In an effort to solicit neighborhood opinions regarding the best possible use for an abandoned fire station on Centinela Avenue in Mar Vista, City Councilman Bill Rosendahl hosted a community meeting at the Mar Vista Recreation Center on August 5th.
Approximately 100 interested members of Mar Vista and the surrounding neighborhoods came to give their opinions on what they wanted to see take the place of former Los Angeles Fire Department Station No. 62.
The new Station No. 62 is on Venice Boulevard but the old building near Centinela Avenue and Charnock Road remains, and city officials and residents are considering how they can utilize the space for the community’s needs.
One of the original ideas for the defunct station was to preserve it as a historical landmark. But the need for housing and other community-serving needs rank as the primary preferences for many of Mar Vista’s residents, as determined through surveys and community meetings.
Glen Howell, president of the Mar Vista Historical Society, was behind the initial proposal to declare the building a Mar Vista landmark. But while he feels that the idea of turning the structure into a historical monument is still a good one, now he believes that is not feasible.
“We all understand that it’s no longer possible,” Howell acknowledged. “I agree with Bill Rosendahl, who is supporting affordable housing or a community center.”
Ken Alpern, a Mar Vista plastic surgeon, agrees with those of his neighbors who think the best use for the building would be a community center.
“At this time, I prefer that it be used as a community center, but I respect the idea of having affordable senior housing there as well,” Alpern said.
At the meeting, residents expressed a variety of opinions on how the space should be utilized. These ran the gamut from affordable housing units, a senior complex to community or daycare centers, and several speakers also suggested that Centinela Avenue might not be the best spot for a senior complex.
Tina Pollard, a real estate agent who has lived in the area her entire life, resides across the street with her 83-year-old mother.
“I’m not sure that Centinela is the best place for senior citizens,” said Pollard, who lives east of the station on Ocean View Avenue. “We get a lot of traffic on Centinela, so we should be careful what we decide we want to put there.”
June Harris identified herself as a senior citizen who came to hear proposals about converting the fire station into affordable housing for the elderly.
“I’ve worked all my life, and although I have a pretty good income, I can’t find [a suitable place] to live,” she said. “I need affordable housing, and there’s no help for the average retired person.”
Sean Spear, director of the Los Angeles Housing Authority, explained the various potential options to the speakers, who formed a long line outside the auditorium.
“There is an inherent value in having the land come free to the project to help subsidize units,” Spear noted. “The reverse of that is that, in theory, it could also subsidize units that are a little bit higher than what you would normally find in affordable housing.”
Roy Persinco, who lives just west of the fire station on Colonial Avenue, was worried that a new housing complex would tower over his and other homes.
He was also concerned about the traffic that new housing might bring and the overall effect on the neighborhood.
“What about our property values?” he asked. “Why are we starting with housing without talking about other uses for this station?”
Judith Deutsch wanted city officials to consider that there is very little parking for a housing complex at the site, and that there may be better uses for the building.
“I think that the space would be better used for community services, like a daycare center perhaps, or a nonprofit organization in the area,” she suggested. “I think that it could be combined with a nice park area which would give us beauty and take away some of the traffic problems.”
Rosendahl spoke at the end of the meeting and explained why he had advocated for a combination of housing for the elderly and a community center.
“When I said that I was willing to build low-income senior housing, I meant that,” Rosendahl told the audience. “I said that because I did not want all of the anger and angst about former homeless types that might not be seniors to clutter up anyone’s psyche about this issue.
“I want to provide affordable housing for those who can afford it on this piece of government land.”
The councilman feels that the meeting went well.
“It was an honest, good beginning,” Rosendahl told The Argonaut. “I happen to live very close to that fire station, so I will be very involved personally in seeing the best possible use for that station, and that will happen with a continued dialogue with the community.”
Alpern thinks that having the old fire station serve dual purposes is not a bad idea.
“Pragmatically, I think that a dual use of the facility is the way to go,” he said.
Howell said that there were still things about the station that were worth preserving, if not the building.
“There are photos and other things that are still worthwhile,” he said. “But it’s a matter of economics, and I’m open to just about anything.”
Rosendahl pledged that there would be several community meetings and input from Mar Vista’s residents was encouraged.
“The process will be open and totally transparent,” the councilman promised. “There’s no back-room games to be played. This is public land, and this is the first step in a public process that will take a period of time.”
City officials estimate that it will take between two and three years before a project comes before the Los Angeles City Council, which must approve all final decisions.