Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Menlo Property: Political No Man's Land

Photo: Tom LaBonge, undated, but between 1962 and 1987. Menlo Property is on Riverside Drive, between Fletcher Dr. and Glendale Blvd. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Since removal of the Red Car Trolley tracks in the late 1950's, it seems no politician wants to be too closely associated with the stretch of Riverside Drive between Glendale Blvd and Fletcher Drive. It's been 22 years and 5 City Councilmembers since the River Glen Apartments were first approved in 1987. The Menlo Property and River Glen Apartments have a front row seat for the 5 Freeway.

The property started out in Councilmember John Ferraro's district. By 1991, court-ordered redistricting put the land in CD13. Mike Woo was CD13's City Councilmember running for mayor. By 1991, the developer, Hal Klein, Hartwood Development, Inc., abandoned the project and it fell into foreclosure.

In an LA Times column, July 25, 1991, Doug Smith reported on the blight at the Riverside Drive project that had been worsening for 18 months. Mike Woo's office failed to do more than pass residents' complaints on to Building & Safety. Since the area had been downzoned since the original approval, Smith called on Woo to use leverage "to demand the wall come down and that a new plan use imagination in place of brute engineering to fit the development onto the hillside." Photo: Maryann Kuk, April 25, 2000. Deteriorating black plastic covered the slope behind the Menlo Wall. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Menlo acquired the property in 1992 from First Interstate Bank. By 1993, Jackie Goldberg was CD13's City Councilmember. According to an October 20, 1993 Los Angeles Independent story by Lee Condon, the City Planning Commission failed to recognize Goldberg's request for a continuance of Menlo's request for an extension of the approvals for 93 units. Goldberg's deputy made the request in person at the hearing, not in writing. Goldberg wanted time to renegotiate design issues to make a more community friendly development. Goldberg was the first politician to recognize the earlier proposed prison-like walls would continue to attract graffiti and blight.

By 1998, Building & Safety issued another Order to Comply to restore the hillside since the approvals for grading had expired. Two years later, Goldberg asked the City Attorney to investigate filing a criminal complaint against Menlo for the derelict and deteriorating site (see: Menlo Property: The Pattern of Neglect). Unfortunately, for the better part of a year, CD13 had no representation at City Council, as Goldberg went to the State Assembly.

In 2001, Eric Garcetti took over CD13 as City Councilmember. A year later, redistricting put the Menlo Property back in CD4, now represented by Tom LaBonge. By then, the slope restoration ordered by the Building & Safety Commission was under way.Photo: Diane Edwardson, November 1, 2007. A restored and landscaped slope on the Menlo Property still attracted graffiti, dumping and homeless. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

When the slope restoration was completed, this stretch of Riverside was now besieged by meth-addicted homeless, transients living in motor homes and even more frequent dumping of trash and furniture. While this was nothing new, the highest concentration was on Riverside between Glendale Blvd & Fletcher Dr.

Throughout the 1980's and 1990's the "motor homeless had been pushed off of Los Feliz Blvd. and Riverside north of Glendale Blvd. by "No Overnight Parking" districts. So by 2007, when CD4 asked the SLNC UD&PAC to support a similar district in front of the Menlo Property, it was a sign another development application from Menlo was coming. (The SLNC UD&PAC requested all of Riverside Drive between Los Feliz and the confluence of the LA River at Oros Street be included in the parking district so it didn't just push the problem onto the Red Car Property neighborhood, south of Fletcher.)

Tues April 7, 2009: Menlo's Representatives will present plans for 120 condo units on the Menlo Property to Silver Lake Neighborhood Council.

See also: Legacy of Failed Development.