Lincoln Place: A Community Victory

October 1, 2010

The following is the entire article, which is being printed in the Free Venice Beachhead in two parts.

By Amanda Seward

It finally appears that the Lincoln Place war has come to a close.  In reviewing my archives, I was reminded of the work and sacrifices of so many that were involved over the years and it seemed a good time to chronicle the struggle and acknowledge some of those contributions.  I personally have received a lot of accolades for my work on Lincoln Place and I am certainly appreciative and proud of my role in saving this garden apartment complex and the tenancy of the remaining households, but this fight was truly a community David and Goliath effort, won only with the help of a large number of people.

Today, AIMCO, by some estimates the largest apartment owner in the country, and the Venice community, once enemies, now share a common vision of a mixed-income, architecturally significant apartment community that will be rehabilitated in accordance with the Secretary of Interior preservation standards and green building practices.  All 700 remaining units will be preserved; only 99 new units will be constructed on the site, replacing the 99 units that were previously demolished; the new units will be compatible in style, scale, and massing to the original; all evicted tenants who wish to return will be allowed to return; and the intended bucolic open park-like

spaces and common courtyards between buildings will be retained and rehabilitated consistent with the indoor-outdoor living ideas championed by Mid-Century California Modernists and today’s sustainability concerns.

Being the oldest of five girls in my family was good preparation for  the sisterhood that developed between the four unlikely executive team members that came together on Lincoln Place.  For me, the battle began  almost nine years ago through a volunteer effort to have the property designated historic.  A former president of the Modern Committee of the Los Angeles Conservancy, Michael Palumbo, informed me that there was a documentary filmmaker residing at Lincoln Place who had done research that might be helpful.  This was my introduction to one of my Lincoln Place sisters, Laura Burns.

Laura is a Texan, which undoubtedly contributes to her folksy and straightforward demeanor.  She was born and raised in Austin, married to a Frenchman, who is an artist and film industry sculptor with a cultivated style that is probably hereditary as the son of a former French cultural attaché to Italy.  Laura and Bernard, her husband, had lived in Germany and Mexico and settled at Lincoln Place in 1996.   I learned that no one can beat Laura Burns in tenacity, chutzpa, and research skills.  Without her efforts, we would not have won this battle.

I did not initially participate in the tenants’ campaign to avoid eviction.  While I am a firm believer in affordable housing, I first became involved in Lincoln Place because of my interest in Mid-Century architecture.  As I researched the history of the Garden City Movement and principles behind Modern architecture, though, I found that my aesthetic interest in Modern architecture and design was directly related to my attitudes about social justice in housing.  Modern architecture was more than a style; it was also a movement aimed at improving the human environment and condition for the masses.  The Garden City Movement was a design philosophy first developed in Europe after World War I in response to a housing shortage and the challenges wrought by urbanization.  The core idea was that multi-family housing units should be placed in garden-like open settings featuring common courtyards that would stimulate interaction among the residents and foster a sense of community in an urban environment.

Sheila Bernard, the head of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association (“LPTA”), found the architecture and the design of less importance, but she and the strong community of tenants were, for me, the embodiment of the ideals that formed Lincoln Place and proved that architecture played an important role in creating strong communities.  The residents knew each other, looked after one another, and refused to leave their homes in the face of eviction.  Sheila was a teacher by day, and volunteer housing advocate day and night.  For more than 20 years, one battle after another, she led the tenants’ struggle against various developers who sought to replace the rent controlled units with luxury apartments and condominiums.

Another leader of the LPTA was Jan Book.  Jan had been an accountant, had graduated from law school, but was at the time of the evictions, an artist.  She renewed her bar license so that she could help the landlord-tenant lawyer who had been engaged to work with the tenants to avoid eviction in 2005.  I admired Jan because she was so willing to share her and her husband’s resources to help the cause.  Further, she put her art career on hold for years and opened up her home for regular meetings with the Spanish-speaking families to make sure they were heard and knew what was going on.  After reestablishing her legal credentials, she convinced the Attorney General to file an amicus brief in support of the tenants in one of the their lawsuits against the developer and the city to stop the original redevelopment plan.  Jan was also our resident Republican, who with her smile, polished look and confident manner showed that we were not just a bunch of idealistic progressives with whom you could not negotiate.

We came together as a team on December 6, 2005, as we watched 52 households (including 21 children and 65 adults) being evicted from their homes.  It was the largest lockout in a single day in Los Angeles history.  After this, Jan and I joined forces to represent the remaining households, who because of age and disability were given an additional year on the property.  Laura, Sheila, Jan and I met regularly to strategize political, community, media and legal efforts to save the Lincoln Place community.

Four married women spending so many years on a volunteer effort that was often a full-time job have to thank the husbands for their support.  My husband, Hans Adamson, became the ideal supporter.  He took photographs of the property and developed them in accordance with the strict requirements of the National and State historic nomination guidelines.  He read and edited court filings, he served papers in Sacramento and Los Angeles, and he attended court hearings, State Historic Resource Commission hearings, City Council meetings, and community meetings.  He made copies.  But most of all during dark moments when the battle seemed overwhelming, he would not let me give up.  Once, when there was a lot of pressure for me to accept what was in my view a flawed settlement proposal, he told me I could not give up because this was his fight too; he had put in a lot of time and effort in this as well and his opinion also had to count.

Another asset we had was the Venice community.  It is a community of activists, in which, for example, a City Council candidate with more financial backing than her opponent and with the endorsement of an effective incumbent, was defeated because of a grassroots email campaign that reported her financial support from developers.  Two Venetians especially stand out because of the time they put into our effort.  They are David Ewing (Preacher) and Laura Silagi.  They are both filmmakers and produced a powerful short film on the Lincoln Place struggle that often left viewers in tears.  We showed it every chance we got, including a screening at a City Council meeting.  It also was uploaded on YouTube.  Preacher bought stock in AIMCO and attended stockholder meetings.  He attended one meeting at AIMCO headquarters in Denver and discussed our plight with one of the founders and chairman of the company.  AIMCO initially owned 50% of Lincoln Place and later replaced Robert Bisno, becoming the sole owner of the property.  Preacher kept track of AIMCO’s activities nationwide.  Both Preacher and Laura S. (to distinguish her from Laura B.) helped us plan strategy and did community organizing and social conscious lobbying on our behalf.  As I go through my emails from the years of battle, I am once again struck by their dedication and monumental support and contribution.

We also had the support of the Venice Neighborhood Council.  The Neighborhood Council under the leadership of Dede Audette, and later, Mike Newhouse, consistently supported our efforts.  Proclamations, condemnations, and letters from the Neighborhood Council were written to the Mayor, City Council and owner of Lincoln Place denouncing the demolitions and evictions.   The Neighborhood Council also formed a task force to weigh in on the controversy.  Its Land Use and Planning Committee sponsored a well-attended forum on the future of Lincoln Place.

Many of the tenants stayed involved, even after they were evicted.    They car-pooled to court proceedings, spoke at City Council meetings, held demonstrations, and distributed flyers.  Tenants who were photo- graphers took pictures.  Those that were filmmakers documented the story on film.  Tenants who were graphic designers created posters and flyers.  Writers wrote copy.  Web designers Tracy and Brian Creech designed the website and kept it updated, a monumental task.  Musicians performed at our events.  Some memories stand out.  I recall Carol Beck, an Army veteran, who tirelessly stood watch in front of the rental office to discourage other tenants from signing a so-called “voluntary” termination agreement.  She also was one of the organizers of Tent City, the symbolic encampment we formed to protest the evictions.   Gloria Morales, an  elderly tenant, was an effective advocate at City Hall.  She spoke Spanish, English, cried, whatever we needed, wherever we needed her.  I will never forget 80-year-old Lucy Siam who consistently said she would have to be dragged out if she ever left Lincoln Place.  She never considered moving and regularly attended meetings, demonstrations, and vigils.  I am just so happy she is able to remain at Lincoln Place and we will not have to see her evicted by the sheriff.

A couple of tenants, Frieda and Spike Marlin and Ingrid Mueller, brought several lawsuits in their names against the owner and the city under various legal theories designed to halt the evictions and redevelopment of the property.  If they lost, they risked having to pay the owner’s attorneys fees.  Still, they forged on.  Rose Murphy, a senior tenant who moved at the insistence of her children, continued to travel to Lincoln Place by bus from San Bernardino to attend hearings, City Council meetings and to visit and support the remaining tenants.  One tenant who had been forcibly evicted, Douglas Eisenstark, planned weekly vigils featuring various themes.  One week the theme was faith, another week, anger, another the beauty of the architecture.  Pastor Tom Ziegert of the Venice Methodist Church led one on the power of ritual and storytelling.  He asked participants to walk around the property in silence and after returning to the meeting spot he asked us to write down and later to share our thoughts.  It was a healing experience for many.

Some of the tenants encouraged their priests, rabbis and ministers to support the cause.  At one ecumenical service at Tent City, I recall the words of Father Tomas Elias of St. Clement Church.  He addressed the fear that some immigrants have about being active in protests in this country.  His words strengthened us all.  He said that when we are doing God’s will we don’t need to be fearful and that we have to have faith in the power of God’s will.  It became my mantra.

Another Venetian, Suzanne Thompson, helped in several critical ways.  She was one of the key organizers of a rally in support of the Lincoln Place struggle on Martin Luther King Day one year.  Every Venice-based community organization I can think of sent a speaker and signed a petition of support.  Suzanne also introduced us to Stanley Sheinbaum, a longtime supporter of progressive causes, who along with his wife, well-known sculptor, painter and philanthropist Betty Sheinbaum, hosted a fundraiser for the cause at their home in Brentwood.  Susan Adelman, Jodie Evans, Jane Fonda, Don Geagan, Elliott Gould, and Gary Phillips served as co-hosts.

Stanley later introduced us to Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a force of nature, who pledged to help even though Lincoln Place was not in her district.  She later attended a meeting we called with various governmental representatives, including state, federal and local officials, to discuss political support for saving Lincoln Place.  She then arranged for me to testify in Washington, D.C., before the 110th House Committee on Financial Services hearing entitled, “Affordable Housing Preservation and Protection of Tenants.”   Waters is Chairwoman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity.  By the time I testified at these hearings, we were in settlement discussions with the owner and so I needed to be tactful, but it was important as it resulted in significant national relationships in case our struggle needed to go national.

When involved in grassroots efforts to influence decision makers you face the common belief that developers have an advantage.  The popular wisdom is that they control the playing field through the use of lobbyists, hiring of major law firms and through campaign contributions.  One high point in this grassroots campaign was the support and votes of the State Historic Commission, which repeatedly found the property historic, despite the owner’s all-out lobbying effort to turn around votes.  The drama was heightened when the Commission that had previously voted for historic designation was comprised of a majority of new appointments by Governor Schwarzenegger.  After the Commission had been sued by AIMCO for its vote in favor of designation, the new Commission decided to settle with the owner and void the previous vote.  This was all done in closed sessions and in private meetings between the owner’s attorney and the State.  Despite these efforts, in a subsequent vote of the new Commission, the property was once again designated historic.  It seemed the application and supporting documents stood on their own merit despite all the lobbying by and connections of the owner and its representatives.  Some of those Commissioners withstood lawsuits filed against them personally.  The staff and Commissioners who stood up for the integrity of the process prevented the demolition of this property.  They are:  Wayne Donaldson, FAIA, Cynthia Howse, W. Knox-Mellon, Maryln Lortie, Stephen Mikesell, Tara Todd, Claire Bogaard, Lauren Bricker, Philip Choy, Trish Fernandez, Kathleen Green, Anthea Hartig, William Hildebrandt, Luis Hoyos, Mary Maniery, Rick Moss, Carol Novey, Julianne Polanco, and Richard Shek.  I did not know any of them before this process began.  It was heartening when one Commissioner said during an early hearing that she had to go see the property herself after all the material she received in opposition from the owner.  She said she walked around Lincoln Place and understood why it was so special, noting the “livability” of the environment.  It meant a lot that someone of such privilege could recognize the value of an apartment community built for the working class and that she was willing to speak so eloquently and effectively in support of the nomination.

The Commission received many letters in support of the designation, included among them was an endorsement from the AIA Los Angeles Chapter; the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the California Preservation Foundation; The National Organization of Minority Architects; Julius Shulman, premier photographer of modernist architecture; Diane Favro, then President of the Society of Architectural Historians; Dorothy Wang, author of the National Landmark and National Register nominations of Baldwin Hills Village Green, by all accounts, the most influential garden apartment complex in California; Bradford C. Grant, President of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture; Gail Sansbury, Board Member of the Society for American City and Regional Planning History; and Wesley Howard Henderson, Associate Editor of the Biographic Dictionary of African-American Architects.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigoso, Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congresswoman Jane Harmon, and then State Senator, Debra Bowen also wrote letters of support.  The Venice Historical Society, many architects, landscape professionals, and architectural enthusiasts weighed in, as well.  The local chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (“NOMA”) made a presentation about Lincoln Place at the organization’s national annual conference, featured an article in NOMA’s national newsletter, organized a tour of Lincoln Place for its local members, and participated in community forums.  Again, the historic designation campaign was truly a community effort and this support helped us counter the arguments against designation raised by expert consultants hired by the owner’s representatives.

One day when speaking with a former colleague at Warner Bros., Jeremy Williams, Jeremy asked me what I was up to and I recounted the story of Lincoln Place.  By that time, I was representing the remaining tenants and had defeated a summary judgment motion for eviction brought by the owner.  But there was a trial pending, and Jeremy said he admired my intentions but for a trial I would need real litigators.  I explained that the tenants had tried to get assistance, but were unable to get help they could afford, and at that point there was no funding for eviction lawyers.  Jeremy said he would make some inquiries because he thought there should be someone willing to represent the tenants on a pro bono basis.  True to his word, he and another Warner Bros. attorney, Dale Nelson, sent out inquiries and found a partner at a major law firm, Alexander Pilmer of Kirkland & Ellis, who agreed to represent the remaining households.  Another lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis, Pantea Yashar, worked with me on preliminary hearings.  Fortunately, we never went to trial after AIMCO dismissed the eviction cases against the remaining tenants.  But, Alex’s and Pantea’s willingness to help made me confident we would be ready for a trial.  Free of that concern, I got more creative in making my own motions to the court, rather than merely responding to what the owner’s attorneys argued.

Earlier on, another lawyer, David Rosman, offered the use of his law library and gave Jan and me research advice.  As an entertainment transactional attorney, it had been a long time since I’d been in a law library and Dave advised Jan and me on useful legal treatises and resources.  After almost five years now in and out of court on behalf of Lincoln Place, I now realize how inexperienced and naïve we must have seemed.

Several eviction lawyers offered advice and legal forms that accelerated our learning curve.  Eviction Defense Network attorneys Elena Popp, Robert Reed and Leah Simon-Weisberg helped, as well as Steve Collier from the famous Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco who had tremendous experience in Ellis Act evictions, a state law that allows owners to evict tenants if the owner intends to get out of the rental business.  It was the Ellis Act that the owners of Lincoln Place invoked to evict the tenants.

Susan Brandt-Hawley, a California Environment Quality Act (“CEQA”) lawyer, graciously wrote a letter to the State Historic Preservation Officer offering a legal response to AIMCO’s attorneys’ last-ditch argument that the historic designation process violated CEQA.  I remember being very grateful that I did not need to try and become, overnight, a CEQA expert.

The Attorney General’s office took the lead in the case brought by the owner against the State Historic Resources Commission and me, as the author of the nomination.  In the second lawsuit against us challenging the designation, the Commission did not settle and the designation was upheld.  I learned a lot from the lawyering skills of Deputy Attorney General Gary Tavetian.

Media coverage also played a role in this story.  Bob Pool wrote a feature in his inimitable story-telling style regarding the preservation efforts, which was published in the Los Angeles Times.  I think he admired us for trying, but did not think we would pull it off.  Roger Templeton of theVenice Paper attended and reported a key vote of the State Historic Resources Commission in Fresno.  He and Tibby Rothman, then editor of theVenice Paper, covered material aspects of the story over the years, as did The Argonaut, the Santa Monica Mirror, the Santa Monica Daily Press, Daily Journal, the LA Weekly and the Los Angeles Times.  Jim Smith and the Free Venice Beachhead could not have been more supportive.  Jim never let the “he says, she says” form of reporting in the name of neutrality confuse him; he called it the way he saw it.  The Free Venice Beachhead could have been titled the Lincoln Place Chronicles.  I also appreciated the thoughtful acknowledgement of Christopher Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times architecture critic, who wrote in an article that Lincoln Place was an important example of the low rise garden apartment that was part of Los Angeles’ legacy in bringing sophistication to the affordable home.  Peggy Clifford, the former editor of the Santa Monica Mirror was relentless in her support.  Terrence Lyons, also of the Mirror became a familiar face covering all aspects of the story during all the ups and downs.  Martha Groves of the Los Angeles Times once overheard me digging up information at the public counter in the Planning Department and gave me her card asking me to call her and keep her updated on what was going on.  Linda Immediato of the LA Weekly  went so far as to interview each City Council person to get their office’s response to the controversy and reported each response prominently.

Local broadcast media covered the preservation efforts as well as the evictions.  The Spanish-language stations broadcast the visuals of the evictions repeatedly.  We often had trouble with the media merely repeating what the owner said without giving us a chance to respond.  The Spanish-language stations consistently reported our side of the story.

The images of us demonstrating at the home of then City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to protest the lack of support from the City Attorney’s office under Delgadillo’s leadership also drew attention to our cause.  KCRW featured a debate about our story and KCET featured it in a web documentary.  NPR also took interest and featured the controversy in a report about housing in the United States.  Getting the story out was important to help hold all decision makers accountable and to let people know this was an important issue.  The media committee, headed by Judy Branfman and Clare Sassoon, worked tirelessly to get coverage.

Linda Dishman and the Los Angeles Conservancy were instrumental in the preservation effort.  The Conservancy sponsored a free walking tour of the complex that was designed to educate decision makers and leaders in the community on the rich history and architectural importance of Lincoln Place.  Linda also provided testimony in favor of the nomination and helped me prepare for an important presentation.  She advised me to focus on my own story about Lincoln Place rather than to allow opposition arguments to define the presentation.  It was one of the best presentations I gave on the nomination.

The Conservancy also participated, along with the California Preservation Foundation and the National Association of Minority Architects, and 20th Century Architecture Alliance, in litigation challenging the demolition of some of the buildings on the property.

The case established that the demolition was illegal and stopped future demolitions until certain conditions were met.  This gave us time to firm up the historic nomination in the interim.

I also would like to thank David Busch for his leadership on Tent City.  David is a homeless community activist who led efforts to staff our “symbolic” encampment, where we held around-the-clock vigils to  demonstrate the plight of the homeless and the lack of affordable housing.  David made it safe for us to be there through the night.  Up until about 11:00 p.m., sitting at Tent City was like sitting around a campfire with friends.  But after that, it sometimes got scary.  Too many people roam the streets at night, some just down on their luck and others who appear rather menacing.  David knew the difference; he engaged the former and encouraged the latter to move on, while treating everyone with respect.

One of the people we met there one night had gone to college with Councilman Eric Garcetti and true to his word he appeared at a City Council meeting and spoke on our behalf.  Councilman Garcetti recognized this fellow and it made for a more personal engagement about the lack of affordable housing and the importance of saving Lincoln Place.

Speaking of City Council members, Bill Rosendahl was wonderful.  Councilman Rosendahl and I had our differences over preservation; he saw the fight as people over buildings.  I argued that for no other reason, he should see preservation of the buildings as an effective strategy to support the people by ensuring that quality affordable and workforce housing could not be so easily demolished.    He rose above our conflict and was there for everything we needed.  Without his support and the hard work of his staff, we would not have reached settlement.  He made Lincoln Place his number-one issue.  His staff, especially Mike Bonin, Mark Antonio Grant, Norman Kulla, and Arturo Piña, assisted us in every conceivable way.

Many other Venetians acted as consultants or participated in one or more of the three settlement attempts over the years.  Steve Clare advised us on affordable housing issues.  Linda Lucks helped us with the Mayor’s office and community outreach.  Jataun Valentine assisted with community outreach and spoke at various City Council and community meetings in support of Lincoln Place tenants.  Frank Murphy, William Garner, and Joseph Murphy of Venice Collaborative tutored me on real estate development issues.  Other activists and community leaders helped, including Aris Anagnos, Elinor Aurthur (deceased), Jim Bicker, Marianne Brown, Larry Gross, Dennis Hathaway, DeDe McCrary (deceased), Stan Muhammad, Mindy Taylor- Ross, Sabrina Venskus, and Laddie Williams.  Rick Tuttle, a former controller for the City of Los Angeles, gave us invaluable advice on organizing political support, testified before the City Council, and lobbied for us behind the scenes.  Many hosted or attended house parties and contributed to the LPTA.  All of these and other local leaders argued our case to anyone who might be inclined to oppose our efforts, and through their work, we were able to present a united front.

Negotiations for peace commenced and failed twice.  Only the third time did we reach agreement and close the book on a twenty year controversy.  The settlement negotiations were another adventure in themselves.  But briefly, settlement required the support of the owner of the property, the preservationists, the tenants, the community and various city departments and took years of negotiation assisted by judges, mediators and arbitrators.  The Mayor’s office, the Housing Department, the Department of Water and Power, the City Council, and the City Attorney’s office all played a part in moving the settlement forward.

Along with the preservation efforts and eviction cases that were my focus, there were many lawsuits and grassroots campaigns over the years, causing more than one judge to call it the Lincoln Place saga.  This letter does not attempt to recall the entire saga and does not attempt to recognize all those who contributed to the struggle to save Lincoln Place.  There were companion battles and battles that preceded my involvement, including, for example, the political opposition led by Ruth Galanter, then City Council member, and the legal efforts from lawyers engaged over the years by the tenants including Jan Chatten-Brown, Amy Minteer, Susan Brandt-Hawley, Elena Popp, John Murdock and his team, and Noel Weiss.  And I am sure others have been overlooked.  Also, it is not intended that AIMCO and its representatives are painted as villains.  The company’s executives and its representatives came around to make this a win-win victory.  This is merely my thank you and acknowledgments for the work of our team.


Lincoln Place Lives!

June 1, 2010

Final agreement signed: 83 evicted families will return, all buildings will be preserved, a total of 795 apartments will be occupied.

By Jim Smith

How do you spell victory?   L-i-n-c-o-l-n   P-l a-c-e is as good a way as any. There was  jubilation among tenants when the last of three agreements was approved by the L.A. City Council on May 26.

It had been a long struggle for those who had lived at Lincoln Place for 20 years or more. Chief among them is Sheila Bernard, the president of the Lincoln Place Tenant Association. She and other veterans were joined over the years by hundreds of activists and thousands of well wishers from Venice who all contributed in small and large ways to the final settlement.

It was also a victory for the corporate owner, AIMCO, who instead of carrying a large liability on its books will ultimately receive up to $1.5 million per month in rents. In addition, AIMCO will be allowed to build an additional 99 units on land where apartments had been bulldozed by the previous owner. However the new buildings cannot be taller than 30 feet.

Meanwhile, all those who were evicted five years ago will be paying 2005 rents, and every existing apartment will fall under current rent control laws.

In a celebration May 29, tenants and community supporters were lavish in their praise for Amanda Seward, who won historical status for Lincoln Place, for Laura Burns and Jan Book, who did much of the legal research, and for all the tenants, whose tenacity ultimately won the day.

In addition, Venice residents – many of whom had once lived at Lincoln Place – came to the aid of the tenants time after time. In all, 10,000 families have lived in the complex since it was built in the late 1940s.

A turning point in the long struggle that was cited by many was Dec. 6, 2005, the day of the most evictions in Los Angeles history. While it was a dark day for the 52 families who were summarily removed from their homes by more than 100 police, it also served to turn public opinion against AIMCO.

After that, there were mass meetings and rallies, the intervention on the side of the tenants of City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, fundraising to cover legal expenses, and a variety of lawsuits that kept tenants in court day after day.

There were three settlement agreements: AIMCO and Amanda Seward, to preserve the historical status; AIMCO and the Lincoln Place Tenants Association, to preserve the rights of the evicted renters and to allow their return; and AIMCO and the city of Los Angeles, which protects the buildings and calls for rehabilitation of the historic apartments.

It is unclear how long it will take for the 83 evicted families to return to newly renovated homes. Currently, there are only 11 disabled and senior residents and families living at Lincoln Place. Under the agreement, all 83 families will be relocated in the buildings close to the Ross store. This will provide for easy access to Ralphs and Rite Aid.

After that, up to 500 union construction workers will begin replacing the electrical and plumbing in all units.

In the end, there will be nearly-new rent controlled apartments for up to 3,000 people. In addition, there will be 99 more units which will not be under rent control since current state law specifies that buildings must have been constructed in 1978 or earlier to qualify under a city’s ordinance.

The fight to save Lincoln Place has been won. At one time, the landlord’s plan was to bulldoze all the beautiful garden apartments after tossing out their occupants who were never to return. In their place, would have been 1,000 high rise apartments or condominiums which would have forever changed the character of Venice.

That is one future we don’t have to worry about thanks to the heroic tenants of Lincoln Place.

The entire settlement agreement between the City and AIMCO can be read at http://www.freevenice.org/City-AIMCO-Agreement.

pdf. A summary of the agreement between the tenants union and AIMCO is at: http://www.lincolnplace.net/pr090813.html.


Housing is a Human Right: Math Whiz Needed?

June 1, 2010

By Cindy Chambers

On May 22, the Los Angeles City Council, through its actions and votes, communicated to 61% of its constituents that housing is not a human right. Just let that sink in for a minute. Sixty-one percent of L.A. city constituents now face the reality that L.A. City Council deems housing a luxury – something that not everyone deserves. Hmmm … very interesting. What does that mean?

Sixty-one to Seventy Percent

Sixty-one percent of L.A. city residents rent apartments. Last I checked, 61 percent comprised a majority; or, at the very least, this percentage portrayed a number greater than half the population. Even though I’m no math whiz, I’m fairly certain that we could all agree that 61 percent of anything comprises the majority. Venice, on the other hand, is comprise of nearly 70 percent renters, or an even larger majority. So when the LA City Council voted to send the rent increase moratorium back to committee – essentially making it impossible to save renters facing rent increases slated for July 1 – Councilmembers Garcetti, Rosendahl, Cardenas, La Bonge, Koretz, Parks, Perry, Reyes, Smith and Zine’s action simply stated: You, the majority, only deserve this basic human right if you can afford to pay the same rent that we’re charging much wealthier folks. In other words, money provides you access to human rights.

To add insult to injury, Councilmember Zine instructed police to remove renters and community organizations. In the packed chambers with peaceable residents including seniors, women and children, the Los Angeles Police Department deemed it necessary to forcibly remove, arrest and even taser some of the residents. Again, these are the same individuals representing 61 percent of LA City population, or as councilmembers may need reminding – 61 percent of voters in Los Angeles. These same families and individuals face losing their homes as rents increase. Where would they go? What would they do in a city with limited affordable housing?

During a time when our country, and Los Angeles in particular, is facing the worst recession in our history with families and individuals scraping to pay bills and buy food, the L.A. City Council displayed its disdain for those without wealth or seemingly lacking power by saying, “hey, that’s the breaks.”

The L.A. City Council fails to realize that this lapse in judgment, their failure to fight the good fight and their insistence on supporting a wealthy minority does not come without consequences. As the middle class slips quietly from existence and the working poor are forced to subsist on even less while good paying jobs represent the stuff fantasies are made of in L.A., more and more people experience the reality of unfettered greed and the uneven distribution of wealth. Today’s poor and working poor look much different than yesterday’s, and, what they lack in personal wealth is eclipsed by their education and access to information, ability to organize, sense of right and wrong, and, for the unemployed, lots of free time to make these and other issues a priority. It doesn’t appear that this time, people will retreat silently into the night never to return.

What does this mean for Venetians?

Venice’s rich and colorful history is founded on diversity of thought and opinion; a place where arts, culture and counter-culture blossomed; a city by the sea that embraces all. People come here and stay for myriad reasons, however if rents continue to skyrocket, Venice will no longer reflect its rich roots, but instead become something akin to a gated community. As I walk our community, I see vacant apartments remain so for 6, 9, 12-months and longer. In this economy, no one can afford high rent; and, for the first time in my 15 years as a resident of Venice, I’ve seen move-in specials posted.

Some landlords are willing to lower their rents; but the vast majority of them are doing so only for tenants who have moved in during the past couple of years. Still others are blatantly disregarding tough economic times and raising rents as high as possible.

Is this about need or necessity to off-set a mortgage; or is it about capitalistic greed feeding the ever hungry need for more and more money while pushing out long-term residents in order to secure new tenants at exorbitant rents? Who benefits? Certainly not the 70 percent of renters who call Venice home; unscrupulous landlords benefit while tenants become homeless. In this economy, finding an alternate home is next to impossible.

Just another catchphrase?

You may be thinking: Okay, so the majority of renters will face rent increases beginning July 1 but how does that equate with housing being a human right? Allow me to create the picture or framework of what we’re discussing here. Most cities like Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Berkeley, San Francisco and others connect rent increases to the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, which is a fancy word for inflation. When the CPI – or inflation — is negative, as it was last year, rent increases reflect that meaning that these cities allow a rent increase ranging between 0 and 1 percent. L.A., on the other hand, imposes a floor of 3 percent, which means that even if the CPI is negative, landlords with rent-controlled apartments may increase rent between three and eight percent. The three percent floor makes no economic sense; and, a study conducted for and paid by the city in 2009 recommended removing the three percent minimum increase among other things.

The Office of United Nations Commission on Human Rights appointed a Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing who visited LA in 2009. Her job: to focus on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living. After her visit to L.A., she prepared and submitted a report to the UN, which included a recommendation that the city reform its rent control law to protect tenants against unfair rent increases. On March 30, City Hall received this report when 300 residents of the 630,000 rent-controlled households presented it. Again, the message is loud and clear: Housing is a human right.

What’s the hold up, City Hall?

Good question. Clearly, it isn’t a result of lacking information or being ignorant of the situation. Councilmembers have heard repeated testimony about how the lack of a rent increase moratorium will adversely affect a large majority of renters. The City’s inability and/or unwillingness to address these issues and implement the necessary and repeated recommendations leaves tenants burdened with housing costs that in many situations consumes more than 50 percent of their income. Idly standing by and allowing this to happen is not only wrong, but also criminal – it is a human rights violation. Siding with landlords, talking about business, while tenants are talking about their lives in a situation where many could become homeless, seems outrageous and heartless, however in the context of what we’ve seen in recent months with Wall Street, corporations and banks is not surprising. Still, how can we allow this to happen in our own backyard? The L.A. City Council must be held accountable for this atrocious human rights violation. The U.N. took this stance, and it’s time we do, too.

Bottom Line

It boils down to this: housing is a human right; and, everyone deserves the right to feed, clothe and shelter themselves. Without such basic human rights, a person cannot determine his or her own destiny. It’s that simple and it is that important. Venice residents need action now!

What’s Next?

Elected officials see the world in a much different way than you or I. They see things in numbers like voter tallies, dollar signs, calls and emails, etc. Sometimes they mistakenly think that they can quickly identify these figures by noting a person’s race, gender, etc. As the fight continues to win affordable housing for all of L.A., it just might be time to educate them on who wants affordable housing as I’d venture a guess – again, not being a math whiz or anything – that the majority of us want and need affordable housing to succeed in Los Angeles.

Get involved and join us in leading the fight for housing in our great city. Here’s how: Contact POWER (People Organized for Westside Renewal) via Email info@power-la.org or call POWER’s office, 392-9700, to get involved in the fight. POWER has been and continues to be a strong voice in the fight for affordable housing on the Westside.

The rent increase moratorium is only the beginning. Implementing permanent reforms detailed in the U.N. report remains the goal. Early on, residents demonstrated a desire to work within the system by asking to come to meetings; speak on panels; share information with neighbors and other residents; show support and communicate through emails, fax and phone calls. Sixty-one percent of the city did their part to rectify this human rights violation. The system failed them – it failed each of us. Now it is time to demand change on our terms – the terms outlined by the U.N. and 61 percent of L.A. Please, get involved today and join the fight. Housing is a human right.


Holiday Venice tenants ask Obama administration to help them buy the apartment buildings

March 1, 2010

By Lydia Poncé

Residents of Oakwood’s 15 low-income buildings known as Holiday Venice Apartments, and community members, packed the Annex Room at Oakwood Park, Feb. 23, to hear what Carol Galante Assistant Deputy Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary, had to say about preserving their homes. These apartments are homes for mostly single working mothers, working families, and disabled seniors.  The apartments have a long history of human rights struggle to keep them affordable.

Gallante, appointed by the Obama’s Administration, came to hear a panel of Venice’s best: Ollie Jones; Violetta Hudson, Vice President Holiday Tenants Association; Jataun Valentine, Actionist; Rosa Arevalo, P.O.W.E.R. Board Member; and Kendra Moore, President of Tenants’ Association.

Could the panel convince Galante to work with the 246 families to purchase the buildings from the owner, Gregory Perlman of GH Capital.  Perlman is the fourth owner of Holiday Apartments.

The tenants want to purchase the complex, but need HUD to raise its subsidy per unit from $1,000 to $2,000 per month to finance the mortgage. If the tenants are unable to buy the buildings, then they want HUD to require a 55-year contract with the present owner, Perlman, to keep the buildings affordable.

Last year, Perlman was granted permission by HUD to pre-pay his current contract to HUD, an illegal transaction according to the Holiday Tenants’ lawyers. This early pre-pay by Perlman to HUD resulted in three law suits that are awaiting their day in court.

Galante told the tenants that she has only been on the job for nine months as Assistant Deputy. She said “Venice’s affordable housing issue is nothing new to me.” But she could not make a commitment on the spot that HUD would help.

Will the results of Galante’s visit to Venice be a new contract for 246 families for another 20 years? The Holiday Tenants still deserve to own their home and make a claim to their future. The struggle will no doubt continue, after all, Venice needs to keep these buildings for the Oakwood community.



Lincoln Place Tenants Going Home

November 1, 2009

Up to 83 one and two bedroom apartments will be reoccupied by tenants who were unceremoniously evicted by AIMCO (Apartment Investment and Management Company), the large corporation that owns Lincoln Place. AIMCO and the tenants’ association have reached a tentative agreement that will restore many of the 80 renters who were removed from their homes on Dec. 6, 2005.

No date has been set for accepting rental applications nor have rents been set.

The tentative settlement will maintain the historic exteriors of the  buildings and return the property to rental housing use.  The only new construction will be the replacement of 99 units which were destroyed by AIMCO and the previous owner.  No height or density variances will be requested in connection with new construction, which will return the project to its original 795 homes. However, city approval of the construction will be required.

The agreement also settles all outstanding litigation between AIMCO and former tenants.  While the agreement will be final after signature by all former tenants participating in the settlement and after judicial approval, it remains contingent upon a separate agreement between AIMCO and the city of Los Angeles and agreement with the returning tenants.

AIMCO also recently settled with historic preservationist Amanda Seward and 20th Century Architectural Alliance, which spearheaded the drive to obtain historic protection for Lincoln Place. That protection remains in force.

The buildings together with their character defining features which were constructed in the 1950s will be preserved. “Under the agreement, this complex would be preserved for future generations,” commented Seward.

“The settlement allows members of our close-knit community to return, preserves the buildings which we love, and charts a positive future for Lincoln Place,” says Sheila Bernard, the Lincoln Place Tenants Association President.

“Clearly, collaboration with the former tenants, the city, and the community is far preferable to protracted litigation,” added Miles Cortez, Chief Administrative Officer of AIMCO.


Threat to Holiday Venice Sparks Oakwood Vigil

March 1, 2009

More than 200 low-income families from the Holiday Venice Apartments held a march and rally in Oakwood, Feb. 19, to protest the loss of affordable housing in Venice. 

The vigil was held on the first anniversary of “Operation Oakwood,” when 300 LAPD and federal officers kicked down doors and terrorized seniors in an early morning para-military operation. The police claimed they were looking for gang members but found mostly elderly women, children and babies (see March 2008 Beachhead).

The 246 units at Holiday Venice represent the last multi-family project based Section 8 development within the coastal zone of California. “These buildings have always been for the working-class black and Latino families of Venice,” said longtime Venice resident Pamela Anderson. The project was financed by the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and built in the early 1970s to provide low-income housing to residents in need.

The project’s for-profit owner, Gregory Perlman (GH Capital), has requested to prepay his HUD mortgages and lift the restrictions guaranteeing low-income affordability. HUD has given initial approval to the plan, despite the objections of Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Representatives Jane Harman and Maxine Waters, Councilperson Bill Rosendahl and L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa.

“We were expecting a policy shift at HUD after Obama took office, but we’re not going to just sit around waiting for somebody to save us,” said Holiday Venice Tenant Action Committee (HVTAC) President Kendra Moore. Tenant leaders have developed a plan to buy the project with the help of a non-profit developer. 

“We want to keep the apartments affordable to low-income families forever” said HVTAC member Ollie Jones. If HUD allows the for-profit owner to prepay the mortgages, there will be no guarantee of long-term affordability and the tenants’ leverage to buy the apartments will be severely compromised.

In 1996, the average price for a 2-bedroom apartment in the Oakwood area of Venice was $550. Today, a two-bedroom apartment in Oakwood can rent for around $2,700. Roughly 15 percent of Oakwood residents still live at or below the federal poverty line. The Holiday Venice  Section 8 contracts allow tenants to pay 30% of their income towards rent with HUD offsetting the difference.


Negotiations Underway to Buy Lincoln Place

December 4, 2008

Two sources have confirmed to the Beachhead that negotiations are taking place between AIMCO (Apartment Investment and Management Company), the infamous owner of Lincoln Place Apartments and the tenants association. The subject of the negotiations is the purchase of Lincoln Place by a buyer lined up by the tenants, or a combination of an individual buyer and the tenants. Several of the tenant leaders have told the Beachhead that they would prefer eminent domain being used by the city. This would guarantee continued low-income housing without the construction of condominiums to pay back a private buyer. Eminent domain was first raised as a possibility by the Beachhead (see “The Case for Eminent Domain at Lincoln Place, Dec. 2005).

As of Nov. 30, AIMCO stock was trading at $11.47 a share, down from $43.67 earlier in the year.


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