Highland Park Residents Stall Developer

Times Staff Writer

Highland Park residents have managed to stall for now the building of an apartment development in an area they refer to as "the hole," a densely populated low-income housing area they say is a breeding ground for crime.

Under pressure from area residents and the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, developer Brian Weiss Tuesday withdrew an application for a zoning change he was seeking for a 92-unit apartment project northwest of the Pasadena Freeway between avenues 48 and 52. Twenty percent of those apartments would be for low- to moderate-income households.

"To build something like that, with all the crime and cars and people down there already, would be the height of idiocy," said Diane Alexander, a longtime resident of the area who organized a neighborhood group opposed to the project.

Weiss had applied for a zoning variance on one parcel to permit him to build 17 apartments there, rather than single-family homes. He said he plans to build 75 apartments on two adjacent land parcels that already are zoned for multi-unit housing.

Wants to Meet Protesters

The developer said he withdrew the zoning change application because he considers all three parcels to be part of one project and because he does not does not want to go ahead without first meeting with the community members who protested his plans.

"We want the people to want us in there," Weiss said. "We want to resolve whatever the issues are."

He also said, however, that, should he reapply for the variance and be denied, he would build single-family homes on the first parcel and 75 apartment units on the other two. Weiss said he intends to begin construction next spring.

The proposed project has stirred many residents' long-simmering concerns about congestion and crime.

Burglaries, Vagrants, Gunfire

Alexander said her house and those of many of her neighbors have been burglarized, some repeatedly, in recent years. Neighbors said they find vagrants sleeping in their yards in the mornings and are awakened at night by gunfire coming from the area of the apartment projects.

The protesters--Anglo, Asian and Latino homeowners--say the additional apartments would only add to the problems they claim are generated by the cluster of apartment buildings, all of which are individually owned. They contain 258 units occupied largely by Latino immigrants. Many of them are believed to be illegal aliens.

Los Angeles Police Department officials, however, say that statistics show that "the hole" is not particularly troublesome.

Crime statistics for the Northeast Division, which has jurisdiction over the Highland Park, Eagle Rock and Mount Washington areas, actually show a 5% decrease in crime for the first six months of this year contrasted with the same period last year. Of the five patrol areas within the Northeast Division jurisdiction, the South Avenue 50 area is part of a patrol area having one of the lowest crime rates, according to the statistics.

Some Crimes Not Reported

Alexander said, however, that the low crime statistics do not accurately reflect crime in the area because many people do not report crimes.

"We're going to start calling them in now," she said.

The apartment developments are tightly packed in a hollow at the bottom of South Avenue 50, which dead-ends at a fence bordering the Pasadena Freeway. The proposed apartments would be built along a narrow dirt path that runs behind the present apartment buildings and parallels the freeway from South Avenue 48 to South Avenue 52. Once a Union Pacific right of way, the 50-foot-wide path is now used as a jogging path and a shortcut to Sycamore Grove Park.

Most of the opponents of the proposed apartment project live in older single-family homes along streets ringing the existing apartments.

Parking Only Problem

Adolfo Salinas, manager of the 148-unit Highland Village apartments at 250 S. Avenue 50, said parking is the only problem he has. He said that problem would be exacerbated by the addition of apartments.

"We only have space for one car for each apartment," he said. "Sometimes that causes problems. If they bring in more people living around here, that will make it even worse."

After a recent meeting with about 20 area residents, Arline DeSanctis contacted Police Capt. Robert Taylor to request that a special crime task force be assigned to the area.

Taylor said in a telephone interview, however, that, because of a manpower shortage, a task force can only be assigned when crime statistics show a need.

'Legitimate Concerns'

"I don't think they have the statistics and the kind of problems that really warrant the task force," Taylor said.

"Those people have legitimate concerns. But what they're really facing are social problems we're all facing right now--poverty and immigration and people without homes. Even if we had the manpower to send in a task force, all you really do is push the problem around from one area to another. Those are the kinds of problems that require legislative solutions."

Taylor said, however, that he plans to meet with the group at a Neighborhood Watch meeting next Monday.

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