Twenty years of protests, evictions, and litigation came to an end on May 26, when the Los Angeles City Council approved the settlement of a lawsuit between the City and the owner of the Lincoln Place Apartments property. Taken together with the May 2009 settlement between the owner and historic/architectural preservation interests and the August 2009 settlement between the owner and tenants – both of which were contingent upon the later settlement of the owner/City suit – the action is “the last piece of the puzzle” in the Lincoln Place saga, according to several of the parties.
• Although some of the terms, particularly of the tenants settlement, remain confidential, the overall resolution includes:
• Rehabilitation of 696 existing apartment units which will be subject to Los Angeles rent control ordinances, including a special “property class regulation” designed for Lincoln Place;
• Construction of up to 99 new rental units (subject to a 30-foot height limit and without application of any “density bonus”) which will not be rent controlled, replacing 99 previously demolished units;
• A set-aside of 83 units (out of the 696) for displaced Lincoln Place tenants who may return (11 never left) at rents based on the rent at the time they left; and
• The payment of settlement money by the property owner to be allocated among tenants, a payment described as “a multi-million dollar fund to compensate former tenants not returning to Lincoln Place” in a statement by Councilmember Rosendahl’s office.
So after 20 years of tribulation, Lincoln Place will remain all rental apartments (no condos), with the same number of units as originally built in 1949-1951.
At Wednesday’s Council meeting, the mood was upbeat and celebratory. Sheila Bernard, president of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association, said she was “happy to be here in a peaceful moment.” Patti Shwayder, Senior Vice President of property owner AIMCO (Apartment Investment and Management Company and its affiliates), said the settlement would “enable more than $100 million in reinvestment,” referring to the rehabilitation and construction work.
Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, whose 11th District includes the Lincoln Place property, said the settlement represents the largest ever restoration of rent stabilized housing to the City’s rental market.
John Choi, Economic Development Director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, welcomed the employment and investment generated by the settlement. David Ewing of the Venice Community Coalition said this was “a wonderful settlement for the community,” but also sounded the lone cautionary note when he added that “AIMCO have been very bad players in the past, so as we go forward the principle would be, ‘Trust, but verify.’”
The City/AIMCO settlement agreement, which foresees AIMCO applications for City approvals in connection with the rehabilitation and construction, will be subject to the continuing jurisdiction of L.A. Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman, who supervised negotiations leading up to the settlement. A hearing is scheduled for June 7 before Judge Carl J. West to obtain court approval for the owner/tenant settlement involving over 40 lawsuits now that the contingency of the AIMCO/City settlement has been satisfied, but that approval is expected without difficulty.
Among the many people given credit for contributing to the settlement was First Deputy Mayor and Chief Executive of Economic and Business Policy Austin Beutner, who told the Mirror that he became involved only during the last month when he brought the parties together to hammer out “the last piece of the puzzle.” AIMCO’s Shwayder said that “without him, this agreement would not have been possible.”
Beutner told a press conference following the City Council vote that the significance of the Lincoln Place settlement was (1) the creation of 600 to 800 construction jobs, (2) restoring the base of affordable housing on the Westside, and (3) sending a message that “we, as Angelinos, can all come together and make things happen.”
Lincoln Place is a 38-acre apartment complex in Venice that originally consisted of 795 units in 52 buildings built between 1949 and 1951 in an open, garden-like setting, east of Lincoln Boulevard and south of Rose Avenue in the City of Los Angeles – a paradigm of affordable housing for its time that can now once again provide shelter desperately needed in the community. Some of the 52 buildings were demolished (sparking litigation), and many tenants were evicted (more litigation) or accepted relocation packages (as a result of “threats, omissions, and misstatements” according to yet more litigation) as owners of the property sought to replace the buildings with new higher-density condominiums. Today, Lincoln Place is all but vacant, with less than a dozen households occupying the property.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement calling the settlement “a win-win agreement [that] will return much needed rental housing to Los Angeles” and that “will serve as a model locally and nationally for sustainable rehabilitation of older, low-rise rental housing while providing important green jobs in Los Angeles.”
“This is a great day for tenants, for preservationists, for Venice, and for anyone concerned with fairness and justice,” said Rosendahl, who labored to bring the decades-old saga to an end. “This day has been a long time in coming, but it is finally here, and it is a win-win for everyone involved.”
Both Rosendahl and a statement issued by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich noted that the settlement entails no cost to the City’s treasury. The settlement agreement does provide that the City “commits to use good faith efforts” to work with AIMCO to secure “a total of not less that $9 million” from stimulus formula grant funds from the U.S. Department of Energy and “other potentially available funding sources from DOE or from other sources.”
The settlement agreement also provides that AIMCO is not obligated to proceed with the development of the property outlined above, but may instead “pursue an Alternative Development Plan,” in which case it would lose many of the benefits conferred by the settlement. At the press conference following the City Council approval, AIMCO’s Shwayder confirmed that AIMCO was that day filing application with the City to proceed with the development, and AIMCO lawyer Lucinda Starrett said that the application was for the development outlined above and not any Alternative Development Plan.
“Persistence and optimism pay off,” Rosendahl said. “If you refuse to lose sight of what is right, and if you continue to insist that people of differing opinions seek common ground, there is always hope for a fair solution. In the end, justice finds a way to prevail.”