It seemed like a good idea on paper: affordable housing for 300 Jewish senior citizens in the heart of Santa Monica.
But the surrounding businesses didn't see it that way, and what resulted was a decade-long odyssey -- which included city and state intervention and a business-action lawsuit -- against Menorah Housing Foundation to open its newest facility. But Menorah finally succeeded.
The 62-unit Fourth Street Senior Housing facility finally opened on Feb. 19 -- nearly 10 years after the process started -- with a ceremony that included guest speakers U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Santa Monica Mayor Michael Feinstein. Three hundred seniors have been moved in, with 500 more on the waiting list.
Menorah, the housing arm of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, originally moved forward with the Santa Monica location in 1993. The City of Santa Monica authorized the sale of air rights, which would allow Menorah Housing to develop its Santa Monica facility on top of an underground garage structure, according to Menorah Housing President Anne Friedrich and Ted Senet, CEO /board chairman. The decision proved controversial with neighboring merchants.
"They were concerned about the loss of spaces," Friedrich said, referring to the 165 public parking spots that would have to be gutted. Several retail businesses banded together and filed a lawsuit to block the motion.
In 1998, the City of Santa Monica entered into an agreement that allowed Menorah Housing to create 293 parking spaces -- a 128 space increase. By 2000, Menorah Housing received the blessing of Santa Monica's Planning Commission and the State of California's Coastal Commission to move forward.
Among the Menorah Housing board members sits Sandy King, who has a long record of social work as the former head of Jewish Family Service. King thinks Santa Monica is "an ideal location."
"A wonderful community to have low-cost housing in a manner that allows them to live with dignity," she said of the 12th Menorah Housing Foundation facility built since the organization started in 1969.
"As a congressman, we do have successes," Waxman said at the opening. "We do have people who care and we can look at this accomplishment and celebrate it all."
Also on hand amid the balloons and beverage reception was Joe Hirsch, a former director of development at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Hirsch had helped Menorah Housing attain a fund reservation -- a $7 million capital grant -- before retiring in 1994. He served as a consultant for Menorah even after leaving HUD.
"It gives me a great deal of pleasure to see this building finally built," Hirsch told The Journal.
Fourth Street's opening was not only a day of celebration for Menorah Housing and the elderly it serves, but a day of victory. Menorah Housing Foundation has just opened a building in Sherman Oaks and an Echo Park location is under construction, expected to open in June 2002.
Hopefully, that journey to completion will not be as rocky.