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Post-Mortem on Coroner Job: Homes Too Pricey

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s clear that the wife of Los Angeles County’s erstwhile coroner will not be rushing to buy Randy Newman’s record “I Love L.A.”

First, Sheila Perper couldn’t find a home here to her liking for under $825,000. And the traffic? Forget it. Then there are the city’s neighborhoods, which are, well, disturbing.

“In California, everything looks like a slum,” she said Friday from her home near Pittsburgh, Pa. “I am very disappointed to see how people live.”

Only last month, Joshua A. Perper, the Allegheny County coroner, was singing Los Angeles’ praises when he took the $150,000-a-year coroner’s job, according to county officials. But, after his wife returned from a house-hunting trip last week, he abruptly changed his tune.

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“Certainly the job in Los Angeles was going to be a great challenge, but obviously my wife’s feelings are very important,” said the 58-year-old physician, who has been married 33 years. “She is my main and only partner.”

Truth be told, Sheila Perper’s observations on Los Angeles’ housing costs, freeways and smog have some merit. But it was the ferocity of her sucker punch, first delivered Thursday, that floored Los Angeles boosters. Sniffed one Chamber of Commerce official: “I’m not sure (her) comments are worth responding to.”

Ray Remy, president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, was not so reserved. “There are folks,” he pointed out, “who would say, ‘Pittsburgh, what a horrible place to live.’ ”

A spokesman for Mayor Tom Bradley declined to get involved.

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The controversy got stirred up when Perper’s wife, a real estate agent, was asked Thursday by a reporter why the couple was not moving to Los Angeles. Among her more memorable responses was this one:

“I had the idea that California has a very civilized lifestyle. I had the biggest letdown of my life. I understand that there is a drought, but people can at least rake their yards.”

Kathleen Bell, a real estate agent who assisted Sheila Perper in trying to find a home on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, diagnosed a textbook case of “sticker shock.”

“When she came in here she said she could cry over the houses in her price range,” said Bell, a sales agent for the Hillcrest Meadows development in Rolling Hills Estates. “She said she felt faint.”

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Sheila Perper’s weak knees are perhaps understandable, considering that she and her husband live in a 5,000-square-foot home atop an acre in suburban Pittsburgh--a pricey proposition to duplicate in these parts.

Moreover, Pittsburgh has gained a reputation as one of the country’s most livable cities. In 1985, in fact, it was rated No. 1 by the people at Rand-McNally. Los Angeles came in 316th.

Still, with the county offering to pay as much as 30% of the cost of the Perpers’ Los Angeles home, local real estate agents wondered Friday what sort of digs the couple were expecting.

Stan Zipperman of the Los Angeles Board of Realtors said Sheila Perper’s comments were “unfair and had a vindictive tone.” He said the couple could easily have found a desirable house in Pasadena, Los Feliz or the Hollywood Hills.

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“Why did they apply for the job if they weren’t interested?” Zipperman said. “She probably didn’t want to move out here.”

Larry Arman, a Palos Verdes Peninsula broker and one of the nation’s most successful home sellers, said that if the Perpers were his clients, he would offer the same advice he gave to an attorney recently looking for a new, six-bedroom home in the area with only $1.6 million to spend.

“I told him, ‘Frankly, you’re probably better off looking in Westlake Village.’ ”

The Perpers’ real estate agent was more sympathetic. The woman, who asked that her name not be used, said many families who move to Los Angeles from other parts of the country are dismayed to find “half the house for twice the price.”

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“You have to balance the job opportunities, the climate and all the other things that go with the California lifestyle,” said the Perpers’ real estate agent, who moved to the peninsula with her family from Kansas 11 years ago. “To some people it’s worth it and to others it’s not.”

On Friday, county officials were still scratching their heads over Perper’s decision not to oversee medical operations of the troubled and overburdened coroner’s office after he had seemed so enthusiastic. Aides to the county supervisors, who picked Perper after a nationwide search, privately noted that he was seeking a home more luxurious than those even of his bosses.

Supervisor Kenneth Hahn’s modest Spanish stucco on 78th Place, for example, is no mansion and even Supervisor Deane Dana’s house in Palos Verdes Estates is worth far less than $1 million, aides say.


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