Illegal Storage of Shipping Containers OKd

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles city officials have agreed to allow a group of Wilmington investors, including the president of the Wilmington Home Owners organization, to illegally store shipping containers for the next seven months on a residential lot they own in east Wilmington.

A City Council committee voted Monday to grant a zone change that the investors need to develop the three-acre property in exchange for a written assurance that the containers will be removed before Jan. 1. The city's zoning code prohibits the storage of containers on the property but, under the agreement, the city will temporarily look the other way.

The deal, expected to be approved by the full council on Friday, was worked out between Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents Wilmington, and the Home Owner Partnership, a group of 20 investors that wants to build 19 single-family homes on the property.

"We want to guarantee the city that the containers are removed, but we are also trying to do what we can to see that the housing development goes through," said Nelson Hernandez, Flores' Wilmington deputy, who presented the deal to the Planning and Environment Committee. "There is a violation of land use there. We know it, and they know it."

Decision Called Fair

Peter Mendoza, president of the homeowners' organization and general partner of the investment group, called the city's decision fair, saying the partnership had planned to remove the containers and begin construction on the homes early next year anyway.

"I think it shows the City Council is supportive of our project," Mendoza said. "I think it reflects a concern for the community, not any special consideration for me personally."

During the past few months, Mendoza has been criticized by Flores' office and some residents for storing the containers on the property at 816 East L St., which the investors bought in December for $600,000. Some residents said Mendoza was being hypocritical because in the past he had chastised Flores and other city officials for allowing the property's previous owners to store containers there.

Mendoza, while agreeing that the containers must go, asked for some time and understanding. While planning the development, he said, the partnership needs the rent from International Cargo Equipment for storing the containers to pay debts on the land. Neither the company nor Mendoza would say how much money the partnership is paid.

Most of the containers, used in shipping goods by truck, are 8 feet high and 8 feet long but can be as long as 45 feet. Some are stacked on top of each other, towering above neighboring homes.

Residents previously complained about noise caused by loading and unloading the containers at the yard.

Wilmington residents, led by Mendoza and other members of the homeowners' organization, have decried the proliferation of apartment construction in the community. The Home Owner Partnership was organized in part to demonstrate to city officials and local developers that there is a demand in Wilmington for single-family homes, Mendoza said.

"Ours is the only really viable project to get rid of the containers for good," he said. "But it takes time."

In March, Flores' office announced that the councilwoman was considering filing a complaint with the Department of Building and Safety if the Home Owner Partnership did not remove the containers. At that time, Mendoza accused the councilwoman's office of "flexing its muscle" because he and other members of Wilmington Home Owners, some of whom belong to the partnership, have been among her harshest critics in the area.

After a series of discussions with the partnership, Flores agreed to the compromise approved by the council committee. Under the plan, the landowners must sign a covenant, which will be recorded with county officials, binding them and any subsequent owners of the property to the Jan. 1 deadline for removal of the containers.

Flores, in turn, supported the group in its effort to change the zoning on the property from R2 to the higher-density RD2, which the partnership says it needs to build around several oil wells on the property by clustering some of the homes.

The group originally proposed building up to 30 homes on the land, but has scaled down the project to provide bigger lots, Mendoza said.

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