come up with a miracle. What they come up with deserves careful, even skeptical scrutiny. But it does deserve that.

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