Modernist tower blocks should be demolished and replaced with streets of terrace houses and low-rise flats that people actually want to live in, an influential Conservative think tank will claim on Thursday. Continue reading
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
If people read the three lawsuits, they will see the falsity of such charges. (see side bar under Learn More and Share)
Setting aside the legalese, the core problem is corruption although that word does not appear in the lawsuits. Los Angeles in general and Hollywood in particular has been subjected to extensive corruption and incompetence over the last decade. The Hollywood Community Plan was another product of such corruption and incompetence.
The basic fraud of the Hollywood Community Plan is to state that Hollywood has been experiencing dramatic growth and we need to build for 250,000 people in 2030. That claim is completely false, but the City made it in order to deceive people into approving extremely lax zoning rules so that developers could build any project while excluding community input. Had the Hollywood Community Plan told the truth that Hollywood has experienced a 20 year decline in population and there is no fact from which to assume that the downward trend will reverse it, then building for 250,000 residents would be a fool’s goal. Building poorly planned projects is a feature of Crony Capitalism nationwide. When one builds with public funds, the losses are socialized while the profits are skimmed from the front end.
When the Hollywood Community Plan was drafted, one must remember that the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) existed and it was siphoning off hundreds of millions of incremental tax dollars each year and then underwriting these projects, none of which pay one cent in incremental property tax dollars. Thus, it did not matter if the projects harmed Hollywood as long as the developers got paid and the City was on the hook for many of the loans.
Using US Census data, Hollywood’s population will be only 190,000 or fewer people by 2030. That is 60,000 less people than the Hollywood Community Plan envisions for 2030. Had Garcetti’s Hollywood Community Plan told the truth about how much the CRA projects had already harmed Hollywood, people would have seen the corruption and incompetence for themselves. Thus, the Plan lied over and over and over again.
The danger of corruption cannot be understood unless one realizes the role that the CRA played. Because the CRA was diverting millions of incremental property tax dollars into its own coffers, the City was perpetually broke. In 2009, 2010, and 2011 the City would pretend that it had no funds and would declare the need to fire people and cut salaries, but all the while it had hundreds of millions of dollars in its CRA bank accounts and the City Council had the power to use these funds to keep the libraries and parks open, to keep the fire department at full force and to up-grade the fire department. (Saying that the LAFD was deficient is not a criticism of the fire fighters. They were and are victims just like us, only more so.)
Rather than taking money away from the developers by using CRA funds to improve the LAFD’s response times, Garcetti as Council President presented bogus emergency response data to the City Council saying that LAFD was doing so great that they could cut the LAFD budget by $200 Million. As the charts show, the LAFD response times have been deteriorating. Falsified response data gave the Council members “deniability” for the harm that would follow. But, we have to ask ourselves what motivation would the LAFD have to falsify statistics in order to reduce their budget? Just who was it that solicited this false data?
As a result of the response data fraud, the CRA gravy train continued, while Angelenos died. Eli Broad got $52 Million for a parking garage next to his art museum, while some father somewhere died of a heart attack because the paramedics could not reach him in time. More children are without grandmothers; others have been seriously burned. The City Council knows that we cannot point to any particular person and prove that he or she died because the paramedics reached the home in 7 minutes rather than 4 minutes. At least, the City Council hopes that we cannot pin it on them. That type of investigation would require a criminal Grand Jury with subpoena power.
We become upset when gang bangers drive by and indiscriminately shoot from car windows killing an innocent child or teenager or mother or father. There is no moral difference between reducing the ability of the emergency responders to reach people than randomly shooting at a crowd of people. The gang banger often does not know whom he killed nor does he care. The same was true for the Garcetti City Council. They did not care who died or was maimed as a result of their reckless and wanton behavior — just as long as they evade responsibility and the developers got their loot.
Unexpectedly, the citizens fought back and abolished the corrupt CRA’s (DoD 2-1-2012) and now more citizens are fighting back again by suing the City over the fraudulent Hollywood Community Plan.
The Hollywood Community Plan wanted to bring 60,000 more residents to Hollywood while degrading fire protection, while hamstringing paramedics, while leaving the LAPD under-sized with antiquated equipment, and while traffic became worse. There was no plan how to handle the extra stress on our water mains or how to provide water for 60,000 more people except to tell Hollywoodians to stop watering their lawns.
The people in the Hollywood Hills and the people in the Hollywood Flats are fighting to make certain some toddler does not die after falling into a swimming pool, so that some 70 year old woman doesn’t needlessly die of a heart attack, and so that scores of people do not lose their homes to fires because there are not enough fire trucks or firemen. It may be dramatic, but it is true. We are fighting for our lives and the lives of our loved ones against the corruption which has turned City Hall into a Temple of Crimogenics.
That is why there are three lawsuits against Garcetti’s Hollywood Community Plan.
City planners, relying on Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) projections that there will be an additional demand for multi-unit housing have proposed upzoning for more density in Hollywood. However, the factual data proves that most people don’t want it.
The American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau found that only 11.8% preferred multi-unit housing while Los Angeles has an existing stock of 39.6%. The 2011 Community Preference Survey commissioned by the National Association of Realtors found that only 8% of the respondents favored a central city environment. There is a wide gap between the utopian vision of the SCAG projections and reality. The Hollywood Community Plan should be based on reality.
If Smart Growth is so Smart, How Come No One Wants to Live There? – by Ed Braddy for CityWatchLA.com 4/5/2012
by Daniel Costa –
Here are my observations of the PLUM meeting that took place yesterday. It was predictably a grotesque display of backstage hand-shaking, shoulder-patting and self-praising by the Council Members with special interest and ties to the developers they’re so intimately in bed with. Business as usual when it comes to the development of Hollywood.
We first heard from the Hollywood Community Plan (HCP) Staff who was generously offered 45 minutes to gloat in a vague language and often-inaccurate statistics about the benefits their project would have on the community. Of course this was reciprocated and echoed repeatedly throughout the entire presentation by the Assembly Members like an impeccable performance by two stage actors (no doubt they’ve had a chance to hone their rehearsal skills in the past).
This was followed by a procession of the habitual interested parties in favor of the plan as well as other leaders who had been coerced into submission in exchange for gifts and special consideration. Much like the fans at a sporting event, the majority of those in favor sat in the front rows while the few against the plan congregated in the back in a stance of solidarity, each side cheering for their own team.
Then came the time for the public to speak, just a handful of us trying to represent the interest of our peers in the community. Mind you, we were given exactly one minute to get our point across, a true testament to the declining power that people possess in our current Democracy. Nevertheless, each of us stoically took turns conveying our objections to a panel we knew had already made up its mind on the outcome of this hearing. Some of us got cut off by an annoying game buzzer as if we were contestants on Jeopardy, while others managed to barely speed through their soliloquy.
But as I looked around the majestic room in City Hall, there was something, someone or rather a sound of crucial importance missing from this meeting… The voice of the residents and constituents who have the most at stake if this proposal is implemented. Why, one may ask out of logical curiosity? And the answer is because 99% (Doesn’t that figure sound familiar these days) of the people who live and work in our community have no clue that their city is about to get ransacked by a bunch of unscrupulous developers who have been given “Carte Blanche” to do as they please. Of course this is intentional by the powers that be for all the obvious reasons. An educated public is not in their best interest and would put a serious damper on their plans to fill their pockets.
Yet either the developers or our city officials are the ones who will have to deal with the aftermath and irreversible consequences this faulty plan will have on our community for years to come. They will not be the ones sitting in massive traffic, circling endlessly to find a place to park, or facing inadequate police and fire response time to name just a few of the perils we will be faced with. Nor will they be forced to watch architectural atrocities and blunders such as the hideous “project” on the corner of Hollywood & Western (Eric Garcetti’s claim to fame) and many others that have been hastily erected around the city. And furthermore, they will not be the ones to see their home and property values depreciating by the cheapening and commercialization of a historical city that deserves to be restored to its former glory and integrity. That’s because I guarantee you that the majority of these officials and their cronies will not be residing anywhere close to Hollywood when the crap hits the fan. But I do envision us cursing their names from the havoc they leave behind.
So please get involved right now before it’s too late. As mentioned in the post above, there is another meeting on April 17, 2012. This is your chance to get your 1-minute of fame. If enough of us overwhelm City Hall, create petitions, inform our neighbors and create a sizable movement, our voice will be heard! I also met with a few attorneys who will take legal action if the plan goes through, but they will need financial and active support from our community.
If like me, you love this neighborhood and would like it to be restored in a responsible and manageable way with the architectural/historical integrity and respect it deeply deserves, so that it may benefit its residents rather than the deep pockets of a few interested parties, I plea that you get involved ASAP!
This is the final lap for the Hollywood Community Plan on its way to the pen in Villaraigosa’s hand. If enough people line up to point out the errors in this plan, it’s possible that it could be pulled back, errors corrected and the environmental impact report recirculated. A new proposed plan should be based on facts. The direction of that plan should call for massive downzoning.
The decision to pull back this plan for reevaluation won’t happen in a vacuum. YOUR attendance at this meeting of the Planning and Land Use committee (March 27, 2:30 pm, City Hall room 350) could change the direction of this Hollywood Community Plan. Better still, your attendance AND your testimony could make front page news! And that’s what is necessary. Please mark the date on your calendar and bring as many of your neighbors as you can squeeze into your car. Call that morning or the night before for free parking (213-485-3337). Or take public transit. Pack an entire car of Red Line! Here’s more details:
Invitation from the Planning Department:
We have just been informed that the Hollywood Community Plan has been scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, March 27 at 2:30 PM in Room 350, City Hall, 200 North Spring Street before the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee of the City Council. The agenda will be finalized by the City Clerk 72 hours before the Public Hearing and made available on the City’s website: http://www.lacity.org/YourGovernment/CityCouncil/CouncilCalendar/index.htm.