Old Drive-In Faces Demolition to Build Bus Maintenance Yard

Times Staff Writer

One of the few remaining drive-in theaters on the Westside would be torn down under a proposal by the Southern California Rapid Transit District to build a bus maintenance facility on the site.

Plans call for the depot to be constructed in Westchester on what is now the Pacific Centinela Drive-In Theater at 5700 W. Centinela Ave. The plan was announced two weeks ago to residents of the Ladera Heights neighborhood across the street from the proposed maintenance yard.

The site was chosen by the RTD and members of Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter's staff as an alternative to an earlier proposal to build the facility farther west at Jefferson and Grosvenor boulevards, north of Hughes Airport. That plan ran into opposition from neighbors, who expressed worry that the buses would generate noise and pollution.

New Site Promised

Galanter pledged to find a new site for the bus yard during her election campaign last spring. The proposed site would cost more than the $17.5 million needed for the Jefferson Boulevard location, although a specific price has not been set.

Both locations have been proposed as alternatives to the RTD's three-acre bus yard at Sunset Avenue and Main Street in Venice, where residents have complained for years about diesel fumes and noise.

Ladera Heights residents said they want more information before taking a stand on the latest proposal.

The drive-in is one of the oldest still in business on the Westside. It was built in 1949 and has survived a gradual decline of drive-ins across the country brought on by the introduction of home videocassette recorders.

"That's what our beautiful theater has come to--a bus yard?" asked Milt Moritz, spokesman for Pacific Theatres Corp., which has managed the drive-in since 1956. "I'm sure a lot of people will be making wrong turns because they're so used to driving into a landmark."

Month-to-Month Lease

Moritz said Pacific Theatres has been leasing the property on a monthly basis from its owner, Sage Development Corp. of Playa del Rey. "When we're told to vacate, we will vacate," Moritz said.

Sage Development partner George Smart said the theater's rent is "marginal" compared to the money that could be made by developing the 11.6-acre property, which the company acquired a year ago.

"It's not economic reality," another Sage partner, David Dickson, said.

The only other drive-in on the Westside is the Studio in Culver City, Moritz said. Pacific Theatres is the biggest drive-in operator in the nation, he added, with locations in Anaheim, Compton, Pico Rivera, La Habra, Long Beach, Ventura and many other California communities.

If the project is approved by neighbors and by the RTD's board of directors, the bus company will build a six-acre enclosed yard that will reportedly employ the latest technology to reduce noise and filter exhaust fumes. It would abut the San Diego Freeway on the west and would be hidden from the view of neighbors to the east by three office buildings, to be constructed on the lot's remaining 5.7 acres.

The facility would maintain 125 to 140 buses serving the 6th Council district, which includes Westchester, Playa del Rey, Mar Vista and Venice. It would be completed at the earliest by late 1990.

Buses would either exit directly onto the San Diego Freeway or onto a former railroad right-of-way that runs parallel to the freeway. There would be no bus access from Centinela Avenue, thus protecting homeowners across the street from noise and additional traffic.

"The objective is to protect the residential neighborhood, and therefore everyone is going to go all out to ensure there's going to be minimal impact on the Ladera Heights neighborhood," Sage spokesman Michael L. Dieden said. "If you were a homeowner and stood out there for several hours, you'd probably never realize there was a transportation facility there."

Marilyn Cole, whose house overlooks the drive-in, said she is not convinced that the bus yard would be free of problems.

"I was very disappointed with the presentation that was given to the community" on Jan. 19, she said. "I didn't feel that the people that were presenting it had enough information, and I really feel that the RTD bus yard is being jammed down our throats."

Cole said she prefers moving the yard far away from homes to an industrial area near Los Angeles International Airport. She said she did not have a specific site in mind.

If approved, the plan would be the end of a long struggle to find a home for the bus yard that nobody seems to want in their backyard. The earlier plan to locate it on a ranch off Jefferson Boulevard ran into trouble when about 2,000 angry homeowners demanded that the RTD board complete an environmental impact report. The property owner, produce grower Crescenciano Lopez, objected that the property was prime agricultural land that had been managed by the family for many years.

By building a bus yard and using the remaining land for commercial office space, the developers are making the best of what could be a bad situation, because the land could be condemned if they refused to dedicate part of it to the RTD.

Dickson stressed that the proposal was not "crammed down our throats" but resulted from negotiations with Galanter's office and the RTD.

"We're committed people," Smart said. "We want to do the best."

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