Los Angeles Register
Aug 31 2014

Encino Armenian center gets $1-a-year lease amid controversy


A decrepit former Encino fire station that in recent years has
attracted transients, drug users and copper thieves is set to become
an Armenian community center on a property that some neighbors say Los
Angeles is giving away for peanuts amid the city's fiscal crunch.

The Glendale-based Armenian Cultural Foundation will rent the building
from the city for 30 years at $1 per year, under the terms of a
proposed lease that the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved
Tuesday. The agreement also stipulates the nonprofit organization must
open a community center at the site within two years and invest an
estimated $1.2 to $1.5 million to clean and improve the property.

The decision comes 16 months after Councilman Paul Koretz and
then-Councilman Eric Garcetti first proposed leasing the old fire
station No. 83 at 5001 N. Balboa Blvd. to the nonprofit. But the
process dragged on after their proposal was met with opposition from
several Encino neighborhood groups.

At Encino Charter Elementary School - where parking is so scarce that
parents say teachers have to leave class throughout the day to feed
street meters - the PTA tried repeatedly to convince the Los Angeles
Unified School District to acquire the land to build a parking lot and
multipurpose room, but the district balked at the idea.

The Encino and Lake Balboa neighborhood councils both submitted
community impact statements to the City Council saying they disagreed
with the terms of the lease and the process the city undertook to rent
the land. Other neighbors took issue that Los Angeles was opting to
lease property with an estimated 30-year rental value of $6.6 million
for almost nothing while the city projects it will face a $165 million
budget deficit in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

But Councilman Paul Koretz views the lease as a boon for Encino while
simultaneously relieving the city of a long-held liability, said Paul
Neuman, Koretz's director of communications.

In 2006, a new fire station opened across the street from the old one,
leaving the 65-year-old building to sit deserted. When the city
offered the surplus property to other governmental departments and
agencies, none wanted it. At one point during the eight-year vacancy,
the city said it paid $18,000 in safety repairs after thieves removed
asbestos insulation while scouring for valuable materials to steal.

And while the city likely could have sold the site to developers with
plans to build apartments or condos, Neuman said Koretz preferred to
find a tenant who would benefit the community.

"We in the city find value in doing these nonprofit leases and do them
all over the city," Neuman said. "As was the case with the (2009)
proposed sale of municipally-owned garages, the councilmember is
concerned that we not squander long-term benefit and permanent value
by disposing of city assets for short-term, one time gain."

Los Angeles has routinely leased surplus property to nonprofits and
other community organizations at a rate of $1 per year, and a simple
City Clerk search revealed hundreds of similar motions dating back 30

An Aug. 7 city report estimated the new community center would provide
at least $16.9 million in economic community benefits over three
decades, though the report did not indicate how that figure was

Encino chapter member Shant Hagopian said that in addition to Armenian
dance, Boy Scouts and sporting groups, the new center would boast
youth tutoring, senior programming, community seminars and meeting
space for the entire neighborhood.

"It will be a community center for all of Encino," Hagopian said.
"There is a large Armenian community in Encino to begin with, but
there are opportunities for everyone to participate."

The Armenian Cultural Foundation must begin construction on the center
within nine months of when the lease is signed.