Community Showdown with Liberty Park Developer Ends in a Standoff - For Now

DEEGAN ON LA-Neither side really won a full victory in a dispute between the Koreatown community and a major K’Town developer that had turned ugly. But a calmer vibe could now emerge as both sides acknowledge that they may need to work with each other on any development of Liberty Park. This came as a result of two important votes this week involving Beneficial Plaza and Liberty Park. 

The first vote was on Tuesday, March 6,when the LA City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee voted to award Liberty Park Historic-Cultural Monument status; the second vote came on Wednesday, March 7, when the full City Council passed the motion for monument status by a vote of 11-0-4. 

Both votes were taken over the objections of developer Dr. David Lee, who had very publicly tried to intimidate community members who opposed him by threatening to use an assault weapon to protect his property. He ran up against blowback from Council President Herb Wesson (CD10) who alerted the LAPD; they now have Lee’s threat of violence under investigation. That Wesson was the initiator of the LAPD action illustrates a profile in courage for this politico who may rely on constituent Lee for campaign support. 

At stake was the ability for Lee to erect a tall tower in the park; at risk for the community was losing a welcome and cherished green space in the midst of a very dense section of Koreatown. 

Historic-Cultural Monument status does not prevent development; it means that a design review process will be required for any changes to the park. The community that Dr. Lee offended will become his tacit partner in any future iteration of the park. What they won was the opportunity to cooperate with him and his plans as they unfold, and what he lost was the unilateral ability to do what he wants. 

While he sort-of apologized on the eve of the two historic votes, he missed a golden opportunity to start mending fences by qualifying his apology with an exclusionary statement that left out the community opponents when he said, “Unfortunately, last week’s comments by me were misunderstood by valued friends and to those individuals I sincerely apologize.” His apology could be seen as a de facto admission that he did threaten and intimidate community opponents, as they claim. Or maybe it’s just the best answer the media-shy Lee could come up with. 

With these two votes behind them, perhaps both the community and the developer can turn over a new leaf and work to create a relationship in which Lee sees the community not as opponents but as “valued friends.”


(Tim Deegan, is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appears in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.