Amid charges of political favoritism, the Los Angeles City Council overrode a mayoral veto Wednesday and approved a Chatsworth development that neighbors complained threatens their rural, equestrian lifestyle.
Opponents alleged that Councilman Hal Bernson pushed the 21-home project to benefit political ally Ted Stein, developer of the site and former president of the city's Planning Commission.
"Frankly, this does not look very nice," said Bill Powers of the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley. "This looks like a political pal is getting a favor over the wishes of the community."
Bernson argued that the housing development is preferable to the alternatives, which include condominiums and a mini-mall, that have previously been proposed for the 6.7 acres at the northwest corner of Chatsworth Street and Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
"This is a protective measure," Bernson said. "This is something I believe in the long run will preserve the horse-keeping and not [allow them to] be impacted by shopping centers."
Stein is in escrow to buy the property from the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Planning Commission in February approved his plans for 21 single-family homes.
Mayor Richard Riordan, who ousted Stein from the Harbor Commission after a political dispute last year, vetoed the project March 26, citing neighbors' opposition and recommending that the developer and residents negotiate a compromise. Peter Hidalgo, a spokesman for Riordan, denied Wednesday the veto was political retaliation.
Neighboring residents told the council Wednesday that Bernson and Stein have both refused to meet with them. They expressed fear that the project is more dense than other horse-keeping lots in the area and could lead to other, similar subdivisions.
"It's incomprehensible that Mr. Bernson will not listen to his constituents and community and is railroading this issue through," said Barry Nadell, a Chatsworth resident. He said residents will meet with attorneys to determine whether they could sue.
Powers told the council that another property owner in the neighborhood is watching to see what happens with the Stein subdivision and may break his parcel into small lots as well.
"Chatsworth is an equestrian community, and this will create a domino effect which will ruin that," Powers said. "This is a betrayal of the promises this city made that this community would maintain its rich equestrian heritage."
Bernson said Riordan vetoed the Planning Commission action because Stein did not back Steve Soboroff for mayor.
Riordan abruptly removed Stein from the city Harbor Commission last year after Stein endorsed James K. Hahn for mayor.