A former Westchester fire station that is no longer in use has been taken off the city auction block, much to the delight of nearby homeowners.
“The old Fire Station 5 was on [Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s] list of surplus property to be recommended for sale,” Villaraigosa press deputy Juan Bustamante confirmed on January 16th. “Now that Councilman Bill Rosendahl has asked that it be taken off the list, the property has been removed.”
“I’m glad that it’s off the mayor’s list,” said Denny Schneider, who has lived in Westchester for over 30 years. “This shows that Councilman Rosendahl has again responded to the community’s desires.”
Rosendahl said the news that the fire station was no longer one of the city-owned properties that might be sold was “music to my ears.
“This is a very valuable part of the community, and the residents of Westchester and Playa del Rey obviously have a great deal of affection for it,” he said.
The building that formerly housed Fire Station 5 on Manchester Avenue has been the target of a variety of interested parties, including Villaraigosa. With the municipal budget deficit mushrooming to $110 million, city officials are considering a variety of methods to close the fiscal shortfall, including the sale of some of the city’s land holdings.
Rosendahl had stated publicly that he was aware that the city government was eyeing both the old fire station in Westchester and the structure at the site of former Fire Station 62 in Mar Vista.
He told his constituents that he would fight to keep the building in Westchester if they could find a community use for the building.
“The people of Westchester and Playa del Rey must decide if the building is worth fighting for,” the councilman told The Argonaut on January 12th. “It’s an open discussion, and if they come up with a plan for the old fire station, then I will back them 100 percent.”
The Planning and Land Use Committee of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey met the following day to discuss possible uses for the structure. Heather Lemmon, a local Realtor and a member of the committee, believes that there are a number of different options available for the building.
“What we lack here in Westchester are restaurants and services,” she said. “One idea for the fire station could be a combination of a community meeting place for children and teens with a neighborhood deli.”
The consensus at the meeting was that the station was worth saving, according to Patricia Lyon, another member of the land use committee.
“We’d like to come up with a plan that’s community-serving for the fire station,” Lyon said.
The thought of losing the station, which has been in the community for several decades, was not one that the committee wanted to consider.
“We would hate to lose anything to the city, although we understand that they are going through some very difficult financial challenges,” said Lyon, who owns Westchester Watch Works.
The Westchester firehouse, which was closed almost two years ago when the new station opened on Emerson Avenue, is one of several properties that city officials were considering when they began to look for surplus property to sell. The building that housed former Fire Station 62 in Mar Vista is safe from the auction list, and like Westchester and Playa del Rey residents, Rosendahl’s Mar Vista constituents have begun to discuss what they would like to see take the place at the station at Centinela Avenue and Charnock Road.
“In response to stakeholder concerns, we established an ad hoc committee to look into potential alternative public uses of this property, including uses which would preserve the building,” Sharon Commins, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council who serves on the ad hoc committee, wrote in an e-mail.
Rosendahl said that the Mar Vista building is in the Los Angeles Housing Trust Fund and will not be put on the auction list.
Bustamante does not think that the Westchester property could go back on the auction list, but with the burgeoning city deficit, it was not completely out of the realm of possibility.
“There’s always that chance, with the looming budget deficit,” Bustamante said. “But councilmembers have a very strong say in what assets they want to keep off the list in their districts, and Councilman Rosendahl has asked that we keep the old fire station off the list.”
If the property had remained on the list and a buyer had come forward, it would have been far more difficult to retain the building, Rosendahl said.
“Once you give away these valuable properties, it’s very hard to get them back,” said the councilman, who feels that the sites in Mar Vista and Westchester would be good places to build more affordable housing.
Schneider, who attended the land use and planning meeting, agrees with Rosendahl.
“Why sell off valuable community assets and our children’s legacy for nickels and dimes?” Schneider asked. “The consensus at the meeting was don’t give it up.”
Lemmon, who says she has had two clients inquire about the Westchester property, offered two other options for the old fire station.
“The city could do a land lease to generate income, or build an assisted living facility there,” Lemmon suggested.
Lyon said there will be community outreach meetings in the near future where residents can offer their views on what would be the best use for the building.
“We’re extremely open to all views on what should be built there,” she said.
Like their counterparts in Westchester and Playa del Rey, Mar Vista residents will also weigh in on what they would like to see at the site of their old fire station.
“The stakeholders would need the support of both the mayor and Bill Rosendahl to succeed in preserving the station and establishing public uses there other than housing,” said Commins.
One homeowner, Glen Howell, the founder of the Mar Vista Historical Society, had sought to have the old firehouse preserved as a historic landmark, but he now feels that it should be determined through community consensus what is built there.
Some have suggested a community center, while others believe that housing would be a better use.