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We're Not Yet New York

The Encino Neighborhood Council fights it out over Il Villaggio Toscana, a proposed Sherman Oaks development that would include 399 apartments and a block of retail stores.

LAPD Senior Lead Officer Robert Trulik came to last week’s meeting of the Encino Neighborhood Council to give the local residents a report on crime in the area.

Officer Trulik said there are small groups of pickpockets walking through the aisles of supermarkets, lifting wallets out of purses left in shopping carts by customers who are looking at products on the shelves.

It’s a crime of opportunity, made easier by the fact that the sight of a $6.99 shelf price under the peanut butter has exactly the same effect as a stun gun, rendering the innocent shopper unable to move or speak.

There are people standing in the cereal aisle right now who have been there since Sunday.

Officer Trulik also warned of scam artists who are knocking on the doors of homes, telling unsuspecting residents that they’re trimming the next-door neighbor’s trees and would really appreciate the opportunity to come into their back yard for better access.

Honestly, if you can’t trust a stranger with a chain saw, who can you trust? We might as well be living in New York in the 70s.

Thankfully, we're not. Los Angeles is nothing like New York, a fact which continues to be lost on starry-eyed city planners who dream of an L.A. where the car culture is replaced by an urban utopia.

The Encino Neighborhood Council agenda last week included a motion to oppose the Il Villaggio Toscana development in Sherman Oaks. Proposed for the mega-congested location of Sepulveda Boulevard and Camarillo Street, across from the Sherman Oaks Galleria, the development is presently envisioned as 399 rental units above a street-level block of retail stores.

Gerald Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino and a member of the board of the Encino Neighborhood Council (ENC), wanted to get the ENC on record as opposing the project, which is several stories taller than the city’s Ventura Blvd. Specific Plan allows, requiring the developer to get “exceptions” from the Plan and opening the door for neighborhood opposition.

No city official has yet taken a position on Il Villaggio Toscana.

The Encino Neighborhood Council had a contentious discussion over Silver's motion to oppose the development and finally voted 10 to 2, with 7 abstentions, in favor of an amended motion to oppose the Il Villaggio Toscana project "as is currently proposed." Silver's recommendation that the developer consider building 137 2,000-square-foot condos instead of 399 apartments was dropped from the motion before the vote.

ENC president Louis Krokover said the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council (SONC) has worked for two years with the developer to make changes to the project, and he didn’t think it was appropriate for the Encino group to weigh in on it until the SONC had completed its reviews and votes. On May 15 the SONC voted its approval of Il Villaggio Toscana, but since has reconsidered and will vote again on July 9.

Developer M. David Paul & Associates completed its acquisition of the property for Il Villaggio Toscana in 1990, and it’s still a vacant lot.

It’s hard to avoid the impression that something is really wrong with the planning process in Los Angeles.

City planning sounds like a wonderful idea on the drawing board, but in practice it can go beyond the purpose of keeping neighborhoods livable and become the means for politicians and advocates to hold property hostage for ransom. It works like this: the city places onerous restrictions on development, and then city officials offer relief from the restrictions in exchange for some public benefit that nobody else wants to pay for.

The wish list can rapidly escalate. The developer of Il Villaggio Toscana has agreed to provide a 13,000-square-foot public plaza with “lush landscaping and outdoor seating” as well as “public art displayed along plaza walkways.”

But public art displayed along plaza walkways does nothing to relieve the traffic problem in the area near Sepulveda and Ventura Boulevards. To solve that problem, city planners engage in a flight of fantasy known as “mixed use” development.

City planners would like to believe they can persuade L.A. residents to do their shopping within walking distance of their apartments, like New Yorkers, so the city allows developers to make their buildings bigger if retail space is included in residential projects.

But Los Angeles isn’t New York, as anyone who’s ever been to a comedy club can explain at length.

In Manhattan, people have high salaries, rent-controlled apartments, and no place to park. That’s why they walk to the small grocery store a block from the subway station and pay sixty dollars for a quart of milk, a head of lettuce, a pound of ground beef and a newspaper.

Renters in Los Angeles don’t live under rent control and they’re probably not making Manhattan salaries. Will they shop at the specialty grocery store that carries three kinds of organic truffles, or will they get in their cars and shop at WalMart with the rest of the population?

It won’t help traffic if the only people who shop at the specialty grocery store are driving up from south of the Boulevard, assuming they can get through the intersection of Ventura and Sepulveda by dinner time.

There are legitimate reasons to have city planning, and we should take it seriously. Both property owners and neighborhood residents deserve an expedited review of proposed projects based on up-to-date, realistic, transparent standards. No one’s interests are served by an endless process of negotiating for sculpture gardens.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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