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Crowded Neighborhood Fights Condos : Growth: People in Moneta Gardens, where a third of Hawthorne’s residents live, say a 94-unit complex would overburden streets, schools and services.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Residents of Moneta Gardens, the most densely populated neighborhood in Hawthorne, are packed so tightly onto narrow streets that they often have to wait five minutes just to pull out of their driveways to get to work.

The once-rural neighborhood makes up about one-fifth of the city’s area, but is home to nearly one-third of its population. One local elementary school is so full of Moneta Gardens children that students are forced to take their lunch breaks at 10-minute intervals.

As a result, residents who were silent during the decade-long building boom that transformed their neighborhood have suddenly put up a fight when a Carson developer recently proposed replacing two small, senior citizens trailer parks with a 94-unit, family-style condominium complex.

“Enough is enough,” said an exasperated Barbara Fuerstinger, a Moneta Gardens resident who signed a petition opposing the project. “You’ve got to stop it somewhere. . . . The congestion here is bad enough.”

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The condominium proposal, which comes before the Hawthorne Planning Commission on Wednesday, has become a lightning rod for mounting concerns about overdevelopment in Moneta Gardens. Debate has gotten so heated that one neighborhood couple said their lives had been threatened simply because they spoke out against the project.

The city’s Planning Department--which denounced the couple’s story as last-minute theatrics--has endorsed the development, saying that it will help stabilize the area by offering people a chance to buy condominiums in a neighborhood where most people rent.

But those who would live next to the three-story, gated complex say that the area is too crowded to support more people. In an area where 60 trailers have housed mostly single senior citizens, 94 condominiums are bound to attract families, critics say. Some have begun circulating petitions to oppose it.

Mayor Betty Ainsworth, the only member of the City Council who lives in Moneta Gardens, said it has been years since a single housing development generated this much controversy.

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“They’ve gotten fed up,” Ainsworth said. “I think the density is too high. . . . It’s really beginning to have an impact on the quality of life.”

Thirty years ago, Moneta Gardens was little more than cornfields, flower farms and single-family homes. But by the 1960s, the South Bay’s burgeoning aerospace industry had created an almost insatiable appetite for housing in Hawthorne. With relatively low real estate prices and jumbo-sized lots up to four times larger than the ones in the rest of the city, Moneta Gardens began attracting most of Hawthorne’s large-scale developments.

Today, Moneta Garden’s 40 blocks in the southeast corner of Hawthorne is a working-class, largely minority neighborhood with row after row of giant apartment complexes. One planning commissioner compared it to a mini-New York.

The streets are so crowded with traffic that many parents refuse to let their children play outside for fear that they’ll be struck by passing cars. One resident complains that she frequently must stand in line up to an hour at the local grocery store to buy food for dinner.

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Moneta Gardens has such a high concentration of gangs and drugs that police say hardly a day passes without someone reporting the sound of gunfire. During the first six months of this year, nearly one-third of the city’s 3,208 most serious crimes occured in Moneta Gardens, according to police statistics.

Fed up with the impact that the explosion of new apartments was having on the community, the City Council imposed a moratorium on apartment construction in January, 1990, to give city officials time to come up with more stringent development standards.

The moratorium did not include condominiums, however, and in May, 1990, Future Estates and Development in Carson began negotiating to acquire two adjoining mobile home parks in the 13900 blocks of Yukon and Kornblum avenues for a condominium complex. By early this year, Future Estates had agreed to pay $3.8 million for the 3.6-acre site, said Louis Simpson, an attorney for the seller. Future Estates declined to comment.

In the original plans, the development had 95 units, was surrounded by a concrete wall and offered no play area for children. In response to recommendations by the Planning Department, Future Estates agreed to reduce the number of units by one, replace the concrete wall with a wrought-iron fence and restructure the parking lot to give children room to play.

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Donna Jett, a Moneta Gardens resident who is spearheading opposition to the project, called the changes superficial. The biggest problem with the complex, she and others said, is that the community doesn’t need it. As it is, there are more apartments than residents and “For Rent” signs abound.

“Why build it?” asked Jett, who said she has gathered dozens of signatures against the project. “Tell me one reason other than that the developer will make money. You’re not getting a sense of community there. You’re starting a small ghetto.”

Although the Hawthorne Police Department and the Hawthorne School District have taken no official stance against the complex, several police and school officials say that it is bound to create more problems for Moneta Gardens.

“It’s something that’s fairly politically charged right now and we don’t want to be aligned with any political group,” said Hawthorne Police Capt. Guy McDaniels. But, he added, “I guarantee you (the condominium project) won’t make our job any easier. It won’t make our streets any safer by putting that (development) in there.”

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Don Carrington, assistant superintendent of educational services at the Hawthorne School District, agreed: “If there are going to be children (in the complex), we are going to feel that in our classrooms. It’s inevitable. If it means bringing in more portable classrooms, we will adjust to it. The problem is there just doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.”

The city’s Planning Department denies charges that the project will hurt the neighborhood and is recommending that the Planning Commission approve the development. The Planning Commission, which has twice postponed a decision on the matter, is scheduled to consider it again Wednesday.

Noting that the complex meets all of the city’s zoning codes, Planning Director Michael Goodson said the project will satisfy the city’s desire to introduce more homeownership into Moneta Gardens, which could actually help fight crime in the area. He said the complex contains almost 20 units less than is allowed under city requirements and more landscaped area than any other project of its size in the city.

“I see it as a project that’s going to enhance the community,” Goodson said. “The Council has been trying to bring in more ownership-type units. . . . (The condominiums) will bring a stabilizing effect to the Moneta Gardens area, more so than apartments would.”

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Although some commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the size of the complex, at least two were unsure whether they had legal grounds to deny the permit.

“I don’t think they need something that big and I don’t think the streets are wide enough,” Planning Commission Chairman James Nakai said. “But it is the correct zone for them and they are doing everything that is within the code. . . . We can’t tell them (they) can’t have it.”


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