Disparate views regarding the best use of a highly coveted neighborhood asset resulted in the postponement of a decision by the Mar Vista Community Council at a longer-than-usual meeting on March 10th.
The local advisory board recommended preserving the structure of the old Los Angeles Fire Station 62 at Charnock Road and Centinela Avenue for a community center, but a deadlocked council decided to table the matter after a number of residents vociferously protested the boardís suggestion.
Chair Rob Kadota cast the deciding vote to take up the matter in April just before 10 p.m., breaking a tie on the board between members who wanted to vote on the proposal and those who wanted to wait.
The board heard from proponents of senior housing as well as those who support a community serving facility, and both camps had strongly held views.
ìI donít know how many seniors were consulted to find out if this was an inappropriate place for senior housing,î resident Nancy Karlin said. ìI also donít know how much outreach youíve done for this meeting, because this is an extremely important issue that weíve been talking about for over a year.î
Karlin feels that the location would be a very good place for senior housing, although others have suggested that it could be hazardous for them due to the traffic patterns on Centinela.
ìI think that any seniors that have been displaced because of any development issues would be more than happy to live in this area,î Karlin asserted.
Others, like Debra Merrill, believe that the location is entirely wrong for senior living.
Merrill said that she has been canvassing the various neighborhoods in Mar Vista and said that there was not a great deal of support for senior or affordable housing at the site of the former fire station.
ìI am a strong advocate for the elderly and handicapped. My mother lives in affordable senior housing in Santa Monica,î she told the council. ìBut [the fire station] is the worst possible place to put an affordable senior housing center.î
Merrill, who identified herself as an architect, also said that she was familiar with the construction of such a facility, and the Charnock location was not suitable.
Roy Persinko, who lives behind the old station on Colonial Avenue, focused on the economic impact of what could be built at the location.
ìThe main point that I want to make is that as far as building senior housing, it would not be feasible financially to have someone come in to correct the structure there,î he said.
In addition, the proximity to nearby neighborhoods should be taken into account, Persinko said.
ìIt backs up to single family homes,î he noted. ìItís just not an appropriate location (for senior housing).î
Rachel Swanger, who co-chaired the ad hoc committee on the fire station with council member Sharon Commins, sought to explain the reason why her committee chose the proposal to build a community center where the former firehouse sits instead of senior housing.
Swanger pointed out that the square footage of the property, including the lot, is approximately 13,400, which is not very large by development standards.
ìIf we tear it down and try to build something, we cannot build both a community center and affordable senior housing without changing the zoning,î she told the audience.
For almost a year, Mar Vista residents have been debating the merits of having a structure that would serve as a community center or to use the property to build more affordable housing, especially for senior citizens.
They previously rejected a bid by a developer for a four-story mixed-use project last year.
Both proposals garnered a lot of attention at a community meeting last year that was attended by City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Mar Vista.
Several Mar Vista residents have expressed concern over losing the property to the budget crisis, as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has declared that some city-owned properties might be sold to close the $400 million-plus municipal deficit.
The fire station is currently in the cityís Housing Trust Fund, which was created by the City Council seven years ago, and Rosendahl said that Villaraigosa would need to take that into consideration before trying to sell it.
ìHe would have to appreciate the fact that (the building) is in the Housing Trust Fund,î said the councilman, an advocate for affordable housing. ìWe now have to examine what are the requirements of keeping it there.î
Commins, the boardís second vice-president, said that she was not very surprised that there appeared to be a divide among many of the audience regarding the best land-use policy for the site in question.
ìThatís what an open, transparent community process is about ó getting all the opinions out on the table. It goes with the territory,î she said.
Karlin suggested that there was another option that could be considered.
ìGiven the financial crisis that the city is in and the existing assets that we have in this community, it is my position that if we cannot use (the fire station) to resolve the terrible housing crisis, that it should actually be sold and be used for more important things,î she said.
Commins rejected the notion that the property should be sold under any scenario.
ìThere is no reason to sell the station for a one-off budget deficit balancing solution downtown,î she asserted. ìThat is not only poor fiscal management practice ó as noted by the cityís Chief Administrative Officer ó it has no community benefit whatsoever.î
Commins also dismissed allegations that the council had not tried to notify Mar Vista residents, including senior citizens, about the proposed uses of the property.
ìThereís been plenty of outreach over the past three years,î she said.
Rosendahl, who resides in Mar Vista, also does not want the building sold, but added that he would like his constituents to be aware of all of the possibilities that the structure holds.
ìI donít want people to live in ignorance and fear,î the councilman said. ìWhatever the community decides it wants there, it must match the character and scale of the neighborhood.
ìI want to assure my constituents that the process will be open and totally transparent.î