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Tue, May

Can Katy Sidestep Development Hell?

POLITICS

DEEGAN ON LA—-The shoe is on the other foot now. The former land use and environmental attorney, at legal powerhouse Latham and Watkins, has become a city councilmember needing to make decisions about land use and development in her district, and be leaning into the community. 

Development hell, and “another Hollywood”, could be awaiting freshman Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky (CD5) in the shape of four mega-projects in the Miracle Mile and Fairfax sections of CD5. 

The Miracle Mile challenges will be a pair of very tall towers planned for the eastern end of the historic strip that runs for exactly one mile between Fairfax Avenue on on the west side to La Brea Avenue on the east. 

One is the proposed 43-story residential tower 708 Cloverdale Project (“Omni”)

] on the south side of Wilshire between Cloverdale and Detroit. Among the headaches to the community that project will bring is that ingress and egress for the nine floors of parking will impact the adjacent Miracle Mile HPOZ  residential neighborhood by using side street Cloverdale Avenue, not Wilshire Boulevard. A Detroit Street access to parking does not show up on the plans but, even if it did, the traffic through the residential neighborhood would not be mitigated. 

Diagonally across Wilshire from the Omni tower project is the Mirabel tower project, on the north side of Wilshire between Cochran and Cloverdale. It’s a 42-story residential tower with two upper parking floors that will have patron parking access off Cochran, and residential parking access off Cloverdale accessing the below ground parking levels. 

The two-block footprint of the Mirabel and Omni projects will feed and receive a steady stream of residential neighborhood traffic on Cloverdale, Cochran, Detroit, 8th and 6th streets. Like the Omni project across the street, the Mirabel will have an overall height of 530 feet. 

A set of connected twin towers, one of which will be 655 feet in height and the tallest building in Los Angeles outside of Downtown, is projected for a few blocks west in the Miracle Mile at the Courtyard redevelopment site, in the middle of the Miracle Mile, to contain offices. 

The project is currently on hold, facing financial jeopardy. Despite signing Sony to a tenancy lease, financial watchdogs have flagged it as possibly needing refinancing as soon as the end of this month because the current rents are not meeting the thresholds in the financing agreement. 

A fourth major development focus is around the corner from the Miracle Mile at the CBS Television City site that is being rebranded as “CBS 2050”.  

How agile Councilmember Yaroslavsky is in balancing developer demands and community concerns may become a lasting legacy. Legislation that council members routinely take a hand in does not compare to someone years from now decrying an out of place housing development in a residential neighborhood of low slung one and two story homes and tagging it as a “Yaroslavsky-approved project”. Or, blaming her for the gridlock that may surround the CBS project. The Farmers Market-Grove complex, one driveway south of the CBS project, could be an example of community concerns. 

Greg Goldin, president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association, has this reaction to the Miracle Mile growth plans facing the new councilmember, telling City Watch that: “These kinds of projects are not what Los Angeles needs. So long as Los Angeles continues to permit speculative skyscraper developments in the name of "abundant housing," all of us will suffer. Congestion and traffic will increase. Nearby rents will increase. Displacement will increase. Neighborhoods will be sucked dry of character as residents who only go from apartment to garage to car to work and back again, live in towers dwarfing their surroundings”. 

Both former mayor Eric Garcetti and former councilmember Mitch O’Farrell have left their fingerprints on many unpopular Hollywood developments that the community blames them for approving. 

A thick skin or an asbestos coating will not shield Yaroslavsky from the potential hellfire about development and land use. Right now, just several months into her first term, she’s a politico with a huge open future and a political legacy name. Falling into the hell-hole trap of developers first, community second, torched and left a black mark on the names of Garcetti and O’Farrell in their Hollywood district, despite them being elected and reelected over 21 consecutive years. 

Katy’s past-past-past-past predecessor (when the district was CD4) was the revered John Ferraro whom the city council chamber is named after. His successor has been honored with the Tom LaBonge Memorial Park Forest at the top of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park. Her father-in-law, Zev Yaroslavsky, has attained civic sainthood for his decades of service as a city council member and county supervisor. He has a public space plaza named in his honor at LACMA. 

City Watch asked Councilmember Yaroslavsky her views on these mega-projects in the Miracle Mile and Fairfax sections of CD5, which she responded to through a spokesperson.

Yaroslavsky’s generic response to a question about the CBS project was considerably less emphatic, safer, and lacking the edge that the politico used when she was running for election and was interviewed.

There is no emphasis or stated reinforcement of her position during the campaign that “This is the developer’s opening shot. They can’t possibly think what they’re proposing will be approved, given the scale and neighborhood impacts.”   

Unlike the Mirabel and Omni towers in the Miracle Mile, where impact can be limited to a few blocks on all four sides of the projects, the impact radius of the CBS development footprint will spread through dozens of adjacent residential streets. 

While “maintaining” a position, her CBS response has now become a heartless press release-esque homogenized answer that could apply to any question by stakeholders about any project in any district. 

The councilmember’s spokesperson told City Watch that “Since assuming office, she has heard from various community members and organized community groups, including local business representatives and impacted residents. She has engaged in robust dialogues with the applicant team as well and spent more time getting to know the site and the proposal. Over the next few months we expect additional project related information to be published, some of which specifically responds to questions raised about the project by the Councilwoman and the community. As additional project-related materials emerge over the next few months she will be tracking the project closely. She hopes to continue to hear from the community about the project throughout the process.” 

The Councilmember was more visceral, specific and helpful about the Miracle Mile towers. 

Question: There are two approximately 50-story projects planned diagonally across Wilshire from each other in the Miracle Mile. The Mirabel  and the Omni (aka the 708 Cloverdale Project) - Case number ENV-– 2022–7530 – EIR. 

(a) Have you reached a position on either?

“Both of these projects are very early in the review process and the Councilwoman would like to hear more from the District, and specifically the most impacted local residents and businesses, about their thoughts on these projects before forming any formal position. It will be important to take into consideration the requested entitlements of each of these projects. Neither are requesting a zone change or other legislative action, thus the Councilwoman will not be the initial decision maker on these entitlements.” 

(b) How do you feel about such immense density in two blocks?

“The Councilwoman believes that additional residential density should be directed to major transit corridors. Wilshire Boulevard is currently one of the best-served transit corridors in the City, and will only become better served with a new D Line extension station opening just blocks from these proposed development sites. The environmental analysis currently being conducted for these projects will help shed light on potential transportation impacts as well as other impact areas and inform potential project mitigations.” 

“The Councilwoman is interested in working with these project applicants to see if they are willing to go above the minimum level of affordable housing requirements. The Mirabel project is currently proposing a few affordable units above what is otherwise required.” 

Yaroslavsky has recently given a thumbs-down to an affordable housing development that only the very rich can afford when she called the proposed luxurious Bulgari Hotel  in the residential-only Benedict Canyon hills a “luxury playground for the ultra wealthy”. The CBS project needs an energetic public statement like that.

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose Deegan on LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) 

 

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