By Jocelyn Y. Stewart
Times Staff Writer
A plan to build a new fire station in a Hollywood neighborhood has sparked a fierce response from tenants who, fearing the loss of their dwellings, are pushing city officials to select another location.
Residents of the area where North Gramercy Place and Garfield Place hit Hollywood Boulevard have called neighborhood meetings, distributed fliers and sent officials a list of alternative sites for the station -- all in a bid to save their residences.
"We think the burden is going to outweigh the benefits to the neighborhood," said Katherine Etzel, a 10-year Hollywood resident.
But the city is already in escrow with two property owners and is negotiating with others, said Battalion Chief Roy Prince of the Los Angeles Fire Department, adding that owners have expressed a willingness to sell.
"This is the site we want," Prince said. "No matter where we would go, it was going to be an impact on the community one way or another. We had to deal with that."
The city is seeking to buy eight parcels, four of which are parking lots. It is not clear how many residents would be displaced by the station, but the site includes one 16-unit and two 13-unit apartment buildings, as well as other residential properties, said Allan Kawaguchi, program manager for the Proposition F Fire Facilities Program.
The Velaslavasay Panorama Gallery will also be forced to move if the plan moves forward.
Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes Hollywood, supports building the station at the proposed spot.
"After looking at several sites, this particular site has the most available space to meet the need, and it is absolutely at the perfect location," he said.
The new Fire Station 82 would be at a midpoint between three other stations and Griffith Park. It would be a regional facility, which, unlike a standard fire station, includes a classroom, practice space and a storage building.
Regional stations cut down on the need for firefighters to be away from their districts for training or to find replacements when equipment breaks down, Prince said.
Last year voters approved Proposition F, a $533-million bond measure designed to fund 21 stations and the expansion or renovation of eight animal shelters. The city has already purchased land for six fire facilities.
The Hollywood conflict is another example of two important issues colliding and housing "losing out," said Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival, which is assisting residents.
A coalition survey of the area found that about 47 housing units would be lost.
"You add that to the 1,000 units the school district is taking to build new schools ... and that adds to our housing crisis," Gross said. "All these government entities need to take the responsibility to build replacement housing to mitigate the housing that they're destroying."
News that the neighborhood has been selected for a new fire station has spread for weeks. Etzel learned about the city's intentions "accidentally," she said, "pretty much how everybody on the street found out about it."
Some property owners received letters regarding the city's interest and word that their property would be assessed. That information soon spread.
Frustrated residents held a meeting at a local cafe to share information they say the city had been slow to provide. Several residents have complained that officials have not offered them any opportunity to be involved in the selection, or clarified the procedures the city must follow when acquiring land.
"We feel left out of the process," Etzel said.
Officials say that revealing too much information about a proposed site could jeopardize negotiations.
Residents will have an opportunity to offer input under the California Environmental Quality Act, Kawaguchi said. The act requires state and local agencies to examine the environmental impact of proposed projects and, if possible, offset them.
The way Tina Randall sees it, the timing of the project could not be worse.
"We've all lived in the neighborhood for a long time, and it's all coming along nicely," said Randall, a tenant who lives in a 1910 Craftsman house. "Hollywood's getting better."
Those fighting the fire station are mostly renters, with some commercial tenants and at least one property owner joining in.
"There's such a housing crisis in Hollywood," Etzel said. "People know it's not going to be easy to find another apartment in this area, particularly at some of the rents people are paying, because it's been rent-controlled."
Displaced tenants will receive relocation assistance, including moving expenses. Often the city also offers financial aid to ensure that renters are able to find comparable units.
"We're not here to throw them out," Prince said. "We're here to make them whole. We're obligated by law to do that. On top of all this is the Fire Department image and credibility. We have a greater obligation."
Tenants say they are still hoping to stop the station plans and will seek legal assistance.
"Whether this whole thing goes through or not, what most concerns me is the process that I've experienced," Etzel said. "It's a little disturbing to see how our government works. It's really about due process."