Gagged in Venice

Last month it seemed like victory was near for the remaining 170 elderly and disabled residents of Lincoln Place, the apartment complex threatened with demolition in Venice. Lincoln Place Tenants Association president Sheila Bernard’s e-mail to residents said evictions had been halted so lawyers could have time to iron out the wrinkles in a deal with AIMCO (the landlord), the tenants’ association, and the L.A. Conservancy. A settlement meeting coordinated by Councilman Bill Rosendahl and his chief of staff, Mike Bonin, was held at City Hall, with Deputy Mayor Larry Frank, and Susan Pfann and Suzanne Tracy from the City Attorney’s Office. Bernard’s e-mail told tenants “there was a lot of give and take on both sides but after 6 hours we are 90 percent in agreement.” On the table November 3: 242 units would be preserved, with historic status granted for 50 years, and the tenants would be allowed to stay for the rest of their lives. In exchange, the tenants would ask the California Historic Resources Committee to reverse its decision granting the project historic status, thereby allowing AIMCO to expedite demolition plans for the rest of the 38-acre apartment complex. In return, the tenants’ association and the L.A. Conservancy would agree to drop their lawsuits against AIMCO.After the meeting, Bonin said they were 95 percent of the way to an agreement — slightly higher odds than those given by the Tenants Association. But there was just no accounting for that pesky 5 to 10 percent. One day later it all changed. On November 4, the California Historic Resources Committee ruled that there was no reason to reconsider the historic-status designation after a member of the L.A. Conservancy’s contingent refused to sign off on the agreement. Amanda Steward, who had drafted the Lincoln Place historic-register nomination, says she refused to support the deal because it would have done away with public review for new structures, lifted the height variance from 30 to 60 feet, and increased density by 27 percent.Seward also says the agreement included a gag order prohibiting her from saying anything negative about AIMCO. “Other members on the conservancy said, ‘Amanda, can’t you give in? They’re going to evict the tenants,’ ” Seward says, realizing that she is being made to look like the fall guy. “But I can’t sign, because it’s a bad deal. If both parties signed an agreement that was beneficial to the City of Los Angeles, and it was firm in writing, I would sign it, but what AIMCO is doing is no good for the city, it’s ridiculous, absurd. It’s extortion is what it is.”AIMCO had said over and over that unless the historic designation granted earlier this year is overturned, the company will no longer negotiate with tenants. Bonin says he remains hopeful that AIMCO will come back to the table, saying, “Bill’s goal is to prevent evictions, and we’ll do whatever we can.” In her tenant-wide e-mail, Bernard said that she was “prematurely optimistic” but that she remains hopeful that a compromise can be reached. “Things seem to change from day to day, it’s like a roller coaster, ” says Bernard. “Who knows what tomorrow will bring?”


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