After a lengthy and often contentious public meeting of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council, leading up to a vote on the amendment to the controversial Il Villaggio Toscana project, the board ultimately tied 5-5 when two members abstained, meaning the amendment will not pass.
, tabled from a June 11 SONC board meeting, to amend the approval of the project, but with a reduction of space: cutting off the seventh and eighth floors, reducing the project by 101 units, and holding the height to 75 feet.
President Jill Banks Barad, before casting her own vote in favor of the amendment, asked those in abstention to reconsider and cast a vote.
"That is what you were elected for," Barad said.
But treasurer Howard Katchen, grabbing the microphone to explain his decision, said any vote would be a “conflict of interest.”
“It’s only a conflict of interest,” said Barad, “if you have a financial investment in this yourself, if you’re gonna make money from this. Otherwise, it is not a conflict.”
The abstentions seemed to irk many in the crowd, as the meeting lasted nearly three hours. Some 60 members of the public made one-minute comments, and after a lengthy discussions among board members, the vote came and failed to pass or reject the amendment.
Mark Lewis, a 25-year resident of Sherman Oaks, walked out of the meeting, as did others, yelling at the board members in abstention to “do your job.”
“They have an obligation to take a position on something this important,” Lewis said after the meeting. “To sit there and abstain and waste everybody’s time, and go back to zero, is completely inappropriate.”
The Il Villaggio Toscano project, at 4827 Sepulveda Blvd., is a proposed residential development with 399 dwelling units, 52,000 square feet of retail, a 13,000 square foot plaza and 1206 parking spaces.
Public comments fell fairly evenly on both sides of the issue. Many in attendance felt the density of the development is too great for the neighborhood, and will result in terrible traffic congestion. Others described it as a “beautiful development” which will “benefit greatly this community."
"Unrestricted growth doesn’t lead to a better community environment,” said Marshall Long of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. “SOHA supports the reduction of this project.”
After more than an hour of public comments, the board then went through a long and somewhat convoluted discussion about the implications of their vote. To check on legal details, Barad halted the meeting, asking for a short recess, and did some research.
After the recess, the board voted.
Prior to public comments, both Barad and Ron Ziff, Chairman of the Land Use committee, spoke about how heated the issue had become.
“There were many personal attacks on me,” said Ziff, “which were unwarranted. I am not a punching bag for SOHA.”
He said charges that he had altered documents were patently false.
“My good name means a lot to me,” he said. “I deserve a big apology.”
Barad also said she was displeased by the level of rancor directed at board members, and urged the public to stay involved but to remain civil.
“There have been allegations that we have not been fair," Barad said. "That is untrue. All through this process our main goal has been to do this with fairness to the public and to the applicant. We have done everything by the book.”