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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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.

PLUM Gets an Education – People’s Voices Silenced

by Fran Reichenbach — In the meeting yesterday of the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM), it appeared that PLUM was not prepared to actually see what the Hollywood Community Plan Update will mean for Hollywood. At the end of a mere 15 minutes of public comment in yesterday’s hearing on this matter, a poster illustrating the height of one of two Millennium Project towers was presented. (See graphic) After the speaker sat down, the committee asked to see that poster close up. They then proceeded to ask Kevin Keller (Planning Department) about what can and can’t be built on Vine now and in the future (if the Hollywood Community Plan is approved). They wanted to know how high a structure could be in the “Hollywood Core” and what the process for approval of such developments is and will be. The three councilmembers on the PLUM committee expressed some surprise at the responses that Kevin gave. Kevin confirmed that indeed a building that tall is planned to sit next to Capitol Records as part of the Millennium Project. He added that certain hearings would have to be conducted.

One could guess that this committee has been depending on the testimony of the Planning Department (Kevin Keller and Mary Richardson) for valuable details rather than dissecting the Hollywood Community Plan Update themselves. That may change as a result of this one revelation.

As refreshing as it was to finally have the truth laid out and understood by this committee, the people were not satisfied. And who could blame them? This hearing had a great number of people opposing the plan sitting in their seats patiently waiting for their turn to speak. The good news is that this plan will be back before PLUM in two weeks. Councilmember Reyes did allude to the possibility of taking public comment if need be at that time. Why not contact him at councilmember.reyes@lacity.org. Ask him to set aside a full hour or more for public comment when the Hollywood Community Plan (file 12-0303) comes before his PLUM committee in two weeks. In the interest of empowerment and the recognition of the importance of this issue, no voice should be silenced!

 

The End of the Single-Family-Home

The following article will help explain the extreme folly of the Hollywood Community Plan. This HCP promotes the same type of cramped, vertical housing that people understandably reject.

Don’t Bet Against The (Single-Family) House

by Joel Kotkin, February 29, 2012

Nothing more characterizes the current conventional wisdom than the demise of the single-family house. From pundits like Richard Florida to Wall Street investors, the thinking is that the future of America will be characterized increasingly by renters huddling together in small apartments, living the lifestyle of the hip and cool — just like they do in New York, San Francisco and other enlightened places.

Many advising the housing industry now envisage a “radically different and high-rise” future, even though the volume of new multi-unit construction permits remains less than half the level of 2006. Yet with new permits at historically low levels as well for single-family houses, real estate investors, like the lemmings they so often resemble, are traipsing into the multi-family market with sometimes reckless abandon.

Today the argument about the future of housing reminds me of the immortal line from Groucho Marx:Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes? Start with the strong preference of the vast majority of Americans to live in detached houses rather than crowd into apartments. “Many things — government policies, tax structures, financing methods, home-ownership patterns, and availability of land — account for how people choose to live, but the most important factor is culture,” notes urban historian Witold Rybczynski.

Homeownership and the single-family house, Rybczynski notes, rests on many fairly mundane things — desire for privacy, need to accommodate children and increasingly the needs of aging parents and underemployed adult children. Such considerations rarely enter the consciousness of urban planning professors, “smart growth” advocates and architectural aesthetes swooning over a high-density rental future.

Just look at the numbers. Over the last decade— even as urban density has been embraced breathlessly by a largely uncritical media — close to 80% of all new households, according to the American Community Survey, chose to settle in single-family houses.

Now, of course, we are told, it’s different. Yet over the past decade, vacancy rates rose the most in multi-unit housing, with an increase of 61%, rising from 10.7% in 2000 to 17.1% in 2010. The vacancy rate in detached housing also rose but at a slower rate, from 7.3% in 2000 to 10.7% in 2010, an increase of 48%. Attached housing – such as townhouses – posted the slightest increase in vacancies, from 8.4% in 2000 to 11.0% in 2010, an increase of 32%.

The attractiveness of rental apartments may soon be peaking just in time for late investors to take a nice haircut. Rising rents, a byproduct of speculative buying of apartments, already are making mortgage payments a more affordable option in such key markets as Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Urbanist pundits often insist the rush to rental apartments will be sustained by demographic trends. One tired cliché suggest that empty nesters are chafing to leave their suburban homes to move into urban apartments. Yet, notes longtime senior housing consultant Joe Verdoon, both market analysis and the Census tells us the opposite: most older folks are either staying put, or, if they relocate, are moving further out from the urban core.

The two other major drivers of demographic change — the millennial generation and immigrants — also seem to prefer suburban, single-family houses. Immigrants have been heading to the suburbs for a generation, so much so that the most diverse neighborhoods in the country now tend to be not in the urban core but the periphery. This is particularly true in Sunbelt cities, where immigrant enclaves tend to be in suburban areas away from the core.

Millennials, the generation born between 1983 and 2003, are often described by urban boosters as unwilling to live in their parent’s suburban “McMansions.” Yet according to a survey by Frank Magid and Associates, a large plurality define their “ideal place to live” when they get older to be in the suburbs, even more than their boomer parents.

Ninety-five million millennials will be entering the housing market in the next decade, and they will do much to shape the contours of the future housing market. Right now many millennials lack the wherewithal to either buy a house or pay the rent. But that doesn’t mean they will be anxious to stay tenants in small places as they gain some income, marry, start a family and simply begin to yearn for a somewhat more private, less harried life.

In the meantime, many across the demographic spectrum are moving not away from but back to the house. One driver here is the shifting nature of households, which, for the first time in a century are actually getting larger. This is reflected in part by the growth of multi-generational households.

This is widely believed to be a temporary blip caused by the recession, which clearly is contributing to the trend. But the move toward multigenerational housing has been going on for almost three decades. After having fallen from 24 percent in 1940 to barely 12 percent in 1980, the percentage topped over 16 percent before the 2008 recession took hold. In 2009, according to Pew Research Center, a record 51.4 million Americans live in this kind of household.

Instead of fading into irrelevance, the single-family house seems to be accommodating more people than before. It is becoming, if you will, the modern equivalent of the farm homestead for the extended family, particularly in expensive markets such as California. This may be one of the reasons why suburbs — where more than half of owner-occupied homes are locatedactually increased their share of growth in almost all American metropolitan areas through the last decade.

Some companies, such as Pulte Homes and Lennar, are betting that the multi-generational home — not the rental apartment — may well be the next big thing in housing. These firms report that demand for this kind of product is particularly strong among immigrants and their children.

Lennar has already developed models — complete with separate entrances and kitchens for kids or grandparents — in Phoenix, Bakersfield, the Inland Empire area east of Los Angeles and San Diego, and is planning to extend the concept to other markets. “This kind of housing solves a lot of problems,” suggests Jeff Roos, Lennar’s regional president for the western U.S. “People are looking at ways to pool their resources, provide independent living for seniors and keeping the family together.”

But much of the growth for multigenerational homes will come from an already aging base of over 130 million existing homes. An increasing number of these appear to being expanded to accommodate additional family members as well as home offices. Home improvement companies like Lowe’s and Home Depot already report a surge of sales servicing this market.

A top Home Depot manager in California traced the rising sales in part to the decision of people to invest their money in an asset that at least they and their family members can live in. “We are having a great year ,” said the executive, who didn’t have permission to speak for attribution. “ I think people have decided that they cannot move so let’s fix up what we have.”

These trends suggest that the widely predicted demise of the American single family home may be widely overstated. Instead, particularly as the economy improves, we may be witnessing its resurgence, albeit in a somewhat different form. Rather than listen to the pundits, perhaps it would be better to follow what’s before your eyes. Don’t give up the house.

Click the following link for the original article with live reference links:  JoelKotkin.com

 


Unsafe Skyscrapers for Hollywood

Did you know that the Hollywood Community Plan proposes amendments to the Fire/Building Code (public safety) to allow High-Rise Buildings with NO Emergency Helicopter Landing Facilities?

“If this provision in the Hollywood Community Plan survives,” Los Angeles Planning Commissioner Michael K. Woo said in an email last Friday, “then that will be very significant.”

“The City Planning Commission action on the Hollywood Community Plan included an amendment which would encourage a more spectacular skyline in Hollywood,” Woo said, “by allowing mid-rise and high-rise building to have more visually striking, three-dimensional building tops such as the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building in New York, the Transamerica pyramid in San Francisco, or City Hall” – constructed in 1928, nearly a half-century prior to the 1974 Code update – in Los Angeles.”

There’s only one problem: If you are trapped on an upper floor in a life-threatening fire you will have no escape!

For the full article, go to:

Laws That Shaped L.A.: Why is the Los Angeles Skyline So Bland?

 

The Hollywood Community Plan Update – a Fiasco in the Making

By Dick Platkin –

Published in CityWatchLA.com –

THE CITY – The Update of the Hollywood Community Plan is not only opposed by every neighborhood council and resident group in Hollywood, but also by city planning professionals like myself.  I was part of the team of Los Angeles city planners who prepared the General Plan Framework in the mid-1990’s, the adopted citywide plan which public officials, like Mayor Villaraigosa and Councilmembers Garcetti and LaBonge, claim the Update implements. (Link)
In fact, the Update totally conflicts with LA’s General Plan.  It is nothing more than the city planning version of the fantasy film, Field of Dreams, in which an Iowa farmer built a baseball diamond that magically materialized high caliber baseball teams and games.

The politicians promoting this “plan” believe that a slew of mega-projects in Hollywood will propel economic growth.  Nothing could be further from the truth, which is why the General Plan Framework is strongly opposed to such real estate bubbles.

First, Hollywood’s public infrastructure and services cannot support super-sized projects, a barrier clearly documented in the Update’s Final Environment Impact Report.

Second, there is no evidence that the upscale tenants, shoppers, and residents required to make these mega-projects succeed will ever materialize.  LA is no longer a boomtown, but an old, deteriorating city, mired in poverty, inequality, and decay.  Instead, like the Hollywood and Highland shopping center, the new skyscrapers encouraged by the Update will languish until their developers are forced to beg for public handouts to avoid bankruptcy.

If City Hall really wants to revitalize Hollywood and the rest of Los Angeles, it must provide amenities, not green light financial speculation.  This city desperately needs code enforcement, bans on supergraphics and billboards, undergrounded utility wires, good schools, extensive transit and bike lanes, more parks and community centers, repaired streets and sidewalks, and an urban forest.

This ought to be the clear local lesson from the Wall Street financial crisis that began in 2008 and has yet to be resolved.

(Richard Platkin is a veteran planning professional and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at rhplatkin@yahoo.com) -cw

Richard (Dick) H. Platkin, AICP

 

Hollywood Community Plan Fiasco

Written by James O’SullivanTuesday, 24 January 2012 22:16

As the Hollywood Plan Update inches through the planning approval process it should give people all over Los Angeles a preview of what is planned for their neighborhoods, and it ain’t good! Tired of complaints from residents over quality of life issues and having their dream of Manhattan in Los Angeles stymied by people that don’t want to live in Manhattan the Mayor and City Council are going for the planning Kill Shot. Having chipped around the edges with large and small tweaks of the Municipal Code they are rolling the dice on a plan so outrageously flawed that if it is allowed to stand will ruin every neighborhood from San Pedro to Sylmar and all points in between.It is one thing to dream big as long as that dream includes all the elements necessary to promote a quality of life we require and deserve. It is not alright to drop 50 story buildings right up against the Hollywood Hills and not mitigate the environmental impacts the increase density will bring. It is not alright to claim that 5 subway stations make a transportation system that can tolerate up to 50,000 additional residents. It is not alright to admit that this plan will increase Green House Gasses but by building in Hollywood it will preclude others from building elsewhere in the region. It is not alright to claim that the City will provide more police and fire service if necessary when the City is beyond broke and is losing first responders not gaining them. Already on Halloween a Paramedic Ambulance from Rancho Park was positioned in Hollywood for several days leaving the area around Century City without a Paramedic ambulance. Hollywood will only be able to provide adequate police and fire resources by cannibalizing resources from other area’s. Yours will be next.

This Community Plan Update uses flawed data and timelines and provides no funding for mitigations the California Environmental Quality Act requires. If you are wondering how this affects you since you don’t live in Hollywood, your area is probably next for an update. If this plan is unchallenged in the courts and is adopted then when they come to your area you will be up the creek without the proverbial paddle. You probably won’t be legally time barred from filing a lawsuit but for all practical purposes the precedent will have been set.

One group is organizing to file a suit once the Council adopts this plan and the Mayor signs it and others are also seeking council to mount a challenge. None are against development, what they are against is an unresponsive government that thinks it knows best, that would put their way of life and lives at risk.

Stay tuned, they will not go quietly into the night.

Published in FixLosAngeles.com