Not in My Back Yard

Despite objections from some local homeowners, the city of Los Angeles’ Planning and Land Use Committee this week unanimously approved a density bonus for a proposed senior housing development in Sherman Oaks. The issue is slated to go before the City Council on Oct. 21.

Councilman Michael Feuer, a strong supporter of the project, said he was thrilled with the vote and hoped to eventually overcome the homeowners’ objections.

“I think it’s a marvelous result for our seniors and a win for the neighborhood, too, because the building that’s been approved will have less traffic, better parking and will be a smaller building than one that could be built by right [without the city’s approval],” Feuer said.

The battle over the land use and expansion began last summer when developers for Menorah Housing Foundation requested a conditional-use permit from the city of Los Angeles to build a 115-unit (later reduced to 85) senior housing project at 15126 Moorpark St. in Sherman Oaks. Neighboring residents appeared at the July 23 Planning Commission hearing and denounced the project, fearing an increase in traffic, noise and crime.

One of the major complaints was lack of adequate parking for the project. According to Sharon Mayer, chief field deputy for Councilman Feuer, the original proposal by Menorah developers included a 42-space parking lot, less than half the number of residential units. Mayer said this is the formula commonly used for senior housing projects because most seniors who live in these types of units do not own a car.

However, because of the lack of street parking and the concerns of residents, the number of parking spaces was increased to 85, matching the number of apartments. The developers also agreed to “step back” the top two floors of the four-story building so they would not be as visible from the street, improving the aesthetic appeal of the building.

Mayer said Feuer and his staff were surprised by the strong protests of those opposing the development.

“We’ve met with a substantial amount of resistance to this project” Mayer said. “I’m not sure what it’s based on, besides traffic. We have discussed [with the homeowners] their concerns regarding property values, but it is in the context of density rather than affordable housing.”

According to a report filed with the Los Angeles City Planning Department, residents of the Sherman Oaks neighborhood feel they already have enough traffic congestion and parking problems from commuters using Moorpark as an alternate route and parking area to Ventura Boulevard.

Sherman Oaks resident Marci Shaffer, who filed an appeal with the city against the project, said she sees no reason for allowing developers to build a larger apartment complex than the city usually permits.

“The site is zoned for 31 units, with a density allowance of up to eight more units. If the developers would agree to build a 39-unit building, I would personally host the welcoming party,” Shaffer said.

While homeowners may continue to protest, a substantial housing crises for low-income seniors in the Los Angeles area exists — and will eventually affect most Valley neighborhoods. In a letter to the planning commission, attorney Howard J. Katz, Menorah’s developer, stated that waiting lists at Menorah’s other three sites “collectively… represent over 600 would-be residents, and this, from only projects. I am confident that other affordable housing projects throughout the Valley have similar waiting lists.”

The dearth of housing for low-income seniors is the main factor behind Feuer’s push for the project.

“I know Menorah Housing runs a solid operation and I know from my career at Beit Tzedek legal center and in the council about the acute shortage of affordable housing for seniors,” Feuer said, noting that a recent study performed for the city showed the need for 17,000 senior housing units in the Valley. Presently, only 2,000 such units exist.

Menorah Housing is a non-profit organization specializing in housing for the elderly. The foundation, which currently operates three senior citizen developments in the San Fernando Valley, receives “seed money” for its projects from the Jewish Federation, according to Carol Koransky, director of planning and allocation for the Federation’s Valley Alliance.

“They’re one of our constituent agencies — the Federation provides assistance with the start-up costs of their projects, but they do not receive an annual allocation,” said Koransky. “We set up an account and then as that money is replaced it provides a revolving fund to be used for future projects.”

Proponents of the Sherman Oaks project hope that residents will eventually realize the importance of providing a safe, low-cost haven for senior citizens — particularly in an area as ideal as the one on Moorpark, with grocery stores and other shopping within walking distance.

“Our senior citizens should be thought of as enriching the neighborhood,” Feuer said. “Rather than trying to find ways to lock them out, we as a community should be making it as easy as possible for them to find a decent place to live. Hopefully, this project will serve as a future model for others throughout the Valley.”