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Hopes of Venice

THE LAST BATCH OF EVICTION NOTICES won’t go out for at least another two months at Lincoln Place Garden Apartments in Venice.

A mediator will be called in to deal with all of the parties involved in the dispute over the future of the remaining 53 households inhabited by elderly and handicapped residents. The reprieve, which now delays the eviction notices until May, was worked out by Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

AIMCO, owner of the housing development, agreed to return to the negotiating table to try to work out a settlement with the tenants, preservationists and Venice community members, under the guidance of a professional mediator, said Mike Bonin, Rosendahl’s chief of staff.

Patti Schwayder, AIMCO vice president, said, “It has been our intention to work with the residents.”

Rosendahl’s efforts to save the units continued on another front this week at City Hall. On Tuesday, he submitted a motion to the city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee that would require AIMCO to record conditions attached to a city-approved tract map. Those conditions include preserving tenancy, and AIMCO possibly violated them when it evicted 52 households in last December. The committee, made up of councilmen Ed Reyes, Jose Huizar and Jack Weiss, has sent the motion to the city attorney’s office for review.

Rosendahl said he won’t ask the committee to vote on his motion until the mediation talks are held. “I am determined to see that those tenants living in Lincoln Place get to stay for the remainder of their lives. I am also determined that those households forced out in December get to return. I remain cautiously optimistic.”

Rosendahl expects a mediator to be chosen by March 10, and negotiations to be held by mid-April.

The talks will be held with the historic status of the development under dispute. Last year, the Lincoln Place Garden Apartments were deemed eligible for inclusion on the State Historic Register, without AIMCO’s consent. Inclusion on the register would deem the 38-acre complex a state landmark and guarantee it certain protections from demolitions and redevelopment.

AIMCO has been fighting the designation and, last week, the State Historical Resources Commission, with six new members appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, overturned the project’s historical status.

A rehearing is set for May.

Amanda Seward, writer of the original nomination, was “devastated” to hear the news. Last spring, the nomination was seen as a huge win for preservationists who fought to have the World War II–era development included. AIMCO has a current suit against the state and Seward, alleging that they failed to give proper notice as to when the hearing on a final decision would be held. Seward says she plans to fight it out: “I can’t reward AIMCO’s backhanded behavior. I have to believe the good guy wins.”

AIMCO’s Schwayder said the company sees the removal of the designation as “an opportunity.” In November 2005, when all parties were at the bargaining table, AIMCO said it would have allowed the tenants to stay if the historic designation were removed. Back then, Seward refused to sign. Seward had said the deal AIMCO had proposed would not have helped the tenants.

The value of Lincoln Place goes beyond Venice. “Lincoln Place has been a tragic human drama, but what’s at stake as well is the fate of one of the most significant World War II multifamily complexes in Los Angeles,” said Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy. “The designation was legitimate, and the former commission did vote to support it.”

Lincoln Place has a rich history. In the years after the war, America faced a desperate housing crisis. Many returning GIs were forced to sleep in shelters, on the streets and, in some truly unfortunate cases, with their in-laws. In Los Angeles, many camped out on the steps of City Hall and demanded housing. The Truman administration responded with calls for a massive building program. With the country still hurting from the war, Congress refused to pay the full tab for public-housing units, but it did fund a private building boom of low-income, multifamily dwellings through Federal Housing Authority (FHA)–insured mortgages. In California, the Lincoln Place Garden Apartments in Venice were the largest such housing complex. Ralph Vaughn, a prominent African-American architect, designed the 52 original buildings, containing 795 units.

For Rosendahl’s office, the fate of the buildings and their tenants hangs in the balance once more. “It’s kind of like we’re back where we were in the fall,” said Bonin. “For Lincoln Place, it’s five months forward, five months back.”