Interview with Peoples Attorney Amanda Seward

By Rex Butters

Beachhead: How long have you live in Venice?

Amanda Seward: Actually, I live in Mar Vista. I think everybody thinks of me as Venice, because I’ve been working on Lincoln Place so much.

Beachhead: How did you get involved with the Lincoln Place situation?

Seward: I live in an historic district in Mar Vista, the Gregory Ain tract. They’re the flat roofed houses that were done right after WW II, and we’re the first post WWII historic district in LA. So, I have an affinity for architecture and especially modern architecture based on the idea that architecture can be used as a social tool to create strong community. I got involved in Lincoln Place because it fits within that, and I did the nomination for Lincoln Place to the California Register of Historic Resources. From that I got to know the tenants, and it seemed to fit within all of that too, because these tenants are such a strong community, and it was such a nice community. So, I got to know them and then got involved with their eviction case as a result.

Beachhead: What is the 20th Century Architectural Alliance?

Seward: It is a group that’s trying to preserve 20th Century architecture within the city of Los Angeles. I’d gotten involved with the Los Angeles Conservancy, but they would compromise too easily on issues because of their political standing with the city, and donors, and that kind of thing. That’s why I started with some people the 20th Century Architectural Alliance, so we could be smaller and quicker to act. We started this independent group that could be a little more nimble and fight a little more diligently and tougher. We’ve done some nominations for historic properties. We have brought a lawsuit against AIMCO and the city involving Lincoln Place. When the city agreed it could be demolished, even though it had been determined to be historic. That’s how I got into another aspect of Lincoln Place.

Beachhead: How does that work exactly, that it’s declared historic and they demolish it anyway?

Seward: It doesn’t work. That’s why it hasn’t been bulldozed. The court did rule that the demolitions that were done of six buildings or so, were illegal. The city had determined that they could make an independent decision that the property was not historic. The court ruled the demolitions were illegal. The only way they’d be able to demolish it now, is if they can prove preservation isn’t feasible, and they’re going to have a hard time of it in this case.

The whole idea behind garden apartments started in England after WW I. The cities were filthy because of the industrial society, black smoke, smog and all that. These ideas came about in trying to rebuild Europe, and the idea of the Garden City movement was, you shouldn’t really have people living on top of each other in city slums. There should be communities of about 20,000-25,000 people and they should live in the best of the country and urban environment. So you build multifamily homes in gardens and then have cultural activities, and stores, and farms and they would grow food. This was supposed to be the optimum conditions for the human spirit to soar.

When it was adapted here in the US, it came mainly after WWII, and adapted to our conditions. Lincoln Place was built on that model and the owner of the property also owned the property where Ralphs is, so they had retail. They got the city to have a park nearby. The Fox Theatre went up as part of this new community, so they’d be within walking distance of commercial retail, parks, schools, all of that. It would have been about 20,000 people in the community.

Lincoln Place is perfect. It’s workforce housing, affordable housing for the masses and it does create a strong community. Compared to a lot of places where you might have low income people only, here you have a mixture of everybody living in harmony. You have multi-races, you have multi-religions, you have multi-generations, seniors, families with children. Everyone’s living together in a strong community and that’s what we want in our cities. I couldn’t stand by without a fight and watch AIMCO change all that because they don’t like rent control.

Beachhead: What women inspired you growing up?

Seward: My mother, of course. I had a great aunt who was very much an inspiration. She worked hard independently of her husband. She invested her money. Both working class. She invested her salary, they lived modestly on his. When she died she had something to leave all of us in the family. That was impressive to me.

Beachhead: How about going into law?

Seward: No, not at all, actually. To me, it was more the civil rights movement that influenced me, and frankly, those leaders were mostly men. Angela Davis was an icon, and I liked the idea she had a Ph.D. in philosophy and read all these philosophers in French. I thought that was so cool. She was someone we all looked up to at the time.

I didn’t plan to be a lawyer, and I didn’t grow up wanting to be a lawyer. I was a philosophy major and I decided I couldn’t do anything with a BA in philosophy. And you go to law school, you go for three years and you learn a lot about everything. And, I was arrested when I was 14 in Venice, actually, at the Fox Theatre. You know how they trump charges on curfew violation and resisting arrest? Resisting arrest one, resisting arrest two.

Basically what happened, I grew up in Santa Monica and hung out in Venice sometimes, and the Fox Theatre was our hang out on Sunday evenings. So, we’d all go to the movies on Sunday, whatever was playing, it was just a hang out. There had been a disturbance in the theatre. The police came, there’d been fighting in the lobby. The Venice Police were notorious for being racist, was what we grew up thinking, and they told everyone they had to stay in their seats. I stayed in my seat for a long time, we all did. But then I got up to buy some popcorn, really to look at what was going on.

I get up there, I buy the popcorn, I’m on my way back to my seat, and a policeman grabs me and says “you have to leave.” I said, “why, I just got some popcorn.” I had a smart mouth. I was on the school paper at SAMO High, so I was kind of interested in what was going on. I pulled away from the policeman, and then everybody’s arguing with him, it got to be a big thing and then the next thing I knew, I was arrested.

They took me down an alley. I remember going down to the Venice police station, and I had heard these horror stories about the Venice police. So I’m a little nervous, but I start telling him, “Look, don’t think I can just disappear down an alleyway. My family cares, they’re active, there’ll be consequences if anything happens to me.” I get to the police station in one piece, but they wouldn’t let me make any phone calls. They put me in a room with someone. Then they had to press charges because they were worried about a lawsuit. They’d put me in a head lock position. Somebody at the theatre called my family, it got to be this big deal. In the middle of the night I was finally let go.

So, from that incident, I learned a lot about the legal system. I went through the juvenile system at the time. We had a family friend representing us. We couldn’t have afforded a lawyer. I realized in this system, I hadn’t done anything wrong and I wanted to be able to defend myself if anything happened to me or my family. That’s really why I went to law school.

Posted: Thu - March 1, 2007 at 03:00 PM