Jim Stein stands before a wooded lot across from Birmingham High School and describes a 187-unit apartment complex that a builder hopes to put there.
It would rise six stories and add 1,000 car trips through the area each day. And there would be just one way in and out — onto busy Victory Boulevard.
As a hawk idling overhead takes a steep dive into brush, the 60-year Lake Balboa resident shakes his head. "From this to a six-story apartment building?" Stein says. "I don't think so."
To Stein and other residents, the planned Balboa Park Terrace exemplifies their concern that developers are eyeing empty lots in the central San Fernando Valley for new, high-density housing developments, threatening the character of their single-family residential neighborhoods. And they especially want to know who is giving money to the two candidates vying March 3 to represent them on the Los Angeles City Council.
District 6 incumbent Nury Martinez is backed by an array of development and real estate interests that voters like Stein find troubling. Of the more than $480,000 that Martinez and independent groups supporting her run have raised so far, campaign finance records show that $91,400 has come from real estate and construction interests.
Martinez's biggest source of support, $141,700, is from unions.
Challenger Cindy Montanez, by contrast, has raised a total of $58,200. Her biggest support groups are lawyers, who gave $10,070; financial services, $7,100; and retirees, $6,279. She received $5,900 from contributors connected to real estate and construction.
Stein, who is supporting Montanez, joined three other Lake Balboa residents last week to protest Martinez's appearance at a $700-a-plate fundraiser at an Encino law firm, co-hosted by Brad Rosenheim, a consultant hired by the Moss Group, the Balboa Park developer.
The project is on hold while Moss attempts to work out differences with Lake Balboa residents.
Longtime Valley developer David Spiegel, meanwhile, has given $20,700 to the Martinez reelection effort. His company, Spiegel Development, is seeking approval to build a single-family home and 25 townhouse-style units on lots zoned for single-family residences in Panorama City. That development, too, has drawn objections from local residents.
Both projects require zoning changes that would have to be approved by the Council. And members generally follow the wishes of the colleague in whose district the change would occur.
"Anybody who is conscious of how things appear to the public would be ashamed to be anywhere near that,'' Lake Balboa music teacher Bill Haller said of last week's Martinez fundraiser. "But she doesn't seem too concerned. She thinks we're an electorate that is not interested in what's going on."
Roy Behr, Martinez's campaign consultant, called the protests over the apartment project a "fake issue created by the Montanez campaign." Moss withdrew its application after Martinez wrote a Jan. 22 letter saying she would not support it without neighborhood backing, he said. Behr did not mention that a working group, made up of local residents and Moss officials, has been convened to try to work out differences.
"Moss contributed to Nury despite the fact that she is opposed to their project, clearly demonstrating that Nury is an independent vote," Behr said. "In addition, Moss contributed to Cindy Montanez in 2013, so she has no standing to make accusations about their contribution." City records show that Moss gave Montanez $1,200 and Martinez $500 in the 2013 special election that Martinez won in a come-from-behind vote. For their matchup next week, Moss contributed $700 to Martinez only.
Behr said Martinez turned down another project on Louise Street in Lake Balboa after hearing from neighbors. He accused Montanez of running a campaign "devoid of real issues." Lake Balboa resident Carol Newman, meanwhile, said Martinez's stance on the Balboa Park Terrace complex earned her admiration.
"That letter was stronger than anything I've expected for someone on the City Council to write,'' said Newman, a real estate lawyer who hopes that a compromise on the project can be reached.
Haller, the music teacher, said the temporary halt to the apartment project doesn't allay his concerns.
"This will be the typical 'we'll wait until after the election and if Nury Martinez is elected, here's your brand new building folks,''' he said. "And we get the traffic problems, the congestion and the pollution."
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