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Los Angeles

Activists Push Their Agendas Via the Internet

Web sites are changing the way development projects are debated, as the new approach is an effective way to organize opposition.

September 15, 2003|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

To prevent hundreds of new homes from rising in his neighborhood, Gene Lassers tried tricks typically employed by activists with not-in-my-backyard attitudes. He distributed leaflets, attended meetings and encouraged others to do the same.

He also took an unconventional step by establishing www.dangerouspath.com to spread the word about the safety, security and noise pollution problems that he says could accompany Boeing Realty Corp.'s proposed PacifiCenter project.

"It's inexpensive, and if you can get the name of the Web site in front of the people you're trying to reach, you have a mass-media approach," said the Lakewood resident, who advertises the site on a magnetic sign that he slaps on the back of his Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Throughout Southern California, activists such as Lassers are changing the way development is debated by using the Internet to help organize opposition to projects large and small.

A group of Garden Grove residents, for example, established www.cggna.org to inform residents about a proposed zoning change to accommodate a development of 14 high-priced homes. Project opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on the development, prompting the Garden Grove City Council to rescind its approval Tuesday.

Other sites opposing development or fighting for preservation -- depending on the point of view --include www.savewestwoodvillage.org, www.claremontwildlands.org and www.coyotehills.org.

Some developers are countering with their own sites, often in a project's planning stages when public support is crucial.

Laer Pearce, a consultant for major Southern California home builders who has provided content for www.pacificenter.com and www.newhallland.com, noticed a change in builders' attitudes toward Web sites after some municipalities began posting environmental impact reports online.

"A couple of years ago, it was almost impossible" to get home builders to put up Web sites, Pearce said. Then cities started putting up environmental impact reports. "After that, it was no questions asked."

Ray Pearl, executive officer of the Greater Los Angeles/Ventura Building Industry Assn., said, "For the NIMBYs, it's an opportunity to get their story out to organize the opposition. From our perspective, it's an opportunity to find what we would call the silent majority that is supportive of new housing."

In the Long Beach area, opponents of a proposal to build more than 80 townhomes on a patch of unincorporated county land established www.carsonpark.org, with photos, a printable petition and updates on the project.

The group's site also includes a sample opposition letter addressed to Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents the area and whom visitors are urged to contact.

Knabe, who favors a smaller development, said he has received hundreds of e-mails, letters and phone calls from opponents. "It's the wave of the future," he said. "You just push one button and notify everyone."

Long Beach City Councilwoman Jackie Kell said, "It's a very fast response with the Internet." Her contact information is also listed on the site. "You know right away what they think."

Angela Kimball, director of the Carson Park Community Group, said her organization is using the Web site to help preserve the character of a neighborhood of predominantly single-family homes. "The fact is, what the developer is proposing is absolutely inappropriate," she said.

Developer Darryl Nyznyk, president and chief executive officer of Redondo Beach-based Anastasi Development Co., said he doesn't plan to put up a Web site. No matter how much wrangling is done by his opponents on the Internet or elsewhere, Nyznyk said, he has rights as a property owner and a need exists for affordable homes.

"For those people who want less homes -- where are their kids going to live?" Nyznyk asked. "Are they going to be able to spend $600,000 on a house instead of $300,000?"

Others are eager to wage a battle for public opinion in cyberspace, however. A selection of dueling sites includes:

* Groups that want to preserve Rancho Mission Viejo in South Orange County have put up www.friendsofthefoothills.org and www.ocheartandsoul.org, which shows colorful images of nature. Meanwhile, the property owners' site, www.ranchomissionviejo.com, has a picture of a rugged cowboy and describes the land as a family-owned, "23,000-acre cattle ranch."

* The Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment has a site, www.scope.org, with photos of volunteers planting trees and a cartoon of hills giving way to rows of homes with the caption: "Newsprawl Ranch, a community that defies nature." A more upbeat portrayal of development in the Santa Clarita area can be found at www.newhallland.com.

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