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Eastside councilman against $2-billion plan to raze sprawling Boyle Heights apartment complex

March 31, 2011 |  9:54 am


Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar came out Thursday against a $2-billion proposal to raze dozens of apartment buildings in Boyle Heights and replace them with shops, offices and homes -- some in high-rises as tall as 24 stories.

Huizar spokesman Rick Coca said the councilman opposes efforts to demolish the Wyvernwood Apartments, which run along Olympic Boulevard and house an estimated 6,000 residents.

Huizar was scheduled to appear Thursday morning with tenant activists and representatives of the Los Angeles Conservancy, a historic preservation group, to discuss his position on the redevelopment plan.

"The bottom line for him is that it would dismantle an existing community that has deep roots, generations of families," Coca said. "We would no more dismantle Wyvernwood than we would dismantle Boyle Heights."

Wyvernwood is located on the southern edge of Boyle Heights and features 153 mostly two-story apartment buildings that contain 1,187 units. The Miami-based development firm known as Fifteen Group formally announced plans three years ago for rebuilding on the 70-acre site over the next 10 years, replacing the existing homes with up to 4,400 apartments and condominiums.

Of that total, about 15% would be set aside as affordable housing, according to proponents of the project.

When it was built, between 1939 and 1942, Wyvernwood was considered the nation's largest privately owned development of rental housing.

After Fifteen Group announced its plans, residents quickly mobilized against the proposal, saying its many working-class tenants were in danger of being displaced.

The L.A. Conservancy took a similar stance, arguing that Wyvernwoood was the first large-scale garden apartment complex, setting the stage for others such as like Park La Brea, and thus deserving of protection.

"This remarkable site is an irreplaceable part of our history," Linda Dishman, executive director of the L.A. Conservancy, said in a prepared statement. "It has fostered a unique sense of community for generations and it deserves to be preserved for future generations.”

Huizar said in a news release that the Fifteen Group plan would make Wyvernwood "a denser, lesser version of itself." He also noted that the neighborhood is already one of the most dense in the city.

Steven Fink, executive vice president of Fifteen Group, said his firm was proud of its redevelopment proposal and had already assembled an extensive plan to prevent residents from being forced out of the neighborhood and Wyvernwood itself.

"The resident-retention plan provides for families to temporarily relocate on site into like buildings, and then have the right to move back into brand new modern housing and pay no more in rent than they would have paid in their old apartment," he said. "It's an unprecedented plan and a substantial benefit to residents and the community."

Fifteen Group is in the process of preparing an environmental impact report on the project.

On the project's website, the firm said that redevelopment of Wyvernwood would lead to the creation of 10,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs.

Fink said the firm had worked with such organizations as Homeboy Industries and Puente Learning Center to ensure that local residents secured those jobs.


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Photo: The Wyvernwood apartments in 2008 as seen from the top of the Sears building in Boyle Heights. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times