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Thu, Jun

The Chase Knolls Battle: Behind the Scenes

LOS ANGELES

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Two weeks ago, I first wrote about a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Landmark in the Valley that has become ground zero for the integrity fight in its Sherman Oaks neighborhood. In a nutshell, the city has approved a Tenant Habitability Plan (THP) for Chase Knolls that allows the developer to knock down existing carports and laundry rooms and remove 138 mature trees to make room for new utility lines to upgrade electricity for future tenants so the landlord may install in-unit washer/dryer and dishwashers, amenities that will not be offered to existing tenants. 

Update: As of September 22, The Office of Historic Resources has asked the developer to stop the removal of the mature trees, pending an investigation of the property’s historic landscaping.

I’ve been speaking with Chase Knolls tenants, neighbors and other stakeholders to get the stories behind why maintaining this landmark is so crucial. 

This week, I spoke with Carolyn Uhri who has lived in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood near Chase Knolls since the 1950s. 

For Carolyn Urhi, the Valley (and Chase Knolls) represent a piece of her childhood. She’s committed to honoring her childhood neighborhood where she still lives. Carolyn is the President of the San Fernando Valley Arts & Cultural Center, as well as the Project Coordinator for Horses Across the Valley at The Museum of the San Fernando Valley. 

Here’s what Carolyn shared with me: 

The History--“I used to walk by Chase Knolls every day on my way to school. It was an oasis; I thought it was magical as a young kid. My next door neighbor for many years came from Pennsylvania after the war. They were both in the Navy and lived at Chase Knolls while their house was being built. It was the place to go because it was an exotic garden apartment, what somebody from Pennsylvania would have thought Los Angeles was all about. 

When my parents came here from Nebraska to the Valley, this was a big deal for them. My mother used to take the red car to Hollywood because there were no department stores until they built a Sears in North Hollywood. Everything had more of a neighborhood feel back then. We were lucky to live in an area where we really watched out for one another. That has carried over from the original owners of these houses built in 1952-54 but I just don’t know what’s going to happen to families now. 

That’s gone.

This place has such a wonderful history and in a way, that is being pushed to the side. Some of these trees were planted in 1949, some actually have been here before that. The developer obviously thought it was important to keep some of the details, like the stainless steel counters in the kitchens. 

Waterton--Waterton Property & Investment Group is one of the most unscrupulous companies. There are three issues I see; traffic, water and quality of life, pretty generic but important, all in the name of a dishwasher! There are elements that they have kept and I am not sure how they were able to circumvent the others. 

Councilmember David Ryu--I’m disappointed in our new councilman who took over. David Ryu was supposed to be the one fighting developers. He had gone into people’s living rooms before the election to talk about that and how he’d fight for his constituents but nothing could be further from the truth! 

I want to believe city officials are on the up and up but I don’t believe they are. They seem to just want to let developers do whatever they want to do. At one standing room only meeting I attended behind Ross near Fashion Square, I remember Ryu saying he “inherited this from Tom LaBonge” and didn’t want to deal with it. He seemed indifferent to the whole thing. David Ryu was dead on arrival for this whole thing. He jumped into the pockets of developers, along with many others.

The Impact--Waterton wants to raise the rent for Chase Knolls residents. What happened to thinking about traffic? We have Milliken Middle School, Notre Dame. The plan is expected to add 140 more units. This will bring even more traffic. Where is the water coming from? This issue rankles me. With IMT, they’re putting up a new apartment building almost every month. Where is the water coming from? We get chastised for using too much water but they let developers come in and obviously use more water. 

(Note: A decade ago, the City Council approved six new apartment buildings on Riverside inside the Chase Knolls block that would contain 140 units but the entitlement ends in February.) 

The Neighborhood--I’m just really quite upset about what is happening to the residents and to the neighborhood. I have lived a half-mile away and have lived here since 1957. 

There have been lots of changes. It’s not like I want to go back to the sixties but too many things have been put into place to protect Chase Knolls and I wonder how the heck they’re getting around this, especially the historical landmark issue and pushing out existing residents. It’s a sad commentary on what is going on here.

Why This Matters--My area is still like Leave it to Beaver. Everyone has kept up their homes. But it seems that quality of life is not in the equation any more. That’s why I was forced to get involved in making sure these developers don’t take over. 

What Needs to Happen--I think we need to have a separate San Fernando Valley Conservancy to address our issues. If this is the way the Los Angeles Conservancy is run, it needs a complete overhaul. It’s supposed to be people trying to save garden apartment complexes, historic landmarks. This should not be about loopholes and ignoring the laws or checking off things that should not be checked off or looked into as “not applicable.” It’s so blatant. Do they think there isn’t going to be any backlash from how they’re handling it? 

This also all depends on money to fight. This group needs a lawyer and it takes money to hire a lawyer. 

Sherman Oaks is being overrun. With the Sunkist Building project, they’re planning to build 295 units on top of commercial storefronts just down the road. What on earth is happening to this area? It’s becoming like Tokyo.” 

Questions--Another issue I want to find out is the vacancy rates. I’ve heard with all the complexes built by IMT, they’re only one-third full. If that’s true, why do we need more units? They say it’s going to be low cost housing for a year and then they raise the rents.

What happened to quality of life? This is not the way it’s supposed to be.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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