VOX POP--In certain circles in Los Angeles, William Witte, chairman and CEO of Related California, is known as the “mega-developer.” It’s easy to understand why. He and his outfit, which is part of the nationwide development firm Related Companies, have contributed an eye-popping $118,550 to LA political candidates since 2000, according to the city’s Ethics Commission. It’s the way development is done in Los Angeles — spread around major cash at City Hall to get big favors in return.
Witte, in fact, has personally contributed $51,500 out of the $118,550 — the rest was given by Related employees. In addition, since 2003, Related has paid City Hall lobbyists a whopping $837,381 to schmooze City Council members and bureaucrats at city agencies such as the planning department, according to the city’s Ethics Commission.
In all, Related has shelled out $955,931 to win over politicians and bureaucrats at LA City Hall.
It should come as no surprise then that the LA City Council recently voted, unanimously, to give Related and Witte a financial aid package worth $198.5 million so the mega-developer could finish a “high-profile” downtown LA hotel project, according to the Los Angeles Times.
That move by LA politicians didn’t come without controversy. Related Companies has a massive operating portfolio worth more than $20 billion. The city, on the other hand, has an annual budget of around $8.6 billion.
Regardless, elected officials decided to give Witte and Related a $198.5-million aid deal in the form of subsidies and loans so it can build two towers, which includes the hotel, across the street from Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Related is a major player in the glitzy Grand Avenue Project, which seeks to turn that part of downtown into a play zone for the extremely wealthy. The hotel that Related wants to build will be geared towards the super rich. The developer has already contributed tens of millions to the city for the construction of Grand Park, a fancy public space that’s part of the Grand Avenue Project.
In the end, Related stands to make millions upon millions in profits from the Grand Avenue Project.
Still, when a developer throws around $118,550 in campaign contributions at City Hall, a huge favor like the $198.5-million financial boost is almost expected in return from LA politicians.
Clearly, LA’s development system is broken, and it’s one that needs honest, meaningful reform. That’s what the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.
Through the measure, which will appear on the March 2017 ballot, citizens will finally be given the tools that will level the playing field when it comes to how LA’s neighborhoods will be developed. Greedy developers will no longer have outsized influence on City Hall’s rigged development-approval process.
But with so much money on the line, developers will do everything they can to beat down our community-based movement and try to defeat the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. So join our cause by clicking to our Act page right now, and following and cheering our efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also send us an email at [email protected] for more information.
Together, we can create the change that LA needs!
(Patrick Range McDonald writes for 2PreserveLA.org ... currently spearheading the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.