Rocky Times

Photo by Ted SoquiSeventy-six-year-old Lucy Siam, small and hunched, is wearing oversize Jackie Onassis sunglasses, the kind that would look at home on a supermodel. She’s sharply dressed, just like Otti Weidemann, 78, who stands beside her, wearing a crisp white dress, a colorful blazer and a sun visor. You’d think these little old ladies were on their way to a luncheon or an early-bird special if it weren’t for the picket signs in their hands. Last week, some 20 or so tenants of Lincoln Place gathered outside the office of City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to protest their evictions from the Venice complex. “Rocky, Rocky, do your JOB!” they chanted outside his office, carrying signs that read, “Rocky Can We Stay At Your House?” and “AIMCO = BAD FAITH.”In August, Lincoln Place Garden Apartments, owned by Denver-based AIMCO Corp., were deemed eligible for listing on California’s Register of Historical Resources. The victory may have saved the World War II–era buildings from demolition but did nothing to help its 170 mostly old and frail tenants, who were served with eviction notices last year. Some of them say they face homelessness. “I have nowhere to go,” sniffles Siam. “I’m gonna make a tent city right here at City Hall.” The tenants have five months left in the place some have lived in for more than 30 years. They say Delgadillo has sold them out and would rather see the Denver company gobble up the 38-acre housing complex than protect affordable housing. They say it wouldn’t be the first time he let them down. In 2002, the city attorney urged the Los Angeles City Council to approve the project, which would turn most of Lincoln Place apartments into luxury condos, with 144 reserved for affordable rental units. Despite the public outcry, in 2002, the City Council approved the project — but only after ensuring “no existing tenant would be involuntarily displaced from the site.”So, now, three years later, the tenants demand to know how AIMCO can proceed with a city-approved plan that includes housing existing tenants while also evicting them? The Lincoln Place tenants say it’s because the City Attorney’s Office refuses to enforce the law.While the tenants walk in a slow circle, chanting and shame-shaming the City Attorney’s Office, Lincoln Place Tenants Association president Sheila Bernard, longtime resident Laura Burns, and the group’s attorney, Elena Pop, meet with City Attorney’s Office staffers. Also present: Mike Bonin, chief of staff for City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, and James Hildebrand and Ken Simmons, from the Los Angeles Housing Department. (The session was closed to the press.) According to Bernard, the stone-faced city attorneys agree that the conditions of the project need to be enforced but say they can’t enforce them. Bonin says that he was “horrified” to learn that the L.A. Housing Department can’t prevent what he believes are unjust evictions. He says the department representative insisted he can only set the regulations for evictions. According to Bonin, the City Attorney’s Office restated its position that the conditions do not yet apply and that legally the city has no recourse. Calls to the City Attorney’s Office were not returned. Deputy City Attorney Terry Kaufmann-Macias attended the meeting but refuses to talk about it, saying “someone else” would be in touch. By Wednesday afternoon, that person had not called. Says a frustrated Sheila Bernard, Lincoln Place Tenants Association president, “The fact that there is no agency set up to enforce conditions renders the whole notion of community input and environmental-impact reports meaningless.” She says the tenants are demanding that Rocky Delgadillo “stand up to out-of-state greedy developers” and get an injunction that would force AIMCO to comply with those conditions approved by City Council. “It looks bleak,” says Bernard, “but we’ve been down by a lot before. I believe something’s gonna break.”

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