Last remnants of LAX neighborhood to be taken by eminent domain

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A countdown is underway for the remaining tenants and homeowners in the Manchester Square neighborhood near Los Angeles International Airport where expansion plans may soon force out even those who don't want to leave.

City officials have been steadily clearing out the neighborhood for the last two decades, having decided that it was incompatible existing next to one of the country's busiest airports. 

Last month, down to 37 residential properties, airport leaders voted to take the remainder by eminent domain, the process that allows the government to forcibly acquire private property for public use. The City Council is expected to give final approval in a vote next month.

The coming years will see the construction of a new rental car center, airport parking and public transportation hub in what residents described as a once-vibrant neighborhood.

Over 20 years, the city of Los Angeles bought and razed Manchester Square homes, creating a patchwork of empty lots.
Over 20 years, the city of Los Angeles bought and razed Manchester Square homes, creating a patchwork of empty lots. Josie Huang/KPCC

Local tenant Bebe Khan is among those trying to stay as long as possible. An airplane roars over her head as a bus shuttle makes a loud turn out of the Hertz rental facility across from her apartment building. None of it bothers the hotel worker.

"I love noise," Khan said. "If it's too quiet, I’m not used to it." 

Still for Khan, it appears the neighborhood she's called home for 18 years is in its closing chapter. Empty lots where homes once stood are fenced off, occupied by roving crows. Abandoned apartment buildings sit neglected, with broken windows and piles of household items like mattresses and a baby chair scattered below.

 Dozens of tents, recreational vehicles and campers line quiet streets. 

Recreational vehicles and tents line the empty lots of Manchester Square.
Recreational vehicles and tents line the empty lots of Manchester Square. Josie Huang/KPCC

"Our neighbors, like friends, all moved out," Khan said. "It was like high-end here, and now it’s no good anymore."

The neighborhood has been on the decline since 1999, when the airport started offering voluntary buyouts to homeowners rather than pursue the path of soundproofing homes. The process had been slow, but then in Dec. 2016, a representative controlling 35 properties sold them all at once to the city, said Debbie Bowers, a project manager for the airport.

In June, the board of Los Angeles World Airports voted to pursue eminent domain.

"We started trying to close this out after we got the 35 properties," Bowers said.  

Bowers said since the June vote, owners of 26 of the remaining 37 properties have decided to sell, and tenants will receive relocation assistance. 

Vandals have hit abandoned apartment buildings littered with the belongings of past inhabitants.
Vandals have hit abandoned apartment buildings littered with the belongings of past inhabitants. Josie Huang/KPCC

That leaves 11 properties whose owners are holding out. Attorney John S. Peterson represents some of the owners, and said his clients will sell if they receive proper compensation.

"They're actually willing to allow the show to 'get on the road,' so to speak, but they want to be dealt with fairly," Peterson said.  

He said appraisals need to consider the value of the properties, if not for the noise and dust brought on by neighboring LAX.

One holdout is 91-year-old Mike Parris, who said he does not have a lawyer yet. The former real estate agent owns a five-unit apartment complex, and lives in one of them.

Mike Parris, 91, said he does not want to sell his Manchester Square home because of the memories he's accumulated there over the last 60 years.
Mike Parris, 91, said he does not want to sell his Manchester Square home because of the memories he's accumulated there over the last 60 years. Josie Huang/KPCC

He said appraisals of his property in the past have been "too low." But he said it’s not about the money. He said this is where he raised a family with his late wife. Since she died, his tenants have become his support network, checking in on him and helping out around the property.

"At least I know the people around here," Parris said. "I know the area. I spent all my life here – 60 years. That’s two-thirds of my life, right?"

He has two grown sons but said he does not want to trouble them and their families if he is forced to move. But he'll have to figure out what to do soon. Once the City Council approves the use of eminent domain, Parris could agree to a sale with the city in the coming months, or take his case to trial.

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