Clifford and Josephine Cummings say they don’t need some fancy government report to figure out what’s going to happen to their environment should the City Council give developer Batta Vuicich and his partners their way.
Last June, Vuicich and his two partners purchased Terrace View Trailer Park on Torrance Boulevard where the Cummingses live. The new owners, however, have no intention of running an old and deteriorating trailer park. Instead, they are planning a 10-story condominium complex, complete with swimming pool, tennis courts and parking garage.
The rents there figure to be a lot more than the $215 the Cummingses pay per month. So they and the other mostly elderly or low-income residents know their environment will change. The question is when, and how.
Impact Study Ordered
The City Council’s call last week for an environmental impact study on the proposed complex is expected to delay the answers by at least seven months.
In addition to forcing the relocation of Terrace View residents, the proposed high-rise would radically change the profile of the surrounding neighborhood and promises to create additional havoc on an already congested stretch of Torrance Boulevard near the Redondo Beach border.
At a public hearing Tuesday, nearly two dozen residents from Terrace View and neighborhoods adjacent to the project site complained at length that the project would create substantial neighborhood density and traffic problems, and that a high-rise would not be in keeping with the character of the area.
“This is the South Bay, not Miami Beach,” one resident said.
Don Thrane, an Annrita Avenue resident, said simply: “It stinks.”
A Drastic Departure
Torrance Mayor Katy Geissert, cautioning that the council’s call for the study was not a statement on the merits of the project, agreed that approval of such a high-rise would be a drastic departure from the size of other residential buildings in the city, and she said she feared it could set a dangerous precedent.
The project will require City Council approval of an amendment to the city’s general plan to give the site medium-residential zoning and the issuance of a conditional-use permit and other permits. Most of the site already has a residential zoning that would permit the project, but a fourth of it is zoned for commercial use.
However, a Torrance city official who asked not to be identified said it is extremely unlikely that the council will approve the project as proposed because of the controversy over its height, resident relocation and the increase in neighborhood density.
“I think they know that the council’s asking for a detailed study means that they are dead with this project,” the official said. “We’ve essentially told them that there is no way that they’ll get the zone change.”
Vuicich, in a telephone interview, said he and his partners will meet this week to decide whether to change the plans for the project. He agreed that the council’s action could be interpreted as rejection, but said, “I would rather be told in clear terms, ‘No, we don’t want your condominiums.’ We are pleading and begging for guidance from the city. We are just looking for what will be acceptable.”
The partnership has submitted several alternatives to the 10-story, 137-unit proposal. The latest consists of two five-story structures with two levels of parking underneath and a total of 138 units. Torrance planners, however, have concluded that regardless of which plan is selected, the complex will block views from the adjacent Pepper Tree Village condominium development.
Although Torrance does not have clear restrictions on residential building heights, few residential developments have been allowed to rise above 50 feet. The City Council in the past has granted exceptions only for senior-citizen housing. Golden West Towers, a 14-story seniors high-rise on the city’s northeast border, is the tallest residential structure in Torrance.
Officials of Redondo Beach, which borders the trailer park, have yet to express an opinion on the proposed condominium project. City Manager Tim Casey said the city probably will not make a recommendation to the Torrance council until it reviews the findings of the environmental study.
Many Trailers Cannot Be Moved
Terrace View Trailer Park is a scruffy little trailer park of about 40 mostly old, deteriorating, single-width trailers. Most of the residents have lived there for more than 25 years, and many of their trailers could not be relocated safely because of their age. Few mobile home parks in the area would accept the trailers at Terrace View anyway because of both their age and small size.
“The only thing we’ve been told is that we’ll have six months to get out,” said Clifford Cummings, 76. “But I don’t know where we’ll go. Not another trailer park in this town will accept a rig as small as ours. Our entire life savings is right here in this trailer. It’s all we’ve got left.”
Only a handful of residents have moved since the owners announced their plans to build the condominiums last November. Dan Majnarich, 24, began moving last week. “Torrance needs a place like this,” he said while putting boxes of household items onto a truck. “It’s a good starting point. The money I saved by living here helped me put a down payment on a house. But the people who have been here 25 years now have no place to go. It’s kind of sad, really.”
Under a plan submitted to the City Council, Vuicich and his partners would pay residents from $5,000 to a maximum of $10,000 to relocate, depending upon their annual income. Vuicich said he expects residents 60 and over to receive $10,000, residents 40 to 60, $7,500, and those 40 and under $5,000. Torrance city officials have said the plan appears to be adequate.
$500,000 in Relocation Payments
The partnership, Vuicich said, expects to spend about $500,000 to relocate the trailer park residents. “It is our belief that the relocation fees are among the most equitable ever offered in the state,” he said.
Lucila Johanknecht disagrees. She and her husband, Lowell, both 27, stand to lose about $9,000 and their home under Vuicich’s plan, she said. The couple purchased their trailer about 3 1/2 years ago for $14,000 and have just begun paying on the principal. Vuicich has offered them $5,000 to move. It is doubtful, Lucila Johanknecht said, that trailer parks in the South Bay will accept their aging trailer, and the couple probably will have to file a lawsuit in order to remain in their home, she said.
“Sit and wait. That’s all we can do.”