Sheila Bernard is looking for-ward to the day when her Venice complex won’t be so quiet anymore.
For more than four years, Bernard has lived in one of only nearly a dozen households that have continued to remain at Lincoln Place, a 38-acre garden style apartment complex just east of Lincoln Boulevard. Most of Bernard’s neighbors were evicted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department lock-out in late 2005 as the property owner sought to redevelop the property that was built shortly after World War II and once housed 795 units.
As tenants and preservationists fought the evictions in recent years and continued their nearly 20-year-long battle against redevelopment to preserve the property’s historical significance, Bernard noted how life for remaining tenants was “too quiet.” But Bernard, president of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association, doesn’t expect the complex to be too quiet much longer now that the City of Los Angeles and property owner AIMCO Venezia LLC have come to a settlement agreement for Lincoln Place.
The settlement, which was ratified by the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday, May 26th, ends litigation and will allow for the return of up to 83 former households, including the 11 current households, as well as the remodeling of nearly 700 existing apartment units. The agreement was reached May 7th after 18 months of negotiation under the supervision of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman.
“This is a great day for tenants, for preservationists, for Venice, and for anyone concerned with fairness and justice,” said City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has worked to support the tenants since early in his first term. “This day has been a long time in coming, but it is finally here and it is a win-win for everyone involved.”
City officials, AIMCO officials and tenant representatives announced the deal following the City Council approval, saying that it ends a 20-year dispute over the future of the property. Bernard hailed the agreement, saying that it is a testament to the tenants and supporters who did not give up in the effort to preserve the complex.
“It’s kind of confirmation for me that a person can focus, stay put, dig in and make a change,” said Bernard, a resident since 1988. “I’m very gratified that after all these years we can somehow reach a resolution that has so much positive in it.”
Under the agreement terms, the property owner will allow 83 evicted households to return to rehabilitated units at pre-eviction rental rates; establish a multi-million dollar fund to compensate former tenants not returning to Lincoln Place and restore 696 vacant apartments, including 668 “historic eligible units,” to market as rent-controlled units.
City officials said the deal marks the largest ever restoration of rent-stabilized housing to the city’s rental market.
AIMCO can also construct up to 99 new rental units that are not subject to the rent control law with a clubhouse on vacant property where the company demolished 99 units in 2003. The city and developer have additionally agreed that no density bonus will be allowed and the height of new buildings cannot exceed 30 feet.
This settlement provides for the historic character of Lincoln Place, which was built to house veterans returning from World War II, to be maintained, the parties noted.
Laura Burns, a former tenant who was evicted in 2005 but remained active in the negotiations, said while the process involved intense discussions over the specific terms, all sides were willing to move forward.
“It was an incredibly emotional and historic moment,” Burns said of the announcement. “There were all of these competing interests but we came together, and everyone gave a little but gained a lot. This shows it is possible to make these things work.”
Burns, who hopes to return to her former home at Lincoln Place where she lived for ten years, said a key component of the deal is that hundreds of historic eligible units will be rehabilitated.
Attorney Amanda Seward, who applied for historic designation of Lincoln Place, said the tenants believed they would one day come to a settlement and she commended them and their supporters for not giving up.
“A lot of them were very brave to go forward with this kind of struggle in our society but they did it and they won,” said Seward, adding that hundreds of apartments will be saved for future generations. “It shows that if you fight long and hard enough then you can win and get justice, and that’s very gratifying.”
AIMCO Vice President Patti Shwayder called the approximately $130 million development agreement a “win for everybody,” saying the company is eager to bring life back to Lincoln Place and restore units for future generations.
“It’s a great accomplishment and a great relief,” she said. “It’s time to close the chapter on the past and we look forward to the future of this property.”
Shwayder added that the existing buildings will be preserved with sustainable green development, which city officials lauded for creating green jobs. Between 600 and 800 construction jobs will be created through the project, Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner said.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said of the project, “It will serve as a model locally and nationally for sustainable rehabilitation of older, low rise-rental housing while providing important green jobs in Los Angeles.”
Until she can begin to welcome back some former neighbors and new tenants, Bernard said she is pleased to finally have a sense of closure after a long battle.
“People will now be able to focus on their livelihood and their families and putting their lives back together,” she said.