Three years ago, the Mar Vista del Rey Homeowners & Neighbors Assn. successfully fought developers’ plans to build housing on the railroad right of way on the Culver Boulevard median just west of Culver City.
Now a new developer is proposing similar plans, and members of the association are gearing up for another fight.
“We are opposed to any development on Culver Boulevard,” said Salvatore Grammatico, president of the association.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Edie Szabo, a property owner who was active in the last fight. “We are fighting the same battle again.”
Heltzer Enterprises in Santa Monica is in escrow to purchase nearly 10 acres of railroad right of way along Culver Boulevard between Sawtelle Boulevard and McConnell Avenue from Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corp.
Cathy Ann Connelly, a consultant to the developer, said the purchase is contingent on Heltzer being able to build its project. Connelly said the firm has told Santa Fe it will decide within 60 days whether it will go forward with the purchase.
Sale Price Not Revealed
Connelly would not reveal the sale price, but three years ago developers agreed to pay $4.5 million for the one-mile-long, 60-foot-wide median. That deal fell through when the developers could not get city approval for the project.
Connelly also would not reveal the number of units being proposed, saying the firm wants to be flexible so that it can address community and political concerns.
“We want to find out what the community wants and what Councilwoman Ruth Galanter wants,” Connelly said.
She said the project would likely be a mix of apartments and townhouses, with open space for parks and a jogging track. Unlike the previous project, which was to be paid for with state funds and would have been required to include low-income housing, Connelly said the new project would be privately financed, and the units rented and sold at market rates.
However, the project could end up with some low- or moderate-income housing units if Galanter decides to make city approval contingent on the inclusion of such units.
“Councilwoman Galanter tries to get a certain percentage of all projects for low- or moderate-income housing,” Connelly said. “Whatever that percentage is would determine the density of the project, and how many townhouses we have versus how many apartment units.”
Connelly said plans are still preliminary, and that comparisons to the previously proposed project are “comparing apples to oranges.”
“Our desire is to do something that provides as much open space as possible to give the community a little of what they want,” Connelly said. “We want to clean up the area. Right now, it’s an eyesore with trash and abandoned vehicles.”
Galanter spokesman Rick Ruiz said the councilwoman is waiting for more information on the project before taking a position.
“However, we do have some concern about the use of the site for that type of project,” Ruiz said.
Residents had hoped Galanter would immediately oppose the project.
“There is a lot of disappointment being expressed in the community,” Szabo said. “She (Galanter) needs to see that the community is against it, and support her community.”
“We’re getting the same kind of reaction we got from (former Councilwoman) Pat Russell on the previous project, which is non-communicative,” Grammatico said.
Russell, who was defeated by Galanter in 1987, remained neutral on the previous project until right before it went to the Planning Commission for approval. She then opposed it.
In 1985, Watt/Parker Inc. and Oliver A. Trigg Jr. had proposed building 180 housing units over two phases on the median, which is between an access road commonly referred to as “Little Culver Boulevard” on the north, and Culver Boulevard on the south.
In September, 1985, the City Planning Commission rejected plans for the first phase, 98 townhouses on the median between Inglewood Boulevard and McConnell Avenue. In July, 1986, a City Council committee overturned the Planning Commission’s approval of the second phase, an 82-unit apartment complex between Inglewood and Sawtelle boulevards.
Residents opposed the development because housing on that site is contrary to the community plan for the area, which designates the Culver Boulevard median as open space.
Culver Boulevard is also designated as a major highway in city plans. The city transportation department says major highways must be 80 to 84 feet wide. Culver Boulevard along the stretch in question is 49 feet wide. Nothing has been done about widening the road because the median is privately owned, and city officials say they don’t have the money to buy it.
Residents who opposed the former development plans said the project would have brought more traffic, and complained that additional low-income housing would have caused the neighborhood to deteriorate. They said their part of town already has its share of low-income housing.
Mar Vista Gardens, a low-income housing project marred by gang and drug problems, is bounded on the west by Inglewood Boulevard and on the north by Braddock Drive.
The proposed development would have been financed by state funds earmarked to house people displaced by the Century Freeway. According to state law, up to 49% of the units would have been designated for low-income residents.
Trailers for Homeless
Gang and drug problems continue to plague the area, and traffic problems are expected to get worse, particularly after the proposed massive Playa Vista commercial/residential project south of Marina del Rey is completed.
“Because of Playa Vista, Culver Boulevard, which runs through the project, will be used as a major east-west artery,” Grammatico said.
The community is also fighting Galanter on a proposal to place four trailers to house the homeless on city-owned property on Centinela Avenue near Culver Boulevard.
Grammatico said the majority of the community would like to see Culver Boulevard widened and landscaped.
To do that, the city of Los Angeles would have to buy the property, something Ruiz says the city cannot afford.
But residents are not satisfied with that response.
“That’s totally absurd,” Grammatico said. “If they don’t have the money, maybe they should cut some of the fat in city government.”