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Perica’s decision noted complaints that Tajerian’s past tenants had sprayed outdoors, “only 30 feet from single-family homes,” and pointed to an order to comply issued July 15, 2002, by the Department of Building and Safety to Tajerian and VAZ for outdoor spray-painting and an unpermitted spray booth. In handing down his decision to deny Car Paradise’s permit application, Perica warned against the environmental hazards presented by the area’s auto shops.
The potential and real risks from adding more auto repair and spray-painting at the site are issues so significant the City should inspect all such uses on Burbank Boulevard along this one block area first and determine . . . whether the combined “impacts” from all such local auto repair and spray-painting in the cluster are simply too much of a health risk to add any more.
Ferguson and Crew complain that since Car Paradise was denied permission to spray paint, business has increased next door to their studio at Oxnard Auto. Oxnard Auto only recently moved its spraying operations into a contained booth after being ordered to do so by Building and Safety. Ferguson and Crew say paint fumes can still be smelled coming from Oxnard Auto, and also allege that some spraying continued illegally at Car Paradise even after Perica’s denial. Ferguson and Crew videotaped one occasion where it appears that overspray at Car Paradise is escaping into the atmosphere. The tape shows a fire truck arriving at the scene and then the lights at Car Paradise going out. North Hollywood’s Fire Station House 60 confirmed that it issued a warning on December 21 ordering the business to stop spraying.
Noubar Kyoutounian, a pudgy, somber fellow who identified himself as Car Paradise’s owner, says he was only cleaning his business when the Fire Department stopped by on that date. He says he was not issued a warning and that no spraying has taken place at his business since October 1, 2002, shortly after Perica’s permit denial.
“They can come in and check. I’m not doing any painting,” he insisted during an interview in his tiny, wood-paneled office. “I’m losing a lot of work over this. I can do body repair, but I have to have the car towed to another business for painting. I don’t want any problems with the neighbors, but I’m getting too much attention. I’m working, paying my taxes, keeping my family. I support my mother and father, my wife and two kids. It’s not fair.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Kyoutounian’s landlord, Alice Tajerian, and her sons Ardem and Hovan. When I met with them at Denny’s on the corner of Lankershim and Burbank, the family explained that they wished to follow the law, and were surprised by the opposition to their application for a conditional-use permit.
“These businesses are thriving here,” said Hovan. “The market is supporting it. What are we going to do, have no auto-body places in L.A.? Where are these places supposed to go?”
The Tajerian family emigrated from Syria to the U.S. in 1977. They used to dwell on property adjacent to Car Paradise’s present location. Their neighbors’ beefs are blown out of proportion, they argue. They lived in the neighborhood for seven years and now live in an area of Van Nuys where there’s a similar grouping of such businesses, and have no ill-health effects. They grumbled that they detected an anti-immigrant bias at the permit hearing when Crew made comments they considered derogatory.
“Carl kept making references to ‘these people,’” said Ardem. “Saying ‘I don’t know how they do it in their country, but we have laws here.’ Perica should have stopped that sort of language and maintained focus. All we wanted was a fair hearing. We felt ambushed.”
Crew admitted he referred to “these people,” but said he was talking about the owners and operators of Oxnard Auto, who he asserts are in cahoots with the owners of Car Paradise. Perica denied that anti-immigrant sentiments influenced his refusal. He pointed out that many of the folks who showed up to oppose the Tajerians’ application were immigrants.
Albert Bouzaglou, who owns the properties rented by both Oxnard Auto and the California Institute of Abnormal Arts, admits that some auto-body shops along Burbank cut corners, but not Oxnard, or at least not since they put in their new spray booth. He wondered who he’d rent to if the auto-body shops were forced to move, and said such a move would cost L.A. millions.
“Who is going to build an apartment building there?” he asked. “I’m giving you a point of view of most of the area’s business owners. They pay the most high taxes, and they employ about one to seven persons each. That’s a lot of people out of work if they close.”
Despite such sentiments, breathing the polluted air along Burbank Boulevard is enough to give you pause. One is struck by the number of children and mothers with strollers passing through the area in the late afternoon. Eventually there will be more, with an elementary and a high school being built a few blocks away. Could the concentration of such auto-body repair shops increase the risk of cancer and other illnesses for residents, workers and schoolchildren?