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Bernson Bryant-Vanalden Proposals Hit Multiple Snags

Times Staff Writer

Two months ago, Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson announced revised plans to clean up slum-like conditions in the Bryant Street-Vanalden Avenue area of Northridge. But those plans have run into political obstacles.

The area, long an irritant for residents in the surrounding middle-class neighborhood, became controversial last September. That is when Bernson, under pressure from Northridge constituents, put forth his initial plan that would have enabled landlords of 30 apartment buildings to evict 3,000 predominantly low-income Latinos. The landlords then would have been able to remodel the apartments and rent them out at higher prices.

In the face of opposition from civil rights and tenants’ groups and Mayor Tom Bradley, Bernson withdrew the plan.

So in February, Bernson said he had come up with another plan under which the city and landlords would jointly spend $3 million to improve the neighborhood.

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Receives Little Support

Since then, however, Bernson’s new plan has received little support from landlords. Also, a representative of the Bryant-Vanalden tenants said the new plan is as unacceptable as the old one because it still would result in mass evictions to make way for renovations and higher rents.

Under the councilman’s new proposal, the city would chip in up to $2 million for neighborhood improvements. The money would come from a pool that has been made available by the federal government for the renovation of low-income housing.

Bernson wants the landlords to pay $1.5 million, or $5,000 a unit, for improvements. The project would include installation of a security gate around the neighborhood, closing off a stretch of Bryant Street and making it a green belt, providing recreational facilities, renovating apartments and possibly building a day-care center.

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Besides landlord and tenant opposition, there are other major problems with this plan.

For one thing, the Reagan Administration has asked Congress to cut federal funding for renovating low-income housing.

Second, even if the funds are not cut by Congress, Bernson is expected to have a tough time convincing his council colleagues, especially those from poor inner-city areas also in need of money for other housing projects and the renovation of low-income housing.

Finally, and even more importantly, only two of the 30 landlords so far have shown an interest in participating in the neighborhood revitalization program, said Ralph Esparza, assistant housing director for the city.

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As an inducement for landlords, Bernson has pointed out that they would be allowed under the city’s rent-control law to raise rents to recover the cost of the improvements.

Several landlords, however, have expressed concern that if they raise rents, it could put them at a competitive disadvantage in the rental market.

“Some owners are saying, ‘My buildings aren’t that bad. . . . Why should I be penalized because the guy next door doesn’t have good management?’ ” Esparza said.

Proposes Rent Subsidies

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To make the plan attractive to tenants, Bernson has proposed that the city make available federal rent subsidies in order to minimize the impact of the rent increases.

But the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which authorizes such subsidies, recently moved to restrict the subsidies to legal residents of the United States.

“That would eliminate 90% of the people in that area,” said Raul Morales, president of Padres Unidos, a Bryant-Vanalden tenants’ group.

Morales said Bernson “is coming through with the same exact plan as before.”

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“It’s still mass eviction,” he said. “It’s saying, ‘You can’t afford to live here, and you have to move anyway.’ ”

Douglas Ford, general manager of the city’s Community Development Department, which worked with Bernson in developing the revised revitalization plan, conceded that Morales may be right.

Bernson, however, refused to acknowledge the possibility of mass evictions.

‘Not a Foregone Conclusion’

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“It’s not a foregone conclusion that rents will go up,” he said. He added that his staff is looking for other ways to allow landlords to recoup the cost of improvements without rent increases.

The Community Development Department in a report to Bernson pointed out some of the other problems of implementing the joint city-landlord cleanup.

For the plan “to be effective, all of the approximately 35 owners must agree to participate,” the report said. “If not, the rehabilitation initiated on a spot basis . . . would serve only as a temporary remedy.”

If the owners refuse to cooperate, Bernson has proposed having a private developer, with taxpayer support, acquire and fix up all 650 units in the neighborhood.

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But, before that could be done, the city would have to find a developer who is interested in participating. Also, all of the apartment owners must be willing to sell their buildings to the developer. And tax-exempt bonds, which would provide the money, also are targeted for elimination by the Reagan Administration.

Redevelopment Alternative

Should that plan fail, Bernson has proposed having the city declare the entire neighborhood a redevelopment project and take over the units.

However, this plan also has problems.

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Donald W. Cosgrove, acting administrator of the Community Redevelopment Agency, said in a letter to Bernson last week, “We are not recommending proceeding with the preparation of a redevelopment plan at this time.”

Cosgrove recommended that the city conduct a study to determine whether the area would meet the legal definition of blight to qualify for a redevelopment project. He said the study, which also would include recommendations on improvements to the area, would take two years and cost “a minimum of $200,000.”

Whether Bernson could get the approval of the City Council and Bradley for an appropriation of that size is questionable.

In spite of the obstacles, however, Bernson last week said he remains confident of succeeding in cleaning up the neighborhood--one way or another.

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Pressure on Landlords

To keep pressure on landlords to go along with the plan, Bernson recently threatened to have the city inspectors conduct more sweeps through the area similar to one conducted in February. That sweep resulted in hundreds of citations being issued to landlords for such building and health code violations as cockroach infestations and lack of hot water.

“I’m giving you the opportunity to do something about (the run-down conditions),” Bernson said at a recent gathering of landlords. “If you don’t do it voluntarily, the city is going to force you to do it.”

In the meantime, Bernson must overcome yet another obstacle in his efforts to clean up the Bryant-Vanalden area.

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Bernson recently ordered a moratorium on further meetings of a committee he organized to recommend solutions to problems in the Bryant-Vanalden area. He said he took the action after an attorney representing Bryant-Vanalden tenants questioned the legality of the committee’s closed-door sessions.

Bernson said he wants the meetings closed to prevent “outsiders” from using the Bryant-Vanalden issue as a political forum. Morales asked Bernson to include representatives of the Coalition for Economic Survival to the meetings because they are more familiar with tenants’ rights than his fledging Bryant-Vanalden renters’ groups.

Bernson said he is waiting for a city attorney’s opinion on the legality of the closed-door sessions before calling any more committee meetings.


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