Residents Hope to Save Small Apartment Buildings : End to Westwood Demolitions Urged

Times Staff Writers

Scores of north Westwood Village residents are clamoring for a moratorium to prevent the replacement of small apartment buildings with luxury rental complexes near UCLA.

The North Westwood Village Residents Assn., which was formed little more than a month ago, has been pressuring City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky for a moratorium in the square-mile neighborhood bounded by Gayley, Veteran and Le Conte avenues.

Although he wanted to wait until this fall to propose a moratorium, Yaroslavsky last Friday persuaded the council to have an ordinance drafted. The moratorium would remain in effect while the city Planning Department revises the Westwood Community Plan.

Bob Breall, a member of the residents association, said action--initially a moratorium and eventually down-zoning--is needed to prevent the demolition of small, older buildings and the continued eviction of tenants.

"Within the last year, over 900 people have been displaced and 30 apartment buildings have been demolished," Breall said. "I agree there should be more housing but think it should be affordable."

The residents association argues that the destruction of older apartment buildings ruins the quaint character of the neighborhood, removes housing affordable for UCLA students and adds to already serious traffic and parking congestion. The association also said tenants should receive relocation costs when their buildings are demolished and replaced by large luxury rental complexes.

The city Planning Commission is scheduled to consider a draft of the moratorium next Thursday, and the council could vote on the ordinance as early as Aug. 21, according to Michelle Krotinger, spokeswoman for Yaroslavsky.

The moratorium would prohibit the city from issuing demolition permits for old buildings and building permits for new complexes in north Westwood Village until Jan. 19, 1986, with the option of two 180-day extensions. It would be retroactive to Aug. 2, Krotinger said.

About 60 members of the residents association met Monday night to discuss the best ways to lobby for the moratorium. The association hopes the moratorium will give the city time to restrict land use in the area to prevent construction of large complexes not already in the planning stages.

Monthly rents in the older buildings typically range from $500 to $800--Breall said he pays $550 for his one-bedroom apartment--while rents in the new complexes range from $800 to more than $1,500.

Yaroslavsky reluctantly agreed to propose the moratorium last Friday, expressing his fear that "the agitation for a moratorium may encourage developers to speed up the process of redevelopment in the area."

"It may turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecy," Yaroslavsky said."I had wanted to wait until the fall, when students returned to the apartments, before taking any action. I did not want to provoke developers when many of the units are vacant in the summer."

But Eric Hamermesh, president of Rich Gold Development Co., developer of three large new projects in the area, said fears of overdevelopment in north Westwood Village are unfounded.

Recent building is the result of natural "growing and changing" that has been taking place in Los Angeles for years, he said.

"The fact is we are supplying badly needed housing," said Hamermesh, adding that his apartment units are renting for $800 to $1,515 a month. "And we are renting to students--more than half of the tenants of our newest building are students."

Donald Taylor, the planning department's project coordinator for the Westwood Community Plan, said about 10 large apartment complexes either have been recently completed or are being built in north Westwood Village.

The old housing, built in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, is mainly two or three stories high. The new buildings are often six stories with at least 100 units, and Taylor said there are no height restrictions.

"The community could change overnight," Taylor said. "The new developments are packing in everything that will fit onto the property, five times the number of units that existed before, to the end of the property line."

Two tenants who share an apartment, David Rochblatt and Leora Akoka, have ignored repeated eviction notices and are the only tenants in the three-unit building at 539 Midvale Ave. Four adjacent small apartment buildings also have been targeted for demolition since March to make way for a 100-unit luxury apartment complex.

"We stayed here in a symbolic way," said Rochblatt, a 32-year-old doctoral candidate at UCLA and an engineer with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena. "Someone had to protest the destruction of a nice, low-density, relaxed atmosphere (in) an area designed to accommodate students from UCLA."

Yet Rochblatt said he will comply with court orders that he move by Aug. 19.

"Sure, I can afford higher rent," Rochblatt said. "But the fact is a beautiful, airy neighborhood is being systematically destroyed."

"WHat exists here now is available to low- and moderate-income people, including students. That is not the case with the new developments."

Several tenants at Monday's meeting reported that they had received eviction notices just one or two days before Friday's council vote to have the moratorium drafted. An estimated 35 tenants in at least three older buildings on the 400 block of Veteran Avenue have been told to leave by the end of the month to make way for a complex planned by Amir Development Co., according to resident Jean Bedard. Demolition is scheduled to begin Sept. 3.

Paul Amir, chief executive officer of the company, said the new 72-unit complex will provide affordable student housing. Amir said he has five or six complexes either built or in the planning stages in the area.

"Our apartments are being rented for students and non-students alike. What is the point of protecting 10 people, when you can provide housing for 60 people?" he asked. He said students meet the rent by rooming together.

Yaroslavsky said he supports the moratorium not for the many well-heeled renters in the area who want cheap rent but "to see if there is some way to develop housing for the university community and to prevent overloading the area with traffic and parking problems."

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