Paul Ash keeps a 5-inch stack of index cards in his study to document the concerns of Park Labrea residents. Security is a constant theme. Untrimmed trees. Broken washing machines. Not enough handymen. A "new element" of tenants whose roommates clog the maze-like streets with their cars.
There is no talk of rats in the kitchens or drug users shooting up in the corridors, for this is, as it has always been, a nice place to live. Although the 18 concrete towers look stark from the outside, the lobbies and hallways have been newly painted and wallpapered, and residents can enjoy large rooms, parquet floors, trees, grassy lawns and views north to the Hollywood Hills or west to the ocean.
But the arrival of new owners two years ago alarmed many residents at Park Labrea, home to thousands of tenants and one of the largest rental complexes in Los Angeles, and the passage of time has done little to soothe their anxieties.
While management spokesmen say standards have been maintained, more than 800 residents jammed into the Park Labrea recreation hall late last month to form their first tenants association.
"The new management seems to be driven by bottom-line considerations, for which you can't fault them," said Ash, chairman of the new Park Labrea Tenants Assn. "But your rights stop just short of my nose, and that's what the dynamics seem to be in this case."
He said he decided to call the group's first meeting after hearing a number of complaints from neighbors. He posted notices in the lobbies of Park Labrea's apartment towers and on the walls of the garden townhouses, "and the response was outstanding," he said.
Another meeting is planned later this month for those who could not attend the first one.
Rather than stand up and repeat each other's gripes, residents at the first meeting wrote down their complaints with their names and telephone numbers on 3-by-5 cards. Some said they attended out of curiosity. Others aired complaints.
"Management is using every opportunity to get a few dollars more a month, as long as they can find a legal excuse," said one resident who asked not to be identified.
"Park Labrea had the reputation of being a gracious, secure, safe, attractive place to live, but this changed with the change in management," said another.
Others accused management of deliberately downgrading service to encourage longtime tenants to leave. This would allow their rent-stabilized apartments to be filled with new tenants who pay more, they said. Rents for new tenants are competitive with other buildings in the mid-Wilshire area, with one-bedroom apartments going for upward of $700 and two-bedrooms for $900 and up, depending on location.
A management spokeswoman later denied the accusation.
Ash said representatives of the group will eventually try to meet with management to air their concerns.
"This is not meant to be adversarial, but a means to cooperation . . . to attain some mutual objectives," he said.
Management representatives responded cautiously to the unprecedented formation of a tenants group at the complex, which was completed in the 1950s, although the first residents moved in in 1944. Located between 3rd and 6th streets, Park Labrea is laid out in a puzzle pattern of traffic circles and zigzag streets stretching east from Fairfax Avenue.
"When they want to discuss whatever they want to discuss, we'll discuss it," said David Rubenstein, assistant manager of the 176-acre, 4,198-unit complex. "We feel that anything that's going to improve quality in Park Labrea can be positive."
He declined to respond to specific complaints. But Joan Kradin, spokeswoman for Forest City Enterprises, which manages Park Labrea and owns 50% of it (the other half is owned by May Co.), said the staff is responding "as fast as possible."
'No Reason to Delay'
Asked about complaints of slow response time for maintenance calls, she said: "It's a perception. It's in our interests to fix things as fast as possible. We have no reason to delay at all."
She also said that fears about robbers, burglars and car thieves will be allayed soon, with the installation of a long-promised security system, complete with guards and automatic gates.
In the planning stages for several years, the security system was supposed to be in place earlier this year, but Kradin said it was taking longer than expected to gain the needed city permits.
She also said that fees for new roofs, paint jobs and seismic sensors, all subjects of tenants' complaints, were justified under the city's rent stabilization law. The fees increased tenants monthly rent by $16 for the roofs and paint and $4.79 for the sensors.
Once largely the home of elderly, prosperous, long-term residents, Park Labrea has attracted younger tenants in recent years, some of them immigrants and some with children.
Census data showed that more than three-quarters of the Park Labrea population was 55 and older in 1980, but the fluctuating population of about 10,000 people is now equally divided between those older and younger than 55.
Irked by the demographic changes, some residents at the September meeting complained about the "new element" of neighbors, "the caliber of the neighbors" and "poor judgment in selecting tenants."
Kradin said that anti-discrimination laws allow the management to exclude potential tenants on the basis of their ability to pay, "but that's it."
"Young people and families are fine, but they bring in people with low-paying jobs, each with cars, and they park in the streets and hold wild parties . . . that never happened here before," Ash said.