Community of Farms, Homes Now Mishmash of Land Uses : Real Estate Bull Market Alters Moneta Gardens

Times Staff Writer

Since 1913 when they came to Hawthorne and started a flower farm, the Satow family has watched Moneta Gardens change. In the decades before World War II, the Satows gazed across acres and acres of Japanese truck farms, and their neighbors were the Rapela orchid farm and the Bodger Seed Co.

When the war came and workers flocking to round-the-clock defense plants needed places to live, the Satows watched as the fields of Moneta began sprouting houses in place of crops.

And during the 1960s, when a series of annexations plucked Moneta from the county and brought it within Hawthorne city limits, they watched as apartment buildings began going up on the large parcels.

"The chickens and pigs went out and the apartment boys came in," said 66-year-old Henry Satow, who, along with his four brothers, continues to run the family nursery at El Segundo Boulevard and Kornblum Avenue.

The apartment and condominium trend has yet to exhaust itself and today, Moneta Gardens--a 30-block chunk of southeastern Hawthorne bounded by Prairie Avenue, El Segundo and Crenshaw boulevards and Rosecrans Avenue--has the greatest concentration of residential building in the city.

795 New Units

During 1984, the city processed plans for 795 new units in the area, although not all of them have been built. By contrast, there were plans for fewer than 200 units in the rest of Hawthorne.

The changing face of Moneta Gardens has left it a mishmash of land uses and visual images.

One block may contain a crumbling frame house with litter on the lawn, a brand-new apartment building, an aging trailer park, and a row of neatly kept, 1950s-era stucco homes. Rambling nurseries continue to dot the area, and driving on narrow streets--laid out for an earlier era--is sometimes a matter of snaking through traffic in lanes hemmed-in by parked cars.

A 1977 study of Moneta Gardens by a consultant said the neighborhood had "the classic characteristics" of land-use conflict: "noise, congestion, deteriorating structures, poorly maintained premises, nondescript image, lower levels of public improvements and a 'feeling' of neglect . . . . "

While officials say development since 1977 has improved the situation--notably through the replacement of old, dilapidated structures with many new buildings--city Planning Director Jim Marquez said clashing land uses continue to spell trouble in Moneta Gardens.

"The densities of the area create traffic and noise, and because of a lack of buffers, low-profile quadruplexes are totally overshadowed by three-story, 50-unit apartment houses," he said, adding that park land is inadequate and clusters of single-family homes have become isolated on cul-de-sac streets.

And the current face of Moneta Gardens is receiving decidedly mixed reviews in Hawthorne.

"The activity is a positive thing for the city," Marquez said. "New development there has stemmed deterioration and has made private redevelopment possible in that area. Small, old developments that have deteriorated have been sold for land value to developers, who have built rental housing for which there is a tremendously high demand."

But some Moneta Gardens residents, including a few who have never lived anywhere else, say development has saturated streets with cars and has brought in a transient population that they blame for a rise in crime--particularly residential burglaries. They also claim that speculative buying has caused rents to spiral.

School Officials Alarmed

"I want to look on the positive side, but I can't find much to be positive about because it's not a family area anymore," said Ken Robinson, who said 135th Street where he lives has become "the busiest street in Hawthorne." People speed and drop litter, beer and wine bottles, he said.

Another one of the Satow brothers, 62-year-old Tabo Satow, said he isn't happy about the last 10 years of building in Moneta Gardens. "It's just making it more congested," he said, "filling up the schools and increasing burglaries."

The Hawthorne School District, which has three schools in Moneta Gardens serving about 1,600 children in kindergarten through eighth grade, also is alarmed about continuing building.

Supt. Edward Hayduk said the schools have room for 200 more children but after that "we do have a problem. . . . It is beginning to cause us a great deal of anxiety."

Hayduk said continued growth in Moneta Gardens could led to double sessions and year-round schools. He said the district is contemplating asking the city to impose a fee of between $1,500 to $2,000 per unit on developers--something he admits "won't be well received." The money would be used for temporary classrooms.

"The city supports the building, but my concern is who supports education?" Hayduk said.

Police say Moneta Gardens residents have good reason to be concerned about crime. "It has the highest number of residential burglaries in the city, and they warrant attention," Police Capt. David Barnes said. There were 136 residential burglaries reported in Moneta Gardens during the first 11 months of 1984, according to police.

Barnes said the density of development is a factor in the burglary problem because units are away from the street and unoccupied during the day. He said transiency makes it difficult to develop stable Neighborhood Watch groups. Barnes said the area was saturated with patrol units in December to combat burglaries during the day, when many residents are at work.

One resident, hit five times by burglars last year, said he would like to sell his home and move.

There is no mystery as to why Moneta Gardens has boomed for builders--with some time out for real estate slumps--since annexation. One- and two-acre lots have been available at reasonable prices, and burgeoning South Bay industry, particularly aerospace and high technology, has created a demand for housing.

"Hawthorne offers a good density factor and land is still affordable to buy," said Ivano Stamegna, a partner in New World Developers, which has 114 apartment units under way in Moneta Gardens. "Rentals go fast because there is a lot of industry around. The people who rent are working families with young children."

Mayor Guy Hocker Jr., who also is a real estate broker and an active developer in an area just south of Moneta Gardens, said the standard large Moneta lot--a little under an acre--now sells for between $450,000 and $500,000. It will accommodate 49 units under current multiple-residential zoning and density standards.

He said builders in Hawthorne have the advantage of lower land prices--and lower rents--in comparison to neighboring cities, such as Torrance.

One man who benefited from lower costs was Joel Hobbs, an aircraft engineer from Seattle who bought a spacious, airy, three-bedroom condominium in Moneta Gardens for $112,000 in October. Hobbs said he priced units in other South Bay cities, including Torrance and Manhattan Beach, where he said a comparable condominium would have cost about $50,000 more.

Property owners in Moneta Gardens receive letters or telephone calls on a regular basis from people who want to buy land for development, according to residents.

"We get developers calling every month," said Georgia Williams, who with her husband, Gene, owns a two-bedroom home on a half-acre lot on Kornblum Avenue. "We're not interested in selling, but if the price were right, we would sell. She said the "best offer" so far has been $370,000.

Sally Johnson, who lives on Chadron Avenue, said she has been contacted by a Westminster developer. "My place is up for sale," she said. "I enjoyed my home, but not since these apartments came in."

Jun Watanabe, owner of a three-acre nursery at Rosecrans and Yukon Avenue, said, "Every developer has been here." But he is not interested in selling.

Plans to Sell

The Satow brothers, however, do want to close their 10-acre nursery and are in escrow to sell the property to West Los Angeles developer Leo Kringle for nearly $4 million, according to Henry T. Satow. He said he and his brothers are getting old--they range in age from 58 to 70--and want to retire.

A 96-unit low- and moderate-income housing project on the land was turned down by the city in November because of strong neighborhood opposition. Kringle declined to discuss future plans for the property.

The City Council in recent months has heard several appeals for rent control from Moneta Gardens residents. In December, a case involving an apartment complex of three-bedroom units in the 13600 block of Chadron went before the city rent mediation board, where residents said that after rents on the 10 units were increased by $200 a month, some promised repairs were improperly done.

Charges From Tenants

The board did not find the rents out of line, but it concluded that plumbing work had been done without a permit and there were problems with water heater pressure release valves, according to Warner McGuyre, director of housing and community development. He said the owner was directed to correct deficiencies and the case has been kept open.

Eleanor Carlson, a spokeswoman for the tenants, contends that the apartment court and two adjoining properties have been purchased for future development. In the meantime, she charged, "people who have been here for years are being given notices to pay double rent or get out."

Zaffer Hassanally, who manages the Chadron property for owner V. T. Pappas, said two, not three, properties were purchased for "rental and investment," not redevelopment. He said rents at the Chadron court were $350 a month when Pappas purchased it in April and have been raised to $550 in two increments.

"The rents were way below market and the property was in disrepair," Hassanally said. "We're expending money right and left, replacing carpets, drapes and doing plumbing repairs, but the units are still below market."

McGuyre agrees that the Chadron rents are fair. He said the city follows monthly rental guidelines for federally subsidized housing in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area. Those rates currently range from $416 for single units to $741 for three bedrooms. "We think this is very comparable to what rentals are throughout the city, including Moneta Gardens," McGuyre said.

Hassanally, whose Torrance realty company manages several other Moneta Gardens complexes, said there are many poorly maintained older properties in the area where people have benefited from bargain rents for years. But this is changing, he said: "It's common practice now to buy, rehabilitate and raise rents."

Going for the Profit

One person doing just this is real estate agent Jessie Wright, who paid $355,000 for a rambling old seven-unit court on Kornblum near Rosecrans, where he is adding two units to increase the income. Rent increases, Wright said, have been modest.

"I saw the potential, and I moved in," said Wright, adding that he expects to sell the property for a $100,000 profit after he has completed the improvements.

City officials do not offer much comfort to critics of Moneta Gardens development.

Hocker, who is developing a 49-unit apartment on Cerise Avenue just south of Moneta Gardens, said Moneta always has been a multiple-residential area. "People are upset when they see 30-unit apartments going up, but I liken it to any apartment area," he said.

Because of his real estate activities, Hocker has become a favorite target of some critics, who assert he is more interested in the success of developers than the problems of people who have to live with development.

Room for Growth

But Hocker sees it differently: "I'm happy about the building. The fact that I, an elected official, am putting my money into the city encourages others to do the same. They'll say if the mayor is developing in his own town, why shouldn't we?"

Though officials concede that traffic and parking congestion are genuine problems in Moneta Gardens, they do not believe they warrant a halt in building.

Marquez said there still is room for growth there, although he and other observers, including developer Stamegna, believe it is beginning to slow down.

"Land is getting expensive because all of the building has sent the values up," said Stamegna. He said that six months ago land costs were $10,000 a unit; now they are $13,000.

In the 1970s, the city increased parking requirements and lowered densities because of overbuilding, according to officials. Marquez said the city has used federal block grant funds for sidewalk improvements and has improved sewer systems. The density of developments controlled by the Planning Commission, such as condominiums, has been reduced, but the city has had little success in getting developers to reduce densities voluntarily on other projects, Marquez said.

The 1977 Moneta Gardens study concluded that there was a "serious need for reconsideration of traffic patterns and the installation of additional traffic controls." It called for such things as one-way streets and the creation of cul-de-sacs, but officials said there are no plans to implement the recommendations.

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