L.A. Violates Your Due-Process Rights

How residents unearthed 200,000 words of phony findings City Hall used to illegally approve a skyscraper at Hollywood and Gower —

 

By Jill Stewart published: August 30, 2012 —

 

In May 2011, at a final public hearing over whether to approve the tallest skyscraper in Hollywood history, the Department of Planning unveiled 231 pages of surprise “supplemental findings” backing the developer’s plan.

The 200,000-word, book-length document gave the L.A. City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee an added boldness. Its chairman, City Councilman Ed Reyes, refused to let a member of the public rebut the developer, Hanover Company. Then the committee quickly approved the Hollywood/Gower Project.

Reyes should have let the man speak.

An environmental attorney from the Silverstein Law Firm, Daniel Wright knew the Department of Planning hadn’t written the 231-page “supplemental findings.” Doug Haines, a representative of the firm’s client, the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association of Hollywood, had discovered that the developer wrote the entire tome.

Wright had minutes earlier warned the land-use committee that the key study repeatedly referred to in the “findings” — the parking study claiming that the development would need 30 percent less parking than the city generally requires — wasn’t even included in the 200,000 words and was never seen by the public.

The Hirsch/Green Parking Study, it turned out, was merely an “exhibit” attached to a letter from the developer’s lobbying firm, in a pile of papers submitted at the hearing itself. Later, emails showed that city planners likely never read the study: Just before the hearing, planner Jim Tokunaga couldn’t open the developer’s attachment.

The land-use committee, known as PLUM, approved the skyscraper, along with the developer’s request for reduced parking, in parking-challenged Hollywood.

“We were asking city officials, ‘Where is the parking study that’s being voted on? Where is it?’ ” Wright says. “But no member of the public could see it — until it was posted the next day on the City Council website.”

Later, the City Council rubber-stamped the committee’s approval without allowing public comment — ending a supposedly public process in which the public was prevented from considering and debating the key issues.

The legal wrongdoing by City Hall resulted in an uncommon finding in July by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones: that the City Council and city had violated the “due process” rights of the Hollywood community. (Jones also found that L.A. violated the California Environmental Quality Act.)

“We alleged the city engaged in misconduct, lied to members of the public and suppressed information in an effort to conceal critical material from the public,” explains Robert P. Silverstein, the lead attorney. “So we won on our constitutional challenge — which is extremely rare.”

On Aug. 13, Jones affirmed her initial ruling, rejecting objections filed by the developer and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. She ordered not just a redo of the areas obfuscated by city officials, such as parking shortages, but also an entirely new Environmental Impact Report.

R.J. Comer, attorney for the project’s investors, said they are considering all options. The City Attorney’s office had no comment.

But Wright responds, “They’re so caught with their hands in the cookie jar, we do not see an appeal.”

Silverstein persuaded Jones to enter into evidence disturbing emails showing city officials readying the developer’s “findings” in support of the project as the city’s own.

Environmental attorneys consulted by the L.A. Weekly say they cannot recall such a courtroom slap-down. Although this was a lower court, only a few appellate cases have been reported involving municipalities guilty of violating due process.

Attorney Noel Weiss, who has won suits against L.A., says, “It’s because they are running a kangaroo court. The City Council and its PLUM committee don’t read the planning documents before them, which often aren’t written by the planners they pay. It’s lawless, and nobody has been shutting it down. Judge Jones is stepping on a lot of powerful toes by being so courageous against big L.A. powers. I very much admire her for doing it. ”

Although one Hollywood neighborhood council dominated by business interests backs the high-rise, the other four Hollywood-area neighborhood councils do not. Many residents are angry that it would tower 270 feet over a low-slung historic community. The first three stories were to be parking, topped by 17 stories of condos or high-end rentals — squeezed onto a cramped lot whose zoning restrictions prohibit skyscrapers.

Labor lawyer David Bell, president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, argues that while the City Council granted the developer many “entitlements” — zone changes and billboard ads to help provide a more robust bottom line — the council was simultaneously degrading a protected skyline that has made the Hollywood Hills and its landmark sign among the most recognized sights anywhere.

“This isn’t Tarzana or Century City,” Bell says. “Hollywood is a global cultural asset that belongs to the community and world, being trampled upon for 176 luxury apartments. It isn’t right.”

The most controversial “entitlement” allowed investors to provide far less parking than required. (The developer claims, among possible mitigations, that the well-to-do residents will choose to use buses and subways.) Another “entitlement” lets the developer embed a huge billboard into the building’s side, visible from great distances and, Haines says, taller than the W Hotel nearby.

Maybe the ghost of Hollywood historic preservationist Robert Nudelman, who abhorred City Councilman Eric Garcetti’s dream of skyscrapers and billboards in Hollywood, caught wind of what was unfolding. One day, Haines, who greatly admired Nudelman, noticed in the public record an odd term — “supplemental findings” — mentioned in a letter from the developer’s consultant written to City Hall.

“I called city planner Jae Kim and said, ‘Hey, this isn’t supposed to be a game of hide-and-seek. Where are these supplemental findings?'”

As it emerged at trial, Kim then provided Haines with the “findings,” assuring him three times that City Planning had no intention of submitting the developers’ submission to the council committee.

But Haines was uneasy. He pored over the 200,000 words, and then he and attorney Wright attended the committee hearing. Then they watched, stunned, as Jae Kim himself delivered the findings as the city’s own.

La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association’s legal team showed in court that Kim’s superior, senior planner Jim Tokunaga, exchanged emails with Kim before the hearing, explaining that they would do a quick edit of the developer’s work. The new version was 20 pages shorter, with some sections tweaked.

Key city officials have refused to comment on who (or what) compelled Kim and Tokunaga to proceed. And no city officials involved would comment on why the Hirsch/Green Parking Study was kept secret from the public and added to the city website only after the skyscraper was approved.

City planner Michael LoGrande, Kim’s and Tokunaga’s boss, refused to comment, saying the project still faces litigation. Ken Bernstein, a principal city planner, returned the Weekly‘s call to LoGrande but did not know any details. Kim and Tokunaga did not return calls seeking comment.

Garcetti’s office, which led the cheers for the Hollywood/Gower skyscraper and wants more high-rise towers in Hollywood, said it did not know the Department of Planning had claimed the fat “supplemental findings” from the developer as its own. Julie Wong, a top aide to Garcetti, said she didn’t know if LoGrande had launched an investigation and was surprised to learn that LoGrande was not commenting.

City Attorney’s spokesman Frank Mateljan could not comment as to whether those involved in violating the due process of the Hollywood community will be investigated.

However, former city planning commissioner Mike Woo, who stepped down in mid-July, said an investigation would not be unheard of.

In an email, Woo explained that when a judge finds that L.A. acted illegally, “The City Attorney routinely reports back to the decision-making bodies (in this case, the City Planning Commission and the City Council) about the outcome of the lawsuit and recommends a course of action. In theory, this can include the kind of investigation or reprimand” the Weekly queried Woo about.

Silverstein isn’t holding his breath. If the skyscraper is ever built, he says, “Its big billboard should say, ‘Don’t violate our constitutional rights.’ ”

Reach the writer at jstewart@laweekly.com

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Stand With Hollywood Leaders – You CAN Make a Difference!

Many Community Leaders in Hollywood are fighting the City’s attempt to allow big-time developers to build high and wide on the already grid locked major streets you travel on in Hollywood. Developers, politicians, and lobbyists are salivating while plans are made to destroy the heart of the Hollywood we know and love and replace it with a soulless sea of skyscrapers.

In addition to being home to thousands of residents, Hollywood is the main entertainment destination for people in Los Angeles and for tourists from all over the world. However, this hosting burden of being the Entertainment Capitol of the World is immense and no other community in Southern California is equally challenged, except perhaps for Anaheim with its Disneyland venue.

Hollywood’s infrastructure is crumbling, and we don’t have enough services to support it! We don’t have enough resources to respond to the emergency needs of the current population.

Meanwhile, because of the City’s spending sprees, we have gutted the emergency response fund! Our lives and the lives of our visiting guests from near and far are threatened!

Will you stand by silent and allow this? Or, will you support Hollywood’s community leaders as they launch legal challenges to the life-altering changes that the current Hollywood Community Plan will bring?

Fighting costs money!

Don’t stand by while Hollywood is sold to the highest developer bidders. This is your chance to make a difference.

We need your donations! We need them now! Also, if you are willing and able to donate your time and expertise in this fundraising effort, we welcome that, too! You can either visit our website at savehollywood.org or you can send your tax-deductible donation to:

 

SaveHollywood.org
P.O. Box 3943
Los Angeles, CA 90078

Thank you for your interest and support in this very important cause.

The Team of SaveHollywood.org

Click Here to Download the flyer

W Hotel Condos — Selling a Lie

Struggling to secure buyers for their condominiums, the W Hotel posts the following images depicting the view from their rooftop. Nowhere on their site do they warn prospective buyers that this view is scheduled for obliteration by projects currently under review and the developers waiting for the go-ahead to build.

The W Hotel knows that the beauty of the current Hollywood is what sells. We know that it is what makes living here worthwhile.

SaveHollywood.org is currently suing the City to prevent it from being destroyed. The facts and the law are on our side but we will have to show it in court. Lawsuits are costly. We need your financial support to save the Hollywood we all love. Now is the time to act. Please take a moment to use the “Donate” button or write a check to SaveHollywood.org to make it a success.

Let L.A. Be L.A.

by Joel Kotkin – published 7-30-2012 in City-Journal.org
Unrestrained high-density development doesn’t become the City of Angels.

Victor’s Restaurant, a nondescript coffee shop on a Hollywood side street, seems an odd place to meet for a movement challenging many of Los Angeles’s most powerful, well-heeled forces. Yet amid the uniformed service workers, budding actors, and retirees enjoying coffee and French toast, unlikely revolutionaries plot the next major battle over the city’s future. Driving their rebellion is a proposal from the L.A. planning department that would allow greater density in the heart of Hollywood, a scruffy district that includes swaths of classic California bungalows and charming 1930s-era garden apartments. The proposal—which calls for residential towers of 50 stories or more along Hollywood Boulevard, where no building currently tops 20 stories—has been approved unanimously by the city council and will now probably be challenged in court.

Read Full Article

SaveHollywood.org is currently suing the City to prevent it from being destroyed. The facts and the law are on our side but we will have to show it in court. Lawsuits are costly. We need your financial support to save the Hollywood we all love. Now is the time to act. Please take a moment to use the “Donate” button or write a check to SaveHollywood.org to make it a success.

Hollywood-Gower Tower Demolished In Court

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones on July 23, 2012 ruled that the Los Angeles City Council’s approval of a planned 20-story retail and residential tower at Hollywood Boulevard and Gower Street in Hollywood was illegal.

Jones slammed the Los Angeles City Planning Department and City Council, ruling that the City had violated the public’s constitutional due process rights in a process which “negated . . . meaningful public participation.”

Discussing a pattern of misconduct by City Planning staff, Jones found that “effective public participation was wholly derailed by the process adopted by the City in this case.”

Community group La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association of Hollywood, plaintiff in the lawsuit, also obtained emails between consultants for the project developer, 6104 Hollywood, LLC, and City staff. Jones noted that the contents of those emails were further evidence of “impropriety in the process.”

According to attorney Robert P. Silverstein, who won the lawsuit on behalf of the neighborhood association, the emails revealed back-channel communications between the City and developer’s consultants and collusion to suppress information from public review.

Read full L.A. Times article

La Mirada Ave Neighborhood Assoc of Hollywood v. City of Los Angeles

Lawsuits Challenge Hollywood Community Plan

Three lawsuits from separate groups are seeking a re-evaluation of the environmental impacts of the Hollywood Community Plan Update, which serves as a guide for future growth and development in the community. One filed by SaveHollywood.org on Wednesday contends the plan violates California Environmental Quality Act and the city violated the Brown Act and the Public Records Act. A lawsuit filed by the La Mirada Homeowners Association of Hollywood on Wednesday alleges the plan violates CEQA and does not adequately consider the effects of traffic, air quality and land use. A third lawsuit filed by Fix the City on July 13, also contends the plan violates CEQA.

Read full Patch Article

Here are pdf links to each legal petition:

SaveHollywood.Org

Fix The City

La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association

Who Killed Hollywood?

Help solve the mystery. The date was June 19, last Tuesday in the City Council. What passes for City Council debate on the Hollywood Community Plan began with everyone in the room knowing the vote as usual would be unanimous. It was 3 minutes, 10 seconds into Richard Alarcon’s raising the issue of the City Attorney’s office having suggested environmental protections in the HCP should be stronger. At that moment, the Council camera captures Paul Krekorian getting up out of his seat at the far end of the horseshoe and making a beeline to the dais. “How far behind are we on our community plans?” asked Alarcon. Planning Director Michael LoGrande gave him a long-winded response that never came close to answering the question. There is intense conversation between Krekorian and Assistant City Attorney Dion Connell. A visibly concerned Connell confers with other city officials over a few minutes while another city official whispers in Alarcon’s ear. A lip reader could have fun and maybe learn a lot studying the video of the conversations caught while Alarcon was hesitantly raising a curious question about the City Attorney wanting greater environmental protections. Watch the two realities: The feigned stupidity of city planners that was broadcast and the background mystery.

A Big Lie

Over the behind-the-scenes objections of the honest city planners and with a disregard for the advice of the City Attorney, on June 19th the City Council adopted the corrupt Hollywood Community Plan (HCP).

The HCP is based on two material frauds:

1) Hollywood Must Build for 250,000 ppl in 2030

The Plan insists that in 2005, Hollywood’s population had increase from 210,794 ppl in 2000 to 224,426 ppl. Hollywood’s population was not 224,426 ppl in 2005.  In 2005 Hollywood’s population fell to about 206,000 ppl and by 2010, it had fallen to 198,228 (US 2010 Census). There has been an accelerating exodus from Hollywood starting in 1990, and there are no facts to show that after the decline began, it reversed itself and started to increase only to drop again.

2) The City Studied All Reasonable Alternatives

It did not study the mega-Sizing Alternative of building for 250,000 ppl, the mini-mega-Sizing Alternative of building for 244,000 ppl, the adverse impact of increasing population density beyond 21,000 ppl/sq. mile nor the No Project Alternative. The HCP did not even mention, let alone study, the Down Zoning Alternative which was required due to the fact that Hollywood has been losing population since 1990. In the thousand or so pages of the HCP, the DEIR, the FEIR and the attachments, there is no detailed examination or analysis of anything, only conclusions which support the mega-Sizing desire of Garcetti.

LA City Hall: A Temple to Crimogenics  by Richard Lee Abrams – City Watch 6-26-12

It’s Time for an Alternative Vision!

Here’s the unveiling of the HOLLYWOOD COMMUNITY PLAN UPDATE – ALTERNATIVE VISION submitted by the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council Planning Entitlement Review Committee. This is worth careful consideration as we go forward. What do we really want? What’s a good fit for the Hollywood of today and for years to come? Check it out!

Alternative Vision

 

On to Phase Two

George Abrahams — People for Livable Communities and the three other organized groups fighting the Hollywood Community Plan have understood from the beginning that the fight to get the City to respect State Law and even their own laws is a long-term effort. All of us have been working toward the goal of being able to establish the basis of a winning legal challenge to the proposed Plan. The principal focus is the Administrative Record. The Administrative Record is the legal foundation upon which all discussion before a court of law must be based. The period where facts and expert analysis can be introduced is the time from when the Plan is first presented to the public by the City Planning Department to when the City Council votes on the Plan. It is the only time when interested parties can introduce relevant material. All four groups opposing the Plan have been diligently building our case. In alerting the residents of Los Angeles to our effort and raising public awareness about the many faults in the proposed Hollywood Community Plan, we were making it clear to the City Council that their votes on that Plan will have consequences. In this regard we were successful. The PLUM Committee went into closed session to confer with the City Attorney on a matter where “there is significant exposure to litigation, based on ‘existing facts and circumstances’ and the advice of counsel” and ultimately sent the Plan to the City Council “without recommendation”. This was a major admission by the Committee that there were faults in the Plan and that they would face a significant risk of losing in court. When the Plan went to the full Council, it looked for a time that we would be able to make them see reason and send the Plan back to the City Planning Department for correction of the faulty data, a full recirculation of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and a study of the Downzoning Alternative. In the City Council meeting (June 19th), Councilman Alarcon had his doubts about the Plan and questioned the City Attorney and the Planning representatives about it. The Council chose to ignore the warning from the City Attorney and voted to approve the flawed Plan. This was Phase One. However, this does not mean that the fight for a fair and just Hollywood Community Plan is over.

The City has long had a “so sue us” strategy when facing challenges to their abuse of authority, hoping that the people opposed will acquiesce, give up and go away. But fat chance of that. The facts in the administrative record and the law are on our side. So, we go onto Phase Two — we sue them. The case will likely go through both trial court and appeals court before it is settled. The City has to pay all the attorney fees and court costs when it loses a suit. But, until the final decision of the Court is made, the plaintiffs in a case must be able to fund the suit.

We need your help again. Please help us win the case for a Hollywood Community Plan that will fairly serve the interests of both the residents and the businesses in Hollywood. This will also benefit all the residents in Los Angeles who will be affected by the outcome of the suit and harmed if the current Plan is not stopped. Please use the “Donate” button to save Hollywood from excessive density, over-development, skyscrapers and traffic grid-lock.

LA Weekly:  Hollywood Community Plan Passed by L.A. City Council: Welcome to Skyscraper Hell

Hollywood Patch:  City Council Approves Hollywood Community Plan Update