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Atwater Village Activists Fear L.A. Councilman Tom LaBonge's Push For High-Density Redevelopment

Friends of Atwater Village sounded the alarm on Sunday, with the neighborhood activist group writing on its news blog that L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge's controversial and "long-time dream" to redevelop a section of the community may finally come true.

Mostly represented by L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, Atwater Village is a somewhat sleepy neighborhood that lies between the Los Angeles River and Glendale.

But LaBonge, according to Friends of Atwater Village, appears to be pushing for changes in the northern part of Atwater Village, which lies in his district, so developers can build "high-density housing and commercial developments."

Friends of Atwater Village write that LaBonge has long called a northern, industrial section of Atwater Village -- the section that sits in the councilman's district -- "River Glen," which the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) now wants turn into a project area under its jurisdiction.

If the CRA gets its way, the boundaries of Atwater Village will be changed, and high-density development projects will most probably alter the neighborhood's village-like setting.

LaBonge first came up with the name change and proposed revitalization for the area in his district in 2003, according to Friends of Atwater Village.

The L.A. City Council needs to approve the proposed CRA project area, but rarely, if ever, does such a major undertaking take shape in the first place without the support from a council member who represents the neighborhood where something may be changed or built.

In this case, that council member would be Tom LaBonge.

Besides running into opposition from community activists, LaBonge may also have to deal with past remarks he made that could cause more political grief.

A long stretch of the proposed "River Glen" runs parallel to the Los Angeles River and the I-5 freeway, where an average of 237,000 trucks and cars travel daily and spew highly toxic air pollution.

An L.A. Weekly cover story, "Black Lung Lofts," examined the health consequences of living and building near such bad air.

As the Weekly reported, on April 25, 2007, LaBonge invited USC professor Jim Gauderman to City Council chambers so he could talk about the dangers of living next to Los Angeles' major freeways.

Gauderman, who had just completed a highly regarded study, warned council members that people -- especially children, seniors, and the sick -- are likely to suffer major lung damage and other health problems if they live in housing within 500 feet of a freeway.

"It's not just watery eyes or coughing after a particularly polluted day," Gauderman told City Hall politicians. "We're talking about long-term risks of asthma, long-term risks of reduced lung development in children."

At the time, LaBonge applauded Gauderman's findings, telling his colleagues: "When we make land-use decisions, when we make park decisions, when we make housing decisions, I think this (study) will have an effect."

LaBonge later told the Weekly that too often major universities such as USC and UCLA release major studies that "don't get implemented," and he was hoping to "get the attention" of the City Council.

While it is unclear if apartment complexes will be built near the I-5 freeway, high-density housing and affordable housing are certainly in the mix for the freeway-adjacent neighborhood, according to Friends of Atwater Village.

Which begs the question: When the time comes, will LaBonge ignore everything he learned and applauded back in 2007?

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.


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