Lincoln Place: A Community Victory – Part Two

Amanda Seward’s story of the victorious struggle of Lincoln Place tenants began in last month’s Beachhead. You can read it from the beginning at http://bit.ly/d6dy8c.

By Amanda Seward

Several eviction lawyers offered advice and legal forms that accelerated our learning curve.  Eviction Defense Network attorneys Elena Popp, Robert Reed and Leah Simon-Weisberg helped, as well as Steve Collier from the famous Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco who had tremendous experience in Ellis Act evictions, a state law that allows owners to evict tenants if the owner intends to get out of the rental business.  It was the Ellis Act that the owners of Lincoln Place invoked to evict the tenants.

Susan Brandt-Hawley, a California Environment Quality Act (”CEQA”) lawyer, graciously wrote a letter to the State Historic Preservation Officer offering a legal response to AIMCO’s attorneys’ last-ditch argument that the historic designation process violated CEQA.  I remember being very grateful that I did not need to try and become, overnight, a CEQA expert.

The Attorney General’s office took the lead in the case brought by the owner against the State Historic Resources Commission and me, as the author of the nomination.  In the second lawsuit against us challenging the designation, the Commission did not settle and the designation was upheld.  I learned a lot from the lawyering skills of Deputy Attorney General Gary Tavetian.

Media coverage also played a role in this story.  Bob Pool wrote a feature in his inimitable story-telling style regarding the preservation efforts, which was published in the Los Angeles Times.  I think he admired us for trying, but did not think we would pull it off.  Roger Templeton of theVenice Paper attended and reported a key vote of the State Historic Resources Commission in Fresno.  He and Tibby Rothman, then editor of theVenice Paper, covered material aspects of the story over the years, as did The Argonaut, the Santa Monica Mirror, the Santa Monica Daily Press, Daily Journal, the LA Weekly and the Los Angeles Times.  Jim Smith and the Free Venice Beachhead could not have been more supportive.  Jim never let the “he says, she says” form of reporting in the name of neutrality confuse him; he called it the way he saw it.  The Free Venice Beachhead could have been titled the Lincoln Place Chronicles.  I also appreciated the thoughtful acknowledgement of Christopher Hawthorne, the Los Angeles Times architecture critic, who wrote in an article that Lincoln Place was an important example of the low rise garden apartment that was part of Los Angeles’ legacy in bringing sophistication to the affordable home.  Peggy Clifford, the former editor of the Santa Monica Mirror was relentless in her support.  Terrence Lyons, also of the Mirror became a familiar face covering all aspects of the story during all the ups and downs.  Martha Groves of the Los Angeles Times once overheard me digging up information at the public counter in the Planning Department and gave me her card asking me to call her and keep her updated on what was going on.  Linda Immediato of the LA Weekly  went so far as to interview each City Council person to get their office’s response to the controversy and reported each response prominently.

Local broadcast media covered the preservation efforts as well as the evictions.  The Spanish-language stations broadcast the visuals of the evictions repeatedly.  We often had trouble with the media merely repeating what the owner said without giving us a chance to respond.  The Spanish-language stations consistently reported our side of the story.

The images of us demonstrating at the home of then City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to protest the lack of support from the City Attorney’s office under Delgadillo’s leadership also drew attention to our cause.  KCRW featured a debate about our story and KCET featured it in a web documentary.  NPR also took interest and featured the controversy in a report about housing in the United States.  Getting the story out was important to help hold all decision makers accountable and to let people know this was an important issue.  The media committee, headed by Judy Branfman and Clare Sassoon, worked tirelessly to get coverage.

Linda Dishman and the Los Angeles Conservancy were instrumental in the preservation effort.  The Conservancy sponsored a free walking tour of the complex that was designed to educate decision makers and leaders in the community on the rich history and architectural importance of Lincoln Place.  Linda also provided testimony in favor of the nomination and helped me prepare for an important presentation.  She advised me to focus on my own story about Lincoln Place rather than to allow opposition arguments to define the presentation.  It was one of the best presentations I gave on the nomination.

The Conservancy also participated, along with the California Preservation Foundation and the National Association of Minority Architects, and 20th Century Architecture Alliance, in litigation challenging the demolition of some of the buildings on the property.

The case established that the demolition was illegal and stopped future demolitions until certain conditions were met.  This gave us time to firm up the historic nomination in the interim.

I also would like to thank David Busch for his leadership on Tent City.  David is a homeless community activist who led efforts to staff our “symbolic” encampment, where we held around-the-clock vigils to  demonstrate the plight of the homeless and the lack of affordable housing.  David made it safe for us to be there through the night.  Up until about 11:00 p.m., sitting at Tent City was like sitting around a campfire with friends.  But after that, it sometimes got scary.  Too many people roam the streets at night, some just down on their luck and others who appear rather menacing.  David knew the difference; he engaged the former and encouraged the latter to move on, while treating everyone with respect.

One of the people we met there one night had gone to college with Councilman Eric Garcetti and true to his word he appeared at a City Council meeting and spoke on our behalf.  Councilman Garcetti recognized this fellow and it made for a more personal engagement about the lack of affordable housing and the importance of saving Lincoln Place.

Speaking of City Council members, Bill Rosendahl was wonderful.  Councilman Rosendahl and I had our differences over preservation; he saw the fight as people over buildings.  I argued that for no other reason, he should see preservation of the buildings as an effective strategy to support the people by ensuring that quality affordable and workforce housing could not be so easily demolished.    He rose above our conflict and was there for everything we needed.  Without his support and the hard work of his staff, we would not have reached settlement.  He made Lincoln Place his number-one issue.  His staff, especially Mike Bonin, Mark Antonio Grant, Norman Kulla, and Arturo Piña, assisted us in every conceivable way.

Many other Venetians acted as consultants or participated in one or more of the three settlement attempts over the years.  Steve Clare advised us on affordable housing issues.  Linda Lucks helped us with the Mayor’s office and community outreach.  Jataun Valentine assisted with community outreach and spoke at various City Council and community meetings in support of Lincoln Place tenants.  Frank Murphy, William Garner, and Joseph Murphy of Venice Collaborative tutored me on real estate development issues.  Other activists and community leaders helped, including Aris Anagnos, Elinor Aurthur (deceased), Jim Bicker, Marianne Brown, Larry Gross, Dennis Hathaway, DeDe McCrary (deceased), Stan Muhammad, Mindy Taylor- Ross, Sabrina Venskus, and Laddie Williams.  Rick Tuttle, a former controller for the City of Los Angeles, gave us invaluable advice on organizing political support, testified before the City Council, and lobbied for us behind the scenes.  Many hosted or attended house parties and contributed to the LPTA.  All of these and other local leaders argued our case to anyone who might be inclined to oppose our efforts, and through their work, we were able to present a united front.

Negotiations for peace commenced and failed twice.  Only the third time did we reach agreement and close the book on a twenty year controversy.  The settlement negotiations were another adventure in themselves.  But briefly, settlement required the support of the owner of the property, the preservationists, the tenants, the community and various city departments and took years of negotiation assisted by judges, mediators and arbitrators.  The Mayor’s office, the Housing Department, the Department of Water and Power, the City Council, and the City Attorney’s office all played a part in moving the settlement forward.

Along with the preservation efforts and eviction cases that were my focus, there were many lawsuits and grassroots campaigns over the years, causing more than one judge to call it the Lincoln Place saga.  This letter does not attempt to recall the entire saga and does not attempt to recognize all those who contributed to the struggle to save Lincoln Place.  There were companion battles and battles that preceded my involvement, including, for example, the political opposition led by Ruth Galanter, then City Council member, and the legal efforts from lawyers engaged over the years by the tenants including Jan Chatten-Brown, Amy Minteer, Susan Brandt-Hawley, Elena Popp, John Murdock and his team, and Noel Weiss.  And I am sure others have been overlooked.  Also, it is not intended that AIMCO and its representatives are painted as villains.  The company’s executives and its representatives came around to make this a win-win victory.  This is merely my thank you and acknowledgments for the work of our team.