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Prop. 3 Loss Spurs Search to Save Housing

Times Staff Writer

Stunned by the narrow defeat last week of Proposition 3, a citywide bond measure that would have helped renovate 3,000 to 9,000 low-rent apartments, Los Angeles housing experts and city officials are looking for other ways to save the apartments from the wrecking ball.

The $100-million bond measure would have provided loans to renovate old, unreinforced brick apartments that make up a significant portion of the city’s low-rent housing. Under a city ordinance, the units must be strengthened to withstand earthquakes or be torn down. Owners generally have been unable to afford private financing.

Just 3,500 “yes” votes too few spelled the death of the measure, which needed 66% of the vote and got 64.7% in the April 11 municipal primary.

With the failure of the bond measure, apartment owners must now look to the state, which will provide $80 million statewide in earthquake renovation funds in July. But Los Angeles landlords must compete with those in other cities for the funds, which will be awarded on a “first-come, first-served basis,” according to the Community Redevelopment Agency.

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City officials are working on a new ordinance that would place a temporary citywide moratorium on demolishing the unreinforced brick buildings. The moratorium would allow the city more time to put another bond measure on the ballot but not until next year.

The moratorium is crucial, said Ruth Schwartz, director of the Shelter Partnership, because any low-rent apartments torn down here “will be lost forever and not replaced.”

“When a building goes, it is replaced with one renting for two to three times as much money,” she said.

If more demolitions are allowed, Schwartz said, displaced tenants will “move in with friends, move into garages and bootleg apartments or end up as statistics--the homeless statistics.”

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Meanwhile, housing experts, ranging from the CRA to nonprofit developers to major builders, are trying to figure out what went wrong in last week’s balloting. Most blame the lack of exposure, despite the measure’s wide support among government and business leaders.

In the weeks before the election, passage of Proposition 3 was called “terribly critical,” by John Tuite, head of the redevelopment agency, and by housing experts who predicted a surge in homelessness if buildings were demolished. They pointed to nearly 4,000 apartments--once homes to senior citizens and the very poor--that have already been torn down by owners who could not afford to shore them up.

Providing Loans

It was one year ago that Mayor Tom Bradley, citing the exorbitant cost of earthquake renovations--$10,000 to $40,000 per apartment unit--announced that he would seek a major bond issue to begin providing loans to owners of the more than 44,000 apartment units affected citywide.

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But last week, Proposition 3 was the lowest-funded and least-publicized of the four bond measures on the ballot and the only one to fail.

Bradley held just one press conference on the housing bond measure. Cerrell Associates Inc., hired by the city to promote Proposition 3, got off to a late start and scrambled to raise money just before the election, taking in only $21,000. While nearly every member of the City Council backed Proposition 3, none gave money to its tiny campaign chest, nor did the mayor, according to the Cerrell agency.

Moreover, while the local news media endorsed Proposition 3 in editorials, they spent little time explaining it to voters. The Times, for example, wrote just a few paragraphs about Proposition 3 in a single story shortly before the election. Only one or two news media outlets covered the press conference held by Bradley and City Councilwoman Gloria Molina.

“There may have been some thought that, ‘Gee who’s going to vote against this plan to keep families off the streets? It’s like motherhood,’ ” said John Maguire, housing director for the Community Redevelopment Agency. “And there were some of us who were looking to the mayor’s office for some leadership, but even that did not come through.”

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‘Political Process’

“We could have gotten 4,000 people just to go vote, but we did not do it. We didn’t push the political process, and we have learned an awful lesson,” said Anita Landecker, a nonprofit housing expert who helps finance housing. “We understood there was a campaign consulting firm hired to take care of raising money, and everybody we knew thought Proposition 3 was a winner, so we just sat back and blew it.”

Several housing experts said there is a pervasive feeling in the housing community that elected city officials, particularly Bradley, should have aggressively pushed the issue.

“There is a fledgling housing movement in L.A. We’re unorganized, and we don’t meet in any association, and mounting an election was just beyond us,” said one housing specialist, who asked not to be named. “In the final days, I watched the people working on it for the mayor, bumbling around without money from him or anybody, and I thought, boy, we are in trouble.”

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Trade Visit

Bradley, who is out of town on a trade visit to the Far East for 11 days, could not be reached for comment. However spokeswoman Lydia Shayne said the mayor had discussed the measure several times during campaign stops.

Cerrell said Proposition 3 had to compete with the more widely publicized police bond measure, which took in nearly $400,000 in contributions, and the library bond measure, which his agency began promoting last year. He said voters were familiar with the library bond issue, which first came before the electorate last fall.

Cerrell said he raised only $21,000, in part, because the city’s housing community has no pivotal organization capable of backing a campaign. At the same time, he said, large corporations gave heavily to the campaign for police stations and were not willing to dig up more contributions for a second issue.

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