An angry crowd of business operators heckled and booed plans for revitalization of central Reseda at a meeting Monday night, while supporters of the plan tried to convince them they had mistaken ideas about it.
The crowd was incensed by a plan that would prohibit certain types of businesses from locating in central Reseda, and would provide for pedestrian walkways, restrictions on signs, and changes in parking patterns.
Members of the Reseda Citizens Advisory Group tried to allay fears of residents and store owners at the Reseda American Legion Hall, telling them that controls on future businesses would bring life back to the decaying commercial district.
"Nobody is trying to take away your businesses. Nobody is trying to take away your property," said Richard Paley, a commercial real estate broker.
Rumors that the plan would lead to construction of high-rise buildings as current property owners were evicted are "a bunch of baloney," Paley said, but "it's been a decaying area for many years. Obviously, we want it to get better."
Much of the neighborhood in question is now zoned to permit 10-story buildings and the proposed plan would limit them to six stories.
Former City Council candidate Jon Lorenzen led opposition to the plan. He told the crowd the proposal would "prohibit all auto-related business in Reseda" and would require business owners to give up "huge amounts" of retail space.
The revised plan does not apply to existing business and would not result in evictions, according to the document.
"Folks, this is only the beginning," Lorenzen said. "I'm in real estate. I know what's happening. There are a lot of developers out there that are pushing somebody's buttons because they think this is cheap real estate."
Committee member Ann Kinzle, her eyes brimming with tears, told the unruly crowd that the committee acted in good faith in looking for ways to bring back Reseda.
"I've lived in Reseda for 34 years. I could do all my shopping here. There was J.C. Penney's. We had boutiques. We had See's Candy," she said.
Paley appealed to community members to read the plan carefully before rejecting it.
"We want to improve the quality of business here," he said.
"At whose expense?" shouted a heckler.
Reseda's central business district, once a busy shopping hub, suffered economically in the 1970s and 1980s with the proliferation of suburban malls.
Today, many storefronts are empty. Some blocks look run-down. Many remaining business owners say sales are way down, because so few potential shoppers ever get out of their cars.
Responding to calls from the community two years ago, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joy Picus appointed a 14-member citizens advisory committee to explore ways to upgrade the area and bring more shoppers to Reseda.
The committee, led by the Rev. Lyle Gordon, proposed aesthetic improvements in signs and landscaping, and practical improvements to parking and pedestrian access. Far more controversial, though, was the committee's belief that to upgrade central Reseda, certain businesses would have to be discouraged.
Through the years, as the city's business fortunes declined, the character of the storefronts changed, said Jackie Brainard, press deputy to Picus.
"Attractive rents brought in an overdose of certain types of businesses not conducive to a healthy shopping district, like secondhand shops and auto repair businesses," Brainard said.
The trade schools, car repair shops and thrift stores that now line the central streets of Reseda could remain, but no new ones would be permitted under the proposed plan, Brainard said, and existing ones could not expand.
Other future businesses prohibited in the plan would include massage parlors, gas stations, pool halls, movie rental businesses, parcel delivery services and even such unlikely potential tenants as mushroom farms, grain elevators, cesspool pumping businesses and water reservoirs.
Some residents and business owners in Reseda have been alarmed by the plan to change the character of a city that has a long history of auto sales businesses, said Lorenzen, a real estate broker and son of the late Los Angeles City Councilman Don Lorenzen.
To publicize Monday's meeting, Lorenzen printed flyers calling on residents to "Stop the Rape of Reseda."
Lorenzen's flyers said the plan "will forcefully relocate many residents and totally eliminate more than half the businesses in Reseda."
Brainard, who said no one from Picus' office was invited to the meeting, said the plan is not a redevelopment effort and will not force any residents or business owners to relocate. She said inaccurate statements have spread a "horrible panic" through the community. She said that Lorenzen ran against Picus in the City Council race in 1985.
Certain controversial sections of the plan have been dropped, such as zoning that would allow people to rent apartments over businesses and a prohibition on daytime meter parking, Brainard said.
The plan, as revised by the city Planning Department, will be reviewed by the Planning Commission Aug. 9.