My home of 32 years is in the Teriton Courtyard Apartments at 130-142 San Vicente Blvd., the subject of Hannah Heineman’s Aug. 31 article. I am also a teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School, which serves children who live in and around The Teriton. I would like to add some details to your report of the Aug. 11 “forum” called by developers, Or Khaim Hashalom (a recently formed nonprofit religious organization and new owners of my building), for the purpose of self-exempting from local landmark regulations. These new owners say they would like to move forward with their stated plans to evict the tenants, demolish the Teriton Apartments, build “high-end, mid and low cost housing and a temple [and maybe a child care facility]” to further their religious mission of providing housing for Jewish people who have been persecuted in the Middle East.
The California law their attorney is invoking is a portion of Government Code 37361 known as AB133. In a 2001 column for Heritage News (a San Francisco nonprofit preservation organization), their Executive Director explained the background of this amendment to the law: “For those who have not followed this case, it began in the wake of Loma Prieta [1989 San Francisco earthquake] and the threat of San Francisco Bay Area church closures and demolitions. Concerned church members sought to prevent demolition and preserve their threatened churches through local landmark designation. Church hierarchy sought to remove seismically deficient and economically distressed churches from the rolls.
“The San Francisco Interfaith Council and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, seeking to prevent religious property designations, urged the Calif. Assembly to exempt churches statewide by approving AB133,” which they enacted in 1994. A lawsuit and appeals followed, with the buildings in question being churches that were used for religious purposes.
Do I think that this law applies to a “for profit” apartment building on San Vicente Blvd. that has never been used for any religious purpose?
NO, I don’t.
Your article restates the law which says, “To use this exemption, the owner must object to this potential designation and must determine in a public forum that it will suffer substantial hardship likely to deprive it of 1) economic return on property, 2) the reasonable use of the property or 3) the appropriate use of the property in the furtherance of its religious mission.” Even if someone were to agree that this law does apply in this instance, has Mr. Perry or his client demonstrated in a public forum that any of the above criteria are so? I think not.
At the Aug. 11 “forum,” Mr. Perry, attorney for the developers, offered his opinion that Landmark status for the Teriton would create a financial hardship. Although he said the figures were black and white, he declined to provide any specific figures to give his claim credibility. Using the current City of Santa Monica MAR (maximum allowable rent) figures, gross annual rent appears to be far higher than the $420,000 figure that Mr. Perry used in his July 7 letter to the City Attorney.
Do I think the Landmark Status would create a financial hardship for the new owners?
It’s hard to know without exact figures or their exact plans for the property (which they decline to provide). The current market rents for the Teriton units are high. Other apartment owners who charge less for their units presumably are able to realize an economic return on their property (although I acknowledge that Rent Control must be a factor for them). If these new owners cannot operate their business without incurring debt, one wonders why they purchased it.
When audience members at the Aug. 11 meeting questioned Mr. Perry and Rabbi Illulian about their religious mission, answers were general. When pressed for specifics, Mr. Perry answered with, “That is a question we are not going to answer at this meeting.” When a rabbi in the audience asked for the phone number or location of their “synagogue,” they would not provide them. In answer to questions about how they planned to get the Middle Eastern people seeking refuge into the country, they had no answer. When asked to elaborate on specifics of the “transitional housing,” as Mr. Perry referred to it in a very interesting recent interview with online columnist Rip Rense (www.riprense.com), there were several answers ranging from subsidized housing to some sort of life-estate lease arrangement. Mr. Perry has since said that if the City would allow his client to build what they would like, they could have 50 or 60 units and wouldn’t need the high-end land-lease units.
Am I skeptical?
I’m afraid so. Simply stated, if it were my mission to rescue people from the Middle East who were suffering religious persecution, I would want my plan to provide for as many people as possible with my allotted dollars. I would not be choosing an expensive, developed piece of property under the purview of the Coastal Commission that was already listed on the Santa Monica Historic Inventory and, as such, eligible for Landmark consideration. I would find a more economically feasible piece of land where I could build a high-rise building able to accommodate many families, the child care, temple, underground parking, perhaps a school and whatever other adjunct facilities I might desire without fighting a city government or disrupting existing homes with potential architectural significance to get it. That said, I can’t help but wonder if there is another underlying agenda behind this development plan that I don’t know about. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Your article refers to a historic assessment prepared by architectural historian Jennifer Hirsch of EDAW Inc. in San Diego. Her report is addressed to Mr. Perry’s law office, which I assume means that he hired her to write it. I would like to refer you to the City of Santa Monica 1983 initial survey of properties for the city. In that survey conducted by Paul Gleye (noted architect, author of The Architecture of Los Angeles and currently the Chair of the Dept. of Architecture and Landscape at North Dakota State University), he wrote: “San Vicente Blvd. retains a relatively recent but unique ensemble of Southern California apartment courts. These courts, larger-scale descendents of the bungalow court and small apartment court of the early twentieth century, were designed in many styles, but in concept and plan they are a Southern California architectural type. Whereas cold winter required the maximum enclosed space in northern climates, in Los Angeles the hallway could be outdoors and take the form of a landscaped garden. Thus the form of the U-shaped or L-shaped apartment court has flourished in Southern California.”
His report continues to describe styles of the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s and finally the 1950’s. The Teriton was built in 1949-50 and about that style he wrote: “During the 1950’s, style turned toward Modern, but in a vernacular expression of it. Modern vernacular apartment courts remained in the plan of traditional courts, but their aesthetic included flat overhanging roofs, flush corner windows and decorative embellishments in wood. [all of which the Teriton has, by the way] All of these styles are present along San Vicente Blvd. from Ocean to Seventh, and they represent an important chapter in the development of the Los Angeles Streetscape.”
In a more recent review of Santa Monica’s Historic Inventory List, a 2001 update added: “…the San Vicente Apartments represent an important historic context: the development of new styles of multi-family housing between the mid-1930’s and 1960. However, much about this type and period of development in Santa Monica remains unknown. It is recommended that the properties identified as part of this area be reclassified as potential Landmarks or Structures of Merit and that an investigation of the 1945-1960 period of multi-family housing construction in Santa Monica be studied in greater detail.”
Do I think these architectural historical opinions should be taken into consideration? Do I think the Teriton is worthy of Landmark Status? Do I think SM Landmarks Commissioners should have the right to complete their mission and consider The Teriton at their Sept.11 or any future meeting?
The answers are YES, YES and YES. If we tie the hands of our commissioners and demolish our City’s history building by building, how are we going to conduct the investigation of that period’s housing, as recommended above, and more important, what kind of visual legacy will we be leaving for our children?
And now we come to my major concerns. I am a school teacher, not an architect, and I am perfectly willing to have the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission make the judgment of how important The Teriton is to the architectural integrity of San Vicente Blvd. and Santa Monica. They are far more qualified than I to make that determination.
Once they have done so, if the issue finds itself before the City Council, I am hopeful that the City will deliberate long and hard about what it means to our community to erase its history with a wrecking ball, one building at a time. When we eradicate buildings, we are also removing valued homes of families who are the human fabric of our community. We are taking away community workers, church members, teachers, co-workers, nurses, retired folks and children from our schools. We are removing the threads of common experiences, local knowledge and shared history that make a community strong. Has our society become so transient that we want to endorse replacing anything old with something new at any expense? I hope not.
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To the Editor:
I am a shareholder in Ocean Towers, the two tall structures located where San Vicente Blvd. meets Ocean Ave., at Palisades Park.
Ocean Towers is a rat’s nest of crime. There is embezzlement in the millions, forgery, bribery, election fraud, intimidation of residents, and more. If the reader finds this unbelievable, then you join with those of us experiencing it; it is unbelievable. Those interested viewing documentation supporting these allegations are invited to visit www.uncooperative.info (not .com.).
Of course, the problems of Ocean Towers are not a primary concern of your readers. What does concern them, or should, is the functioning of the Santa Monica City administration in addressing the situation – as follows:
For the past two years I have been pleading for assistance from official of the City of Santa Monica. Initially, the City Attorney advised that her office lacked authority to intervene, and at that I withdrew. But one year later, in 2005, I returned with two legal citations that provide full authority to the City to deal with the situation, one from State Codes and another from Municipal Codes. I presented these at meetings of the City Council, once in June of 2005, once in November, and twice the City Attorney promised to investigate.
Let me be brief in reporting that nothing has come of these promises. The City Attorney does not answer; she does not explain – her position is best described as stonewalling. I then turned to the City Manager, who likewise was altogether unhelpful – polite, yes; civil, yes; helpful, not at all. I finally turned to Mayor Holbrook for assistance. Mayor Holbrook, if anything, was even more evasive, even less helpful, than other City officials.
All this – the pleas on my part, the evasions and misrepresentations employed by City officials to avoid responsibility, are likewise documented on the site named above: www.uncooperative.info. Additionally, an Open Letter to Mayor Holbrook, together with his response, can be found published at www.lavoice.org, an online news reporting site.
The problem, in few words, is this: The problem at Ocean Towers is one of massive violations of law, criminal and civil. Many of those affected are elderly, many are infirm. The City knows all this – they knew of the embezzlement before I reported it! And the authority to intervene exists. Yet City officials continually point at each other, deny responsibility and authority without explanation, even in the face of State and Municipal Codes that state otherwise, with all roads leading to the City Attorney, who simply refuses to respond. For two years.
This City administration is not respectful of the residents of Santa Monica.
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A sign saying, “Even if Your MOTHER Says She Loves You Check it Out with two Sources” hung in the City Room in upstate New York where I began as a journalist. Skepticism is the mother’s milk of our trade and that’s why I read your latest piece on the trials of the Teriton Apartments (where I’ve lived for about 30 years) more in sorrow than anger. Yes, JEM was checked, but what of Perry’s statements? A little digging and the writer would have discovered he is the CEO, CFO, President and Secretary of the alleged synagogue. A synagogue, by the way, which has no phone number or address with a Rabbi who’s not allowed to talk with the public and who was asked to resign from the Beverly Hills Chabad.
So I’m looking forward to the Mirror’s next story about the Teriton knowing that this time tenants will be quoted, Counselor Perry’s conflicting statements will be noted, and analyzed, light will shine into the dark corners of the synagogue, Or Khaim Hashalom wherever it might be, and the truth will set us free. As a start, check out the Teriton story on the website riprense.com.
More to kum, as we say in this business.