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Bill Johnson: Neighbors unite in hopes of saving home city wants for parking lot

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David and Barbara Newell are leading neighborhood efforts to prevent the city from buying 205 La Verne to demolish it in favor of an eight-spot parking lot. ANIBAL ORTIZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

To truly understand the sheer lunacy of the city’s proposal, you have to walk yourself to La Verne Avenue in Belmont Shore and actually look at the little house just off the Second Street alley there.

It is a quaint – and quite beautiful to my eye – 1920s-era Spanish colonial of the type folks in this upscale Long Beach neighborhood would, without blinking, spend big bucks to own. Yet that is hardly the issue.

No, what the city of Long Beach is rushing headlong toward doing is spending what some residents say is close to $800,000 to tear down this perfectly fine, remodeled home and replace it with – at best – an eight-space parking lot.

I kid you not.

It is a classic, only-in-L.A. kind of tale in which a city and its people, so wedded to their neighborhood, the automobile and turning a buck, go hammer and tongs over knocking down a house to make way for a ridiculously small handful of cars.

When you go there, the first thing you have to do is find a parking spot in the car-choked and densely packed 14-block area of Belmont Shore. Trust me, it may be easier to find a pot of gold there than a spot at any curb to legally park your car.

The area in question is just off Second Street, the main drag, which is filled with trendy shops, nightspots, bars and restaurants that daily attract locals and the countless hordes from the surrounding area. To get there, they all bring cars.

On a recent afternoon, I was truly blessed upon turning onto La Verne Avenue. Amid the sea of cars parked as far in front of me as I could see, there was a spot.

It just happened to be directly in front of 205 La Verne, the targeted house. It was as if the place had invited me.

I spied identical signs stuck in the windows or on the lawns of virtually every neighboring house: “Save Our Homes,” they read.

Next door to the targeted property, Gail and Alan Mutke’s home was plastered with signs they had made: “Don’t Pave Paradise to Put Up A Parking Lot,” one read.

“The City Wants to Convert This House to An 8-space Parking Lot,” read another sign that bore a big arrow pointing to 205 and a petition they had hung on a tree in the front yard. Passers-by had nearly filled the petition.

I had come to meet with Barbara and David Newell, organizers of the Save Our Shore Homes group that sprung up in February to protest and monitor the city’s plan to demolish their neighbor’s house.

The Newells have lived directly across from it for 11 years now. They sat me down, and we chatted at the patio table and chairs they keep in their tiny front yard.

Theirs’ is a long and somewhat complicated story, one they have become extremely vocal about. Over the past few months, they have hunted down every one of the nine City Council members and brought all but one to their street.

Is there a City Council, Planning Commission or parking commission meeting somewhere? The Newells rally dozens of residents to go and speak during the public comment period of the meetings whether 205 La Verne is on the agenda or not.

The dispute goes back, David Newell says, to November when the house’s owner died of a heart attack. He left no living trust. The house ended up in probate.

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