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Frustrated Troupe Sues CRA, City

TIMES DANCE CRITIC

The long struggle to reconstruct the earthquake-damaged midtown studios of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre entered a new phase late last week when the company filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and the city itself for preventing it from rebuilding.

The suit contends that in fall 1998, after issuing all the necessary approvals for the company to begin construction, the CRA refused to enter an OK for the permit in the city Building Department’s computer. By then, according to the suit, the CRA had decided to incorporate the studio land--on West Adams Boulevard, part of a CRA district--into a shopping center.

As a result, the suit alleges, the Washington company and school have been stuck in a temporary studio on West Pico Boulevard, paying $3,500 a month in rent while fruitlessly seeking to either become a part of the shopping center project or have their proposed studio relocated, at city expense, to a comparable location nearby.

“If the city is going to force us to move, they’ve got to give us the money to do what we already did in the first space,” said Erwin Washington, Lula Washington’s husband and executive director of the company. “We’ve made an offer to buy another piece of land at Pico and La Brea, a smaller one, but it would take about $1.5 million for plans, permits, environmental studies, parking arrangements, etc., before we could start building anything--and we’d already done all that on Adams.”

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Assistant L.A. city attorney Dov Lesel, representing the CRA, said, “We don’t yet have a response to this suit. I’m still trying to run down facts and see what happened.” At the CRA, Deputy Administrator Don Spivack also declined to speak about the suit. “The fact that we’re in litigation means that we cannot comment,” he said.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre tours widely and recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. It shares studio space with Washington’s youth and children’s ensembles, as well as after-school and weekend classes. Nationwide, the choreographer and company leader has become celebrated for her outreach activities, and the company itself has earned a reputation for intense, exciting performances.

The lawsuit asks the court to demand that the building permit be issued on the Adams site and that the defendants be required to compensate the Washingtons for their lost income, temporary rental costs, litigation costs and other consequential damages. No specific amount is mentioned.

“We were hoping that this lawsuit would make them [the CRA representatives] sit down and talk with us,” Erwin Washington said. “But so far it looks like the city has no interest in talking.” He expects the city to attempt to acquire the Adams property either by eminent domain or for far less than the amount the Washingtons have already invested in it.

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“I think this [situation] shows a flat disregard for the arts and particularly dance,” Washington said. “Basically, the city is saying that business is good but the arts are not.”


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