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Los Angeles

L.A. Unified, Federal Agency Quarrel Over Mid-Wilshire Land

April 16, 2002|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Unified School District and the Social Security Administration are fighting over a small piece of land in the mid-Wilshire area, with each side arguing that it desperately needs the property to serve the community's needs.

L.A. Unified wants the land for a school, and is pushing the federal agency to give up a lease for a new building that the landlord is putting on the site at Wilshire Boulevard and Wilton Place.

School district officials said they have been planning for nearly three years to buy the property and build a primary center for 500 students in kindergarten through second grade, but had been unaware of the federal agency's plans for the site.

The district conducted environmental reviews of the site and finished architectural renderings for the school, which officials said is sorely needed in one of the city's most densely populated areas.

Without the site, a new primary center will be delayed by up to seven years and the district will lose $10 million in state funding, officials said.

The district might have to acquire residential or commercial property through eminent domain, they said.

"These federal officials just do not understand the priorities of the local community," said school board President Caprice Young.

But Social Security officials said they can't break the 15-year lease that the General Services Administration signed on their behalf in September. The federal officials defended the importance of their own work, saying they must move from their current site a few blocks away because their caseloads--and staff--are expanding.

The Social Security Administration office sends 32,000 checks each month to recipients of federal aid in the mid-Wilshire corridor, west of downtown. Recipients include the elderly, disabled and survivors entitled to death benefits.

"LAUSD has tried to make us look like the big bad wolf here," said Sheila Leiter, director of the agency's Los Angeles metropolitan area.

"Everybody adores children, but when they grow up and they've been kicked around by life, no one adores them."

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