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Voters Sent a Message Downtown … Is Anybody Listening?

PLANNING POLITICS: On May 21st, the voters of LA (or at least those truly committed enough to the future and welfare of the City to vote), sent a message to Downtown:

 business as usual, with cowtowing to insider/lobbyist efforts at the expense of the citizenry of LA, must end.  That includes the Planning process of political mandates to enrich a few wealthy developer/donors and ram through projects that would NEVER be approved in neighboring cities. 

As with the June 4th PLUM Committee meeting for the monstrously-oversized and community-opposed Hollywood Millennium Project, the City Council will vote on the equally-oversized and community-opposed Casden Sepulveda project.   

Despite the paid-testimonial guns we saw (and will likely again see) at the CPC, PLUM Committee and City Council meetings, those of us true Expo Line advocates (who fought like hell for over a decade for the Expo Line, the Wilshire Subway, Downtown Connector and Rail to LAX, and then Measure R to fund them) are aghast at how the devil the Casden Sepulveda developers could blow us and our suggestions off, and then get accommodated by a Mayor who is coming across as pro-wealthy lobbyist rather than pro-transportation. 

It should be obvious that a regional approach is necessary for development around Expo Line Stations, South LA, East LA and the Mid-City--yet not all of these regions are not receiving development like the Westside is.  Because Planning is continually granting variances to projects in West LA and Hollywood, other less wealthy districts don't receive projects like this, and remain blighted. 

There is no reason why developments and jobs can't be distributed along the Blue Line, Mid-City, East LA and the rest of the City, instead of stuffing them all on the Westside, which has too much traffic already--to the point where police/fire/emergency vehicle access is being threatened, and lawsuits are inevitable. 

Not NIMBY lawsuits, mind you, but lawsuits by environmentalists and Expo Line advocates who want proper Transit Oriented Development and mass transit.  Lawsuits by individuals more interested in good developments (even those requiring variances and zoning changes) than in ensuring Alan Casden a payback for his bidding war with Target (to the tune of $40 million) to acquire the Exposition/Sepulveda/Pico land parcel. 

And for those screaming for "jobs, jobs, jobs"?  New construction is NOT economic development, so be wary of trade union and chamber of commerce arguments to make short-term jobs at the expense of establishing Los Angeles as a great place for jobs and families to relocate TO (and note from ).  New development FOLLOWS an improving economy, not the other way around.  

Building speculative megaprojects has never improved the economy over the long term. That's why we had the 2007-2011 recession ... the real estate crash resulted because we erroneously thought that a building spree would continue forever and result in economic growth. It didn't. 

So, to recap those who've not kept up with the Casden Sepulveda "faux outreach and planning process", and which has united mass transit and planning advocates throughout the Westside and region, here are some talking points that shouldn't be forgotten: 

1.  Although the Casden development group claims to have held over 100 "outreach" meetings with the community, those who attended any of the project meetings found that their input, requests, and ideas fell on deaf ears.  We were told by project reps that "Howard Katz doesn't listen to staff" and we were urged to communicate our opinions related to the inappropriateness of a Target as part of this development and the inappropriate scale of the project which is disrespectful of community character.  We found that Howard Katz doesn't listen to the community, either. 

2.  Every single CD5 and CD11 grassroots, neighborhood council and civic association they met with concluded the size of the project was too large, was too damaging to the neighborhood and--despite many attempts at compromise and innovation development at this site by interested neighbors--the developers then moved forward with the original plans, anyway--and actually increased the number of residential units beyond what was originally proposed. 

3.  The major Westside grassroots leaders who fought for the Expo Line (Friends4Expo Transit), and have pleaded for Transit-Oriented Development at Exposition/Sepulveda, as well as the Sierra Club and The Transit Coalition, oppose this project as is--and have been repeatedly and summarily had their compromise ideas rebuffed by the developers.  

4.  It has never been, and will never be, the position of those appealing and fighting this project to reject all compromise and concepts for building at this site. It has only been Mr. Casden and the developers who have been rigid and non-compromising, while the community has pleaded for compromise while being summarily and repeatedly ignored. A golden opportunity to develop properly at this site, to the benefit of the region and maximize the potential of the expo line, is being sadly lost. 

5. This project, and the manner in which it has been pushed through Planning, the City Planning Commission, and the approval process, violates environmental, CEQA and Brown Act laws, and is certain to force lawsuits which the neighbors throughout the Westside will be forced into pursuing.  The neighbors have always preferred compromise, and have offered numerous suggestions to alter the project, but but now will have no choice but to pursue legal action if approved by Council. 

6.  The City is incurring significant legal risk by approving this project in the manner in which it has, and it should be noted that City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and his deputies, Jane Usher and William Carter, have recommended this Casden/Sepulveda project go back to Planning for proper Environmental Review. 

7.  The money, resources and time spent that Westside taxpayers and homeowners have been forced to utilize against this project, and will be forced into with any future lawsuits, is better spent on roads, rail and infrastructure repair our City sorely needs. 

8.  Should the City Council rebuff the unified opposition of this project as is by the entire Westside, it is almost certain that its credibility will be negatively impacted when it asks Westside homeowners and voters to approve new sales tax, parcel tax or bond measures proposed by the City Council for transportation/infrastructure purposes. 

9.  The health impacts (breathing freeway particulate matter) are ones that are extremely upsetting to the community, which has repeatedly and vigorously stressed that families (particularly children and seniors) should not breathe the aforementioned freeway particulate matter as per both modern health studies and even the CPC's own recommendations of at least 500 feet for residential development away from the 405 freeway.  The blame of the Katz's and Casden's ignoring repeated and strenuous community (and Westside Councilmember) feedback to convert the freeway-adjacent portion of the project to land uses consistent with its current industrial zoning is solely that of the developers. 

10) The current relocation of the pool/open space portion of the project immediately next to the freeway is similarly troublesome from a health perspective, and is being "thrown out there" by the developers after the CPC demanded residential development be placed farther than 500 feet from the freeway.  The lack of industrial and/or commercial and/or transit/parking amenities that could have, and should have, been placed adjacent to the freeway (as per community and Councilmember requests for years) is a reflection of the aforementioned developer rigidity.  Prima facie, a pool and/or a park abutting the 405 freeway is both unhealthy and ridiculous. 

11) The lack of creation of a transit mall (and/or additional Expo Line parking lot) to create a Westside Regional Transit Center to allow intermodal transit access is particularly troublesome for this project, which is at an ideal location to organize and accommodate car, bus, vanpool and rail commuting. The community, and Westside Councilmember input, also have repeatedly pointed out that the unmitigable traffic impacts of this project (affecting police/fire/emergency vehicle access) will negatively impact not only any future residents at this site but the entire Westside--which places the City in both safety and legal jeopardy because this violates the West LA Community Plan. 

12) The use of the publicly-owned Expo Line right of way in any FAR calculations is inappropriate for both legal and planning purposes, because it allows the Casden Sepulveda developers to enlarge their project without any return benefits to the City of Los Angeles or to Metro.  There are no bus bays, no Expo Line parking lots, no guaranteed/delineated pedestrian/rail/transit/bicyclist amenities or anything to constitute any justifications for "overriding considerations".   

13) Nebulous verbal promises of future transit-related amenities is NOT the same as a Westside Regional Transit Center (which the Westside and the City and Metro has repeatedly requested to the developers for over the past several years) to accommodate the intersection of the 405 and 10 freeways, Pico and Sepulveda and Sawtelle Blvds., a potential LAX Flyaway and Amtrak Bus connection, and the future Expo Line. 

14)  The unmitigable traffic impacts of this project will significantly block access of the region--not only cars but of buses--to the future Expo Line at the future adjacent station at Exposition/Sepulveda, which virtually undoes the benefits of the Expo Line and any proposed Transit-Oriented Development at this site. 

15) This is too car-oriented, and not sufficiently transit-oriented development (THIS IS A TRANSIT-ADJACENT, BUT NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED, PROJECT), which is one of the main reasons the community opposes this project as is.  Those familiar with the Westside know that this region fought long and hard for the Expo Line, and is pro-transit--and there is no LADOT or Metro official who can now reported that Casden and his developers have said much of anything, let alone worked with them, in making this project transit-friendly. 

So...did the outgoing City Council, both termed-out and re-elected, members "get it" after May 21st, or will the citizens (who are paying their own money and spending their own time and energy, at the expense of their health and families and happiness) be stepped on yet again by a Downtown that chooses that "some of us are created more equal than others"?


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org  He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)







Vol 11 Issue 45

Pub: June 4, 2013