THE CITY-Plans to build a park in densely-populated Koreatown were trumped by the developer of a proposed 364-unit luxury apartment project who … joined by family and business associates … contributed $25,600 to the campaign warchests of city officials, including $2,900 for Council President Herb Wesson and $4,500 for Mayor Eric Garcetti, city records show.
A follow-up to a Los Angeles Times story (published Friday, 4/15/2016) about the park controversy uncovered the campaign contribution trove. City Ethics Commission records show the contributions to city officials were made by Don Hankey, his firm, Hankey Investment Co., and family and business associates of Hankey.
Hankey Investment is a partner with LA-based real estate developer CityView in The Pearl of Wilshire project located on Hobart Avenue, just south of Wilshire Boulevard.
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a UCLA prof, told the Times she saw an old story playing out in the depressing Koreatown park saga. Creating parks is not a top priority for cities … especially when working class neighbors are seeking park space that’s also coveted by powerful real estate interests, the professor said.
More bluntly: Real estate industry priorities trump neighborhood priorities.
The Koreatown debacle may be only the tip of the iceberg.
A review of a 2015 Trust for Public Land report shows Los Angeles ranks dead last among the five largest West Coast cities (San Francisco, San Diego, Portland and Seattle) in the percentage of land set aside for parks, in the percentage of population within a half-mile of a park and the amount of spending per capita on parks.
For a time, the Koreatown park at the Hobart site looked to be a done-deal. There was a $5 million grant from the state to buy the land for a park engineered by the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency. The park was designed to have a community garden, a loop walk and a splash pool for kids. The neighbors rallied around it.
Then City Hall’s interest evaporated.
Danny Park, a community activist and former K-town resident, told the Times he never thought Wesson was truly supportive of the community park. Wesson represents the area.
Wesson spokesperson Vanessa Rodriguez countered that the park was the victim of bad timing and the recession. The LA Parks and Recreation Department blamed the park’s death on the price tag for buying the land. Too high, said a parks official.
The Times headline in its print edition asked: “Who’s to blame for letting Koreatown park plan die?”
Good question. The Coalition believes campaign contributions might help answer it.
(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner and is the Communications Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. He is a contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm is MediaFix Associates.) Photo credits: Top-LA Times, above right-LACurbed.