Affluent Community Cherishes Isolation : New arrivals need two incomes and hefty equity in their former homes to buy in.

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

When Elizabeth and Giovanni Cecchetti began looking for a house in Los Angeles two decades ago, they narrowed the choice to Westwood and Pacific Palisades.

“We considered Westwood Village, which would have been more convenient and less isolated, but the schools in the Palisades, along with the beauty of the area, convinced us to buy in the Palisades,” Elizabeth Cecchetti said.

“There is a sense of community in the Palisades that reminds me of a small town,” said Cecchetti, whose husband is a professor of Italian at UCLA.


They bought a house in the Marquez Knolls section of the Palisades for slightly more than $70,000, she said. It is probably worth close to $1 million today.

Isolation from the rest of the city of Los Angeles has long been a prized quality in this affluent community of winding streets lined by mature trees, where many houses have Pacific Ocean views.

Attractive Location

The isolated location attracted the community’s Methodist founders in the 1920s and has been a factor in the Palisades ever since. That isolation has both its good and bad points, according to recent arrivals and longtime residents of this community of about 30,000.

On the positive side, the Palisades is geographically removed from much of the crime, air pollution and traffic congestion that afflicts most of the city. Despite the presence of Will Rogers State Beach, Palisades residents think of their area as a seaside community with more in common with, say, Santa Barbara, than the typical California beach city.

On the negative side, the isolation means that commuters face long drives on Sunset Boulevard or Pacific Coast Highway, the only routes in or out of the Palisades.

One major criticism of the Palisades is that despite the numerous organizations in the community, there are too few activities for teen-agers. Young people seeking entertainment in popular Westwood Village must travel seven winding miles on Sunset Boulevard.


Isolation and relative freedom from crime also has attracted newer residents who can afford houses in a community where the average single-family house sells for more than $600,000.

Moved From Ocean Park

When the Cecchettis moved to the Palisades in 1969, “the husband worked and the wife stayed home to raise the children,” Elizabeth Cecchetti recalls. “Now, both work and a baby sitter or housekeeper watches the kids.”

Her description fits one of the newest families in Pacific Palisades, Larry and Randi Dubey, who moved recently to a $675,000, 1,700-square-foot house on DePauw Street. They had owned a house in the the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica for the past five years.

“We were looking for a community with less crime than our area of Santa Monica, which wasn’t far from Lincoln Boulevard,” Randi Dubey said. She’s an executive of Sacks SFO, a chain of discount fashion clothiers; her husband is a partner in Ernst & Dubey, a residential contracting firm.

The Dubeys, with two young children, wanted to live in an area where there are other families. With about an 80% to 20% ratio of homeowners to renters, the Palisades is in sharp contrast to Santa Monica, where the ratio is reversed.

“When you’re single or don’t have children, you can live anywhere,” Randi Dubey said. “But when the children come, you start looking for safety. We rented here in 1982 and grew to love the community.”


Two-Income Families

“We like to say that we bought our house because the neighborhood is great and because the kitchen had just been remodeled,” Larry Dubey said, adding that the equity in their Santa Monica house, purchased in 1983, was a big help in qualifying for the Palisades house.

According to real estate broker Bud Petrick, whose firm sold the Dubeys their house, virtually every family moving to the Palisades from elsewhere in the Los Angeles area has two incomes and a hefty equity in their previous home.

It’s a matter of economics, he said. The latest multiple listing book for the Palisades has an asking price of $475,000 for the least expensive single-family house, with the most expensive, in the Riviera section, listed at $5.3 million. The least expensive condominium is $210,000, a one-bedroom, one-bath unit, he said, while the most expensive condominium lists for $795,000.

According to the Los Angeles Board of Realtors, Pacific Palisades was the second most active area in the city last year, with 395 sales, just behind Silver Lake-Echo Park, with 398. The average price for all 1988 sales in Pacific Palisades was $704,477, a 32.5% increase from the 1987 average price of $531,755.

“The Palisades was largely built up in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and, aside from a few lots in Palisades Highlands and tear-down lots elsewhere, there’s no place to build here,” Petrick said.

Purchased for the Land

The property values have reached such levels that houses on the so-called “alphabet streets” (named for prominent Methodist missionaries: Albright, Bashford, Carey, Drummond, Embury, Fiske, Galloway, Hartzell, Iliff and Kagawa) are being purchased for their lots, at prices that have ranged as high as $600,000, Petrick said.


“One of the big concerns in the Palisades is that people who buy these properties will build houses that are much too large for the lots,” he added.

Outsized houses and development in general are major topics of conversation in the Palisades, according to Flo Elfant, president of the Pacific Palisades Community Council, and manager of the Palisades office of Merrill Lynch Realty.

The powerful council serves as a forum on issues of concern to residents, she said. It has representatives from 15 cultural organizations, two homeowner groups, men’s and women’s service clubs, the chamber of commerce and the ministerial society.

The developers who tried to create a shopping center at the site of the Santa Monica Land & Water Co. building on Sunset Boulevard at Swarthmore Avenue learned a hard lesson about the clout of the council about six years ago.

Stop Unwanted Development

The landmark building would have been demolished for a center anchored by Bullock’s. An intense “Don’t Mall the Palisades” campaign convinced Bullock’s to back out of the project.

Ronald Dean, an attorney and a past president of the Pacific Palisades Residents Assn., said the Palisades derives much of its power to stop unwanted development from the organizations--including his 1,000-member group--that make up the community council.


That power was demonstrated last November, when Palisades residents and others joined forces to defeat a controversial Los Angeles ballot measure sponsored by Occidental Petroleum Corp. that would allow oil drilling in the Palisades.

“Residents call me all the time, and I tell them I’ll put their complaint or suggestion on the agenda for the next meeting,” Elfant said.

She said that a major topic of discussion in the community these days is Palisades High School and the problem of alcohol and drug abuse there--along with what many Palisades residents believe is an inordinate amount of media coverage of the school and the community.

Subject of TV Show

Pali High, already the subject of a 1965 Time cover story and a 1976 book, was featured on the April 21 edition of ABC-TV’s “20/20” show. Besides describing the affluent community and its academically excellent high school, a reporter took a camera crew to a party in the mountains where Pali High students and others used alcohol and drugs.

The program showed parents and their children at a substance-abuse program and pointed out that Pali High has one of the few Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) chapters on a high school campus.

Joe Jelikovsky, a drug and alcohol counselor who has been trying to organize a Palisades teen center, said the “community has structured itself to meet the needs of adults, but has neglected the needs of the children.”


Proposals to expand the Palisades YMCA or build teen centers have met with resistance because adults are more concerned with property values or the environmental impact on the community, he added.

Generally, the Palisades has a low crime rate. Of 41 incidents reported in February, 20 were thefts from a vehicle and 10 were stolen cars. Most of the other incidents were residential and business burglaries. A rare exception to this pattern was the June 22 rape and murder of an 18-year-old Pali High senior. A 32-year-old security firm employee is awaiting trial on the charges.

AT A GLANCE Population 1988 estimate: 36,000 Median age: 41.5 years Racial/ethnic mix White (non-Latino): 90.7% Latino: 3.8% Black: 0.6% Other: 4.9% Annual income Per capita: $30,547 Median household: $66,006 Household distribution Less than $15,000: 8.7% $15,000 - $30,000: 10.9% $30,000 - $50,000: 16.5% $50,000 - $75,000: 21.7% $75,000 +: 42.2%