About 100 residents of a Northridge neighborhood who displayed signs on their lawns stating their opposition to a proposed office complex are charging that proponents of the project stole the signs late Tuesday night.
A spokesman for the developer of the 250,000-square-foot Evergreen Park project, which is proposed for the corner of Wilbur Avenue and Devonshire Street, said he knew nothing about the missing signs. A key neighborhood supporter of the project said he was unaware that the signs had been stolen.
But a group of residents is convinced that the missing signs represent an escalation in what allegedly is becoming a down-and-dirty political campaign to win neighborhood support for the controversial office complex.
“We completely reject the idea that this was done by some disinterested vandals,” said Jack Cox, whose sign in front of his Wystone Avenue home was stolen.
“It is deplorable that obvious proponents of this project would eliminate the First Amendment rights of people who oppose them,” Cox said. “We want a full investigation of this.”
Pat McDonough, a Blackhawk Street resident whose sign was stolen, is convinced that the thefts are “a political dirty trick” and part of a deliberate attempt to overcome community opposition to the project.
The signs urged residents to “stop the office complex” and join the North Valley Homeowners Federation. Cox said that 100 signs had been installed throughout a 20-square-block area and that just a handful remained Wednesday morning. A theft report filed by the organization with the Los Angeles Police Department set the signs’ value at $500.
The homeowner organization opposes the construction of seven two-story office buildings on a 24-acre site. Seven baseball fields used by the Northridge Little League occupy the site. The league has been assured by the project’s developer, ASL Financial of Encino, that the fields will remain even if the project is built.
George Hall, a past Northridge Little League president and a key project supporter, said he was unaware that the signs had been stolen.
“I would have no idea . . . who would do this,” Hall said. “I think it would be a terrible mistake.”
He acknowledged that a campaign to convince residents of the merits of the office complex project is in full swing. ASL Financial’s proposal is scheduled for a Planning Department hearing April 25 and goes before the Planning Commission in June.
The baseball league’s opening day is next week “and we’re going to ask people to come . . . to get some support for Evergreen Park,” said Hall, who has been involved in the Little League for 18 years.
Hall said that if the property’s low-density residential zoning is not changed and the maximum allowable 73 homes are built, the future of the baseball fields would be uncertain.
“I want to see 900 boys and girls have a place to play ball in the future,” Hall said.
Fred Karger, a Westwood public relations executive who has handled campaigns for former Lt. Gov. Michael Curb and Steve Garvey and who worked on the successful grass-roots effort to oust liberal state Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird, is now working for ASL Financial.
He acknowledged that the effort to generate community support for the project is similar to a political campaign. But he said he knew nothing about the stolen signs.
Karger said it is becoming common for developers to hire public relations firms “to bring forth the public support” for their projects.
“All we’re trying to do is get all the positive signs out,” he said.
A letter signed by Hall urging support for the project was sent this week. Karger said the developer paid for the letter, which equates support of the project with support of youth baseball.