Plans by the synagogue Or Khaim Hashalom to demolish the rent-controlled Teriton Apartments located at 130 to 142 San Vicente Blvd. are being challenged by those who wish to have the building declared a historic landmark by the City of Santa Monica.
At a public forum on August 11, the synagogue’s lawyer, Rosario Perry, explained that the synagogue wished to replace the existing structures – which contain 28 apartments – with buildings of increased density (38-40 units of apartments and possibly condos), a temple and a day-care center, all for Jewish refugees who are being persecuted in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Iran. Under current law, property owned by a religious entity can be exempted from being designated as a landmark.
Perry also noted that at the present time the owners of the buildings are suffering from a substantial economic hardship because they are losing “approximately $200,000 – $500,000 a year based on expenses versus income.” The only way for them to become profitable would be to demolish the current structures and replace them with structures of increased density. Income from the property would then be derived from market rate rents, public assistance under Section 8 housing and donations.
The apartment’s tenants posed many questions at the forum to both Perry and the executive committee, and many of them remained unanswered. Lisa Freeman asked, “How can you justify evicting people from their homes to bring in other people?”
Perry responded, “Wherever we go we will disrupt somebody. We will work out a program to help people move. The City program is a starting point.” He added, “We won’t help people with substantial economic means. You are more able to readjust to new housing than refugees from the Middle East.”
Rabbi Hertzel Illulian told the crowded room, “I feel bad. I wish there was another way to do it.” Like Perry, he tried to reassure the tenants they would help those in need with their relocation expenses.
Community activist Patricia Hoffman told the committee that to create a project that “has religious covenants to keep people out is reprehensible.”
The records at the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office show that Or Khaim Hashalom purchased the property on April 4, 2006 for $10.5 million. Roger Genser, Chair of the Landmarks Commission, told the Mirror that in November of 2005 a demo permit for the property had come before his Commission due to the fact it was built in 1949. City laws require that the Commission review all demolition permits for buildings that are over 40 years old.
Genser also stressed that at the September 11 Landmarks Commission meeting there will be a discussion about whether to file an application to landmark the property. They then will have 65 days to decide if it should be landmarked. Finally, Genser mentioned the law “prohibits the application of local landmark preservation laws to noncommercial property owned by religious entities.”
This is the law that led to the public forum because it states in order “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 the property, (2) the reasonable use of the property or (3) the appropriate use of the property in the furtherance of its religious mission.”
A preliminary historic assessment available at the forum, prepared by architectural historian Jennifer Hirsch of EDAW Incorporated, stated that the preliminary findings indicate the property “does not appear to be eligible as an individual Santa Monica Landmark as the building does not meet the designation criteria identified in the Santa Monica Municipal Code. If the building were eligible for individual landmark designation it could only be for its representation of the work of [architect] Stanford Kent.”
After the forum, Perry told the Mirror he first became involved with the synagogue as a lawyer and then became the secretary of their executive committee as “legal complications arose.” He then emphasized that he does not hold any other positions in this nonprofit organization. In his view, those seeking landmark status for the Teriton are attempting to “misuse” the City’s historic landmarks law.
Perry also discussed the synagogue’s connection with an organization called JEM located in Beverly Hills, which, according to Perry, focuses its work on children and parents. Attempts to contact JEM by the Mirror were unsuccessful.