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L.A. Vows Faster Razing of Abandoned Houses

Times Staff Writer

In front of a bulldozer and a fire-gutted South Los Angeles home, Mayor Tom Bradley and Police Chief Daryl F. Gates announced the start Thursday of a new effort to speed the demolition of abandoned buildings.

Gates said “Operation Knockdown” is a small part of the battle against drug dealing, which frequently takes place in derelict houses. “We not only want a city beautiful to look at,” the chief said, “but beautiful in its social structure.”

“Under Operation Knockdown, we will rid neighborhoods of abandoned, unsafe buildings . . . which often serve as drug centers or gang hide-outs,” Bradley said at a press conference held on the sidewalk in front of 736 E. 22nd St.

Bradley said his office is working with the Police Department and the Department of Building and Safety to reduce the time it takes to report and act on abandoned structures. The program will put pressure on owners to repair their buildings or allow the city to act in place of “absentee landlords who neglect their property.”

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The city demolished about 35 buildings last year, according to Mel Bliss, a spokesman for the building department. A rising number of derelict buildings citywide is expected to lead to twice as many such actions this year, he said.

‘Make Them Pay’

Bliss said that 400 to 500 buildings have been cited in the last year and that owners are being given 30 days to comply with the department’s repair orders or apply for extensions.

“If they don’t clean it up we’ll come in and knock it down, then make them pay for the cost,” Bradley said.

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Although that has been city law for some time, Bradley said the building department is adding more inspectors to the effort. In addition, for the first time, the Police Department will help identify such buildings.

Frank Kroeger, general manager of the building department, said the process of demolishing a building in the past has taken months, in some cases years. Kroeger said that although his department was notified about the 22nd Street house several months ago by a City Council aide, officials have not been able to find the owners, identified as Raymond and Orleia Metoyer.

Kroeger said neighbors frequently fail to notify the city of problem buildings, further delaying the demolition process and giving gang members and drug users the chance to set themselves up in the abandoned home.

Gloria Maldonado, 56, a resident in the mostly Latino neighborhood, said she and others in the area didn’t like looking at the garbage-strewn house and listening to the gatherings that often took place there. She said, however, that they were afraid to act.

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“All the neighbors know about what goes on at the house. Most people are scared to do anything about it. We don’t like the meetings, the fights and the trash they leave,” she said.

Another neighbor complained that the home has been a magnet for bad elements. Even the gang members eventually moved on after a drive-by shooting occured in front of the house, she said. For months since then, this woman said, the house has been used by “winos and dogs.”


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