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March 4, 2009

Panorama City Condo Conversion Rejected by LA City Council In Spite of High Powered Lobbyist Support


CES scored another victory when the Los Angeles City Council, at its March 4, 2009 meeting, unanimously voted to deny a developer’s appeal and upheld a Planning Department recommendation to deny the condominium conversion of a 30 unit rent controlled apartment building in the Panorama City area of the San Fernando Valley.

This appeared to be another example of a high-powered lobbyist and his developer client trying to trample on tenants’ right and rough ride over city processes and regulations.

The owner hired the influential City Hall lobbyist Benjamin Reznik to help ensure their condo application’s approval.. Reznik was recently profiled in the Los Angeles Times as a lobbyist who routinely sues the City of L.A. when the projects he represents are rejected by the City.

In this case, the developer and lobbyist falsely claimed that the mainly mono-lingual Spanish-speaking tenants living at Casa Bonita Apartments on Nordhoff Street, don’t oppose the conversion and that seven of them were interested in purchasing their units.  But, after going door-to-door, CES organizers found that the tenants were unaware of what was going on, don’t know what their rights are, and are not informed of their ability to oppose the conversion.

One tenant who signed an intent to purchase document said she didn't understand what she signed and sought to get out of the commitment.

The landlord sent letters to tenants that failed to inform them of their relocation assistance rights, but deceptively offered them the city’s required relocation amounts, making it appear that they could only receive this assistance if it was used towards the down payment to purchase their unit.

The letter outrageously stated, “As a token of appreciation for your continued residence, If you decide to purchase a unit, we are offering to provide you with the following discounts on your down payment:” It went on to list the city’s required tenant relocation assistance amounts.

The Planning Department recommended the conversation be denied because tenants were not provided with required legal notices, there is not enough parking and the vacancy rate in the area is below 5% and the loss of these rent controlled units will have a cumulative impact on the affordable housing stock.

In his hearing testimony, CES Executive Director Larry Gross stated in urging the City Council to reject the conversion, that tenants were misled and that this is a bad project, these are bad players, it’s a bad deal for tenants and for the city. The City Council unanimously agreed with Council Members Ed Reyes, Jose Huizar and Richard Alaracon vocally supporting CES’ position.

It is most likely that the developer will re-file the condo conversion application. CES will continue to assist tenants in opposing this conversion.

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