In September 2012, a slate of twelve newcomers took control of the North Hills West Neighborhood Council after running on a platform to defeat a proposed 82,000 sq. ft. Restaurant Depot development in a single-family home residential community. On Thursday, January 24, the long fight resulted in victory, when the City Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the Restaurant Depot proposal.
Robin Tyler, NHWNC Vice-President, has been a community organizer and activist in the LGBT movement for over 30 years. Tyler was a leader of the first LGBT March on Washington in 1979, and she said of the recent Restaurant Depot campaign, “It has been just as exciting!”
Long-time North Hills West land-use activist Peggy Burgess caught wind of the proposed development and held an emergency public meeting in the summer of 2012. One-hundred residents turned out for the meeting, nearly all in opposition to the project. The residents realized that the existing North Hills West Neighborhood Council board was ineffectual, and that they would have to lead the action themselves.
Tyler recalled that there were Republicans and Democrats, Tea Partiers and Progressives in attendance, but that they were able to unite around this common issue. She said to the group, “You may have seen me on TV, taking positions that are opposite you politically, but that was then and this is now. We have to work together.”
A smaller task force met at Peggy Burgess’ house on a Friday night for wine and hors d’oeuvres to strategize over the best way to proceed, and decided to run as a 12-person slate, the “Dynamic Dozen,” and to take over all of the available seats in the upcoming NHWNC election. They walked every street in North Hills West, going door-to-door and distributing flyers, telling people about the Restaurant Depot project and the election. On the day of the election, over 400 people turned out, more than 10 times as many as in the 2010 election, and all 12 candidates on the slate won by significant margin.
Once seated, the North Hills West “Dynamic Dozen” hired a consultant to advise them moving forward, and continued to rally the community in opposition to the project.
The board members urged their neighbors to write Councilman Englander’s office, expressing that opposition. Englander eventually drafted a letter to the City Planning Commission recommending that they reject Restaurant Depot’s zone change, explaining that he had never received so many letters and emails on a zoning issue. The board convinced Alan Bell, Deputy Director of City Planning, to visit their community and see for himself if the site was appropriate for such a large project.
At the December 10 City Planning and Land Use Management Committee meeting, NHWNC turned out 80 residents to speak in opposition to Restaurant Depot. At the crucial January 24 City Planning Commission meeting, 30 residents attended, 16 of whom spoke. For their efforts, they were rewarded with a unanimous vote to reject the zone change and to deny Restaurant Depot’s plans.
Robin Tyler said of the campaign, “It’s been one of the most fantastic experiences of my life. We took North Hills West and made it into a village.” She continued, “I worked with several people that I never thought I would work with politically. Some of them are my political opposites, but I love these people. Now I have a lot of great friends.”
On the subject of Neighborhood Councils, Tyler offered, “We are a sleeping giant waking up. We’re growing to be a very strong presence in Los Angeles. We got 400 people to vote for us that didn’t want the Restaurant Depot development. We walked door-to-door. We know how to walk door-to-door for other elections too.”