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Panel Blocks Proposal for Westside Mausoleum

West L.A. board sides with those who say the plan ignores cemetery's historic status.

May 23, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Upholding a challenge by residents, the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission has blocked plans for a new mausoleum at Pierce Bros. Westwood Village Memorial Park, the last resting place for actors Marilyn Monroe, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon and director Billy Wilder.

The panel decided Wednesday that city planners who approved the design in February had not sufficiently considered how it conforms with existing historic features, given that the city has designated the cemetery a historic monument. Commission Vice President Flora Gil Krisiloff said the earlier review of the design "is inadequate because it did not address the cultural historic designation."

Steven Afriat, a spokesman for the cemetery owners, said they may go to court to challenge Wednesday's action as an abuse of discretion by the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission.

"The area planning commission exceeded its authority," Afriat said. "The cultural-historic designation should have been irrelevant to their decision."

The city's Planning Commission voted in July to give Houston-based Service Corp. International permission to build two mausoleums, one 18 feet tall, for 475 caskets.

A city design review panel approved details of the proposal in February, and residents who opposed the project filed an appeal with the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission.

"It will have virtually no impact on the neighbors," he said.

"There will be lush landscaping at the wall that will block everything," he said.

Steve Sann, a leader of Friends of Westwood Village Memorial Park, said that Service Corp. officials have refused to consider neighbors' requests to reorient the mausoleum so that it is not facing a residential neighborhood.

Leaders of the Friends group also complained that Service Corp. hired Central Area Planning Commissioner Allan Abshez as their lobbyist on the project.

The city attorney's office ruled that Abshez could legally lobby for the project because the decision was being made by a city panel other than his own area planning commission.

After lobbying the West Los Angeles commission previously for Service Corp., Abshez did not testify at Wednesday's meeting, but another attorney from his law firm did present the cemetery's case.

Some political reform advocates have called for a change in law to bar city commissioners from lobbying City Hall.

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