DOWNEY — The City Council Oct. 22 spent about an hour listening to about 20 people speak about plans for a restaurant and office project at the historic Rives Mansion, 10921 Paramount Blvd., then voted 2-1 to approve the project.
But the vote meant nothing. City Attorney Yvonne A. Garcia said three yes votes were needed for an official action, allowing the Sept. 4 approval by the Planning Commission to stand.
Mayor Pro Tem Blanca Pacheco and Councilwoman Claudia M. Frometa voted for the project, saying that while it is not perfect, it is the best way to preserve the site.
“The city is in no shape to buy the site and remodel it,” Frometa said.
Mayor Rick Rodriguez was absent because of medical issues and Councilman Alex Saab recused himself as his law office is near the site.
Voting for the plan last month were Vice Chair Miguel Duarte and Commissioners Jimmy Spathopoulos and Nolvaris Frometa, husband of the councilwoman. Dissenting were Planning Commission Chair Steve Dominguez and Commissioner Patrick Owens.
Garcia said Councilwoman Frometa could vote on the issue even through her husband was on the Planning Commission as they would receive no direct benefit from the plan.
The specific plan, which began by owners Art and Ericka De La Teja in 2017, would allow offices inside the three-story, 485,000-square-foot structure, a water tower and a carriage house used for drying walnuts and construction of a 1,200-square-foot one-story restaurant on the site, said Aldo Schindler, Downey’s director of community development.
Councilman Sean Ashton called for a review, saying “I could never be happy with the [juice] bar in front of the building. He said the structure would detract from the view of the historic house, built in 1912 by attorney James Rives.
Many agreed with Ashton, saying the restaurant/juice bar was not needed and would detract from the historical site.
“Why all this fuss over an empty house,” asked Adrian Alvarez. He suggested the house be divided into apartments for low-income resident under city control.
“The house should serve the people,” he said.
City Planner Crystal Landavazo, questioned by Ashton, said there was no room in back or on the sides of the house for the restaurant and it would be too close to neighbors. Answering a question from Pacheco, the planner said placing the eatery inside would destroy the building’s historical aspects.
Many residents supported the restaurant in front, saying the owners needed to get something back from their $3.5 million investment to upgrade the site, which has deteriorated and been an eyesore for years, neighbors said.
Ericka De La Teja said the restaurant would be a resson for people to get out of their cars and explore the site. Tours will be offered.
“It’s been a struggle,” said her husband. “It’s taken us two years, we spent millions of dollars and have agreed to follow  conditions. I have to close the gate and turn off the lights at 9 p.m. The offices must be for administrative use, not commercial.”
Asked to comment afterwards, Ericka said “we still have a long way to go.”
James Rives was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and came to Los Angeles as a young child with his family in the late 1860s via oxcart. He dropped out of school at age 14 to help support his family following the death of his father, a pioneer doctor in Los Angeles.
He serviced as a Superior Court judge and lived in the house until his death in 1923. His wife, Mary Lee, continued to live there until she died in 1946, a city report states.
Schindler supported the project, saying it would improve the appearance of the site and fit in with the surrounding area, a mix of residential on three sides and commercial to the east.
By Arnold Adler