Senior Proposal Meets Needs

A proposed senior citizens housing project in the Pico-Robertson area makes it easy for me to keep a New Year's resolution to accent the positive.

The project planned for Clark Drive just north of Pico Boulevard meets a desperate need for such housing--no small challenge in these days of dwindling housing subsidies.

If that is not enough reason to be enthusiastic, the project proposed by developer Thomas L. Safran & Associates and the Menorah Housing Foundation also is a rare demonstration of the creative use of air rights.

At last it seems some progressive design concepts are being applied with imagination in the city not as an exercise of the of the artistic pretensions of some architect, but to help people in need of decent shelter.

One of the major problems in providing low rent housing, particularly on the West Side, has been for developers to come up with an inexpensive site that does not require relocation of existing tenants or demolition of existing structures.

Those problems are solved by the plan sketched by the architectural firm of Kamnitzer & Cotton which calls for 41 units to be built over an existing public parking lot. This is the same firm that with David Hyun Associates designed Vista Montoya, an exceptionally well executed moderate income condominium in the Pico-Union area.

Under the plan, 14 parking spaces will be provided for the tenants and 32 for the public, the latter five fewer than are currently available in the 10-hour metered lot. And, of course, there will be no spaces available during the estimated one year it will take to construct the complex--a small sacrifice in view of the eventual benefits to the community.

Nevertheless, the loss of the parking for a year and the reduction by five spaces are among the reasons cited by a few parochial property owners objecting to the project. They worry that without adequate parking, shopping will decline and the area will deteriorate.

Ignored is the fact that even with parking the commercial area has not been in the best of health. If anything, the housing should lend some needed vitality to the street scene, customers for the neighborhood stores and, of course, affordable housing for senior citizens. Three very big pluses.

The property owners in the area also have objected to the density and height of the complex--despite it being consistent with the scale prescribed in the present zoning--and urge that it be located elsewhere.

There is a shrill sound to the objections familiar to those who have heard protests in the past of similar projects. Despite their frail arguments, the nay sayers seem to have gotten the ear of Councilman Howard Finn, who as chairman of the city's Planning and Environment Committee voted against the project.

Finn, who represents the north San Fernando Valley, has been taking a particular interest recently in the West Side on behalf, it seems, of commercial property owners. It was Finn who opposed the building moratorium in Westwood, letting a lobbyist for developers help him draft a "compromise."

Despite Finn's objections to the senior citizens project, the two other members of the committee, Councilmen Zev Yaroslavsky and John Ferraro, voted for it. Both have been strong supporters of such projects.

The next hurdle for the project is the full City Council, which is scheduled to hear the item this coming Tuesday.

Those who are opposed to the project are expected to come out in droves. Fear, misunderstanding or simply ignorance have a way of rising to the surface in such situations.

However, the hope is that the optimism, imagination and concern for the elderly embodied in the design of the Clark Drive housing complex will persevere. It would be a heartening way for the council to start the new year.

The council certainly showed some sensitivity at the end of last year by approving an agreement calling for the preservation and renovation of the downtown landmark Fire Station 28.

Under the agreement, a corporation labeled Engine Co. No. 28 will redevelop the structure as a restaurant with offices above. The designer will be by Kajima Associates.

A national landmark, the three-story Rennaissance revival-styled structure at 644 S. Figueroa St. had been slated for auction by the city in 1979.

Given its prime location, the firehouse if sold most likely would have fallen victim to the wrecker's ball to make way for another office tower, especially being located a few steps from a planned Metro Rail stop.

But before the auctioneer's gavel could strike, various preservationists--with the aid of the Los Angeles Conservancy-- appealed to Councilman Gilbert Lindsay for a little time to explore how the firehouse perhaps could be recycled.

Lindsay agreed and assigned his then deputy, Kathy Moret, to work with the preservationists. Moret in turn enlisted the aid of Fran Savage of the Mayor's office and Maureen Kindel, president of the city's Board of Public Works.

It was a formidable trio, which it had to be to fight off repeated efforts by the council to sell the structure while working with various developers to come up with a viable plan for its reuse.

Despite the combined political muscle of the three, it took five years for a plan to be agreed upon by the various city bodies that get involved in such matters.

The three learned that dealing with policy--the big picture-- in the upper chambers of government is one thing; dealing with an actual project in the offices below is another. There is a big gap between the two in Los Angeles that takes some tricky bridge building to overcome.

But it happened. And when some one passes the fire station tucked between 7th Street and Wilshire Boulevard and asks how it could have survived the massive redevelopment surrounding it, you will be able to explain why.

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