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A different gated community

Man installs barrier on street, forcing residents to walk to their homes. L.A. officials are trying to resolve the dispute.

October 23, 2008|Bob Pool | Pool is a Times staff writer.

Maria Freyre could not believe her eyes last week when she pulled onto the Lincoln Heights street where she has lived for 45 years.

A neighbor had erected a steel gate across Forest Park Drive, blocking 18 residents' access to their homes.

A simmering neighborhood dispute had prompted Gardner Compton's barricade. Forest Park Drive crosses private property, Compton said -- his. He was willing to let his neighbors walk on foot along the narrow dirt road, but cars were no longer allowed.

Angry residents called Los Angeles authorities, who pledged that they would move quickly to resolve the dispute and have the gate removed from the street, which has been in use since 1924.

But the street remained blocked Wednesday morning when Freyre, 61, and her 30-year-old daughter, Norma Enriquez, squeezed past the gate to get to the car they had parked outside it overnight.

Residents say they are lugging groceries past the gate and using miner-style flashlights to hike back and forth at night to their cars.

"This is unbelievable," said Freyre, who was worried what would happen later in the day when her son planned to bring his prematurely born child home from the hospital for the first time.

She glanced past the gate to the quarter-mile walk that David Freyre would face while carrying the infant and his breathing monitor and oxygen tank.

The street standoff, on an isolated hillside above Lincoln High School and the busy intersection of North Broadway and North Mission Road, was causing ripples Wednesday three miles away at Los Angeles City Hall.

"This is a unique situation. I've never seen this level of animosity," said City Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents Lincoln Heights. "It's a tough situation. We're trying to maintain public safety for all residents. It's a delicate issue between residents' rights."

Reyes' staff was scurrying to find temporary housing for 5-month-old Aiden Freyre and his father and mother, Ruth Shafer.

"That's a priority. We're working for housing so an ambulance could get to them easily," Reyes said.

Back on Forest Park Drive, Compton was pleased that the city was taking notice of the situation.

"This is a little test of property rights," he said . "It's got everyone's attention."

Compton, 76, is an Emmy-winning TV producer and writer who through a trust owns 23 lots on what many locals call Paradise Hill.

He hopes to eventually build a solar-powered home on top that will have a view sweeping from the Hollywood sign to Mt. Baldy and Catalina Island.

"It will be my 'paradise' in case I don't get to paradise," he said with a laugh.

But his relationship has been rocky with some neighbors, Compton said.

"It's been very bizarre. They filed 112 complaints with the city against me last year. I've been attacked physically, yelled at. I got a restraining order against one of them."

Ilse Ackermann says she was the focus of the restraining order three years ago.

"He was grading one weekend without a permit and I went out and screamed at him he had no right to grade," said Ackermann, a 42-year-old music video production designer and mother of two. "I put myself in front of the bulldozer I was so upset."

Ackermann and her husband, Meeno Peluce, a photographer, purchased their 1905-era house from Compton in 2002. For the last six years, they have rehabilitated the wood-frame dwelling and lushly landscaped its grounds.

"Our appraisal report when we bought the house said it was located on a public road," Ackermann said.

A 1924 subdivision tract map for the hillside she has also suggests it is considered public -- although its alignment differs slightly these days because of an apparent washout decades ago.

Others on the street said they also considered Forest Park Drive to be open to the public.

"Never did we think it would be taken away from us," said David Freyre, a postal clerk who has lived on the street for 26 years. "How do they have the power to bring the city to its knees?" he asked about Compton and the trust.

Anthony Converse, a 43-year-old Echo Park musician who for 3 1/2 years has owned a pair of lots off Forest Park Drive where he intends to build a house, said the dispute has delayed development and caused him to forfeit an $80,000 construction loan.

"The absurdity of this is kind of hard to grasp," Converse said.

He said he was particularly upset by a demand that he and other property owners on the street pay Compton and his trust $200,000 to "reimburse" and "compensate" them for their purported harassment of Compton over the last five years.

Disagreement over who should pay for street widening, paving and maintenance if new homes are allowed next to Forest Park Drive are at the center of the dispute. Compton wants everyone to share in the cost and in fees for formal right-of-way dedication to the city.

Residents have complained that the road was fine until unapproved grading done by Compton on the hill next to and above the road threatened its usefulness in rainy weather.

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