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Sat, Apr

Not Rich? You Have Two Options … Become Homeless or Move Out of Hollywood!

LOS ANGELES

DEEGAN ON LA-What’s the difference between an 18-unit apartment building at 1850 N. Cherokee Avenue in the heart of Hollywood that has a long history of providing rent-stabilized housing for working class tenants, and a trendy 24-unit boutique hotel that may replace it? How about the potential of a one-quarter-billion dollars gross for developer David Lesser over a 25-year life span of the new enterprise? And over $6 million in “bed taxes” to the City of Los Angeles over the same period? 

The conversion from rent-stabilized (RSO) apartments to hotel is an economic model for both developer Lesser and the City that may be too good to pass up. Most evictions and redevelopments hinge on what’s in it for the developer, and that usually means big profits. Incumbent rental occupants often become collateral damage and worse in the process. In this case, as in many others, some former tenants evicted by Lesser using the Ellis Act  have become homeless. 

If the boutique hotel is approved by the Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM), and then the full City Council, there will be no more fixed 3% annual rent caps on the formerly Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) building. The new hotel’s room rates can fluctuate with the economics of supply and demand and LA will receive a 14% per bed, per night Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) that, in itself, could eventually bring the city one-quarter-million dollars annually.

An activist community is fighting City Hall over this conversion, and now has a second chance at a PLUM hearing on Tuesday, centered on a CEQA-based argument on homelessness that has apparently caught the attention of the PLUM members. It seems that the city has no overall screening process to consider the cumulative impacts of how Ellis Act evictions add to homelessness, especially the loss of RSO housing units, even though they are required to under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). 

Recently, Governor Brown declared that CEQA, a state law, that may get in the way of progress and hinder developers should be minimized or eliminated altogether. Brown wants it diluted or removed from the planning process. 

The full council file for the Cherokee Hotel (CF 09-0967-S1) project is now available online. The public hearing will be held on Tuesday, June 28 at 2:30pm in Hearing Room 350 at City Hall. 

The transcript of an eye-opening conversation between Director of City Planning Vincent Bertoni and Councilmembers Jose Huizar (CD14) and Gilbert Cedillo (CD1) sheds some daylight on a City Hall where departments and council offices are not in sync. It shows us how an operational dislocation hurts occupants of RSO housing that are being evicted by the Ellis Act and becoming homeless as a result.

In the transcript of the PLUM meeting, the City Planning Director and two of the 15 City Councilmembers -- Huizar and Cedillo -- admit they do not know what the cumulative impact their constant approval of Ellis Act evictions has had in creating homelessness. Most likely, the other 13 Councilmembers are equally unaware that when they say “yes” to developers wanting to build in their districts, often with favors attached, they are also saying “no” to tenants who are also constituents. 

This shocking admission was reported by Jill Stewart and Miki Jackson in their expose published on June 24 in CityWatch, detailing how the “LA City Council and City Hall are clueless about their role in fueling homelessness.” 

In a stunning turn of events, PLUM will reconsider this matter on Tuesday, June 28. This reflects how far the community will go to try and preserve affordable housing in a rapidly densifying Hollywood that many consider ground zero for much of what’s wrong with city planning. It also highlights the influence that developers lord over politicos relying on them to fuel their election campaigns. 

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell (CD13), who holds sway over development projects in central Hollywood, is up for re-election next March. So is his mentor, former CD13 councilman and now Mayor, Eric Garcetti, who many credit or bedevil, depending on your point of view, with getting the development wrecking ball rolling into high gear in Hollywood. 

The developer has said he does not intend to tear down the two existing 1929 buildings on Cherokee, but to repurpose them, retaining the character that adds to the neighborhood. No word yet on the fenestration (the arrangement of windows and doors on the elevations of a building) but it’s likely that that will not change and, to the eye, the building may look pretty much the same as a hotel as it did as an apartment building. At least there is no longer the intrusive threat of the original plan that included a 69-unit condo building that could have looked something like this.     

We will never know if the prospect of the 69-unit condo project was a bluff, a threat or a tactic by the developer to make a 24-room hotel look better by comparison. But one thing’s for sure: the current tenants will be the big losers. A few of them have already become homeless and need to move far away to obtain affordable housing. This is yet another result of the citywide reduction in affordable housing exacerbated by Ellis Act evictions initiated by developers who are intent on tearing down pre-1973 rent stabilized (RSO) housing. 

Removing affordable housing from inventory is the opposite of providing supportive housing for the homeless and lower-wage-earning residents. While the City may think it can support evictions that result in more homelessness and then ask taxpayers or the Governor to fund homeless housing, in truth, it really can’t. 

This schizophrenic approach is hurting the neediest, and slowly works its way up the food chain to damage the many politicos that are starting to be seen for what they are: the creators, not the solvers, of the homeless problem that comes from Ellis Act evictions. 

This is a variation of the well-established pattern of dislocation and gentrification throughout Hollywood and other communities, with some unique twists, explained by community activist Sylvie Shain, saying, “the tenants of 1850 N. Cherokee were vacated in 2013, under the Ellis Act, per a prior project approval for this site to build a condo complex, which was approved in 2009 but never moved forward. Half of these tenants did not receive relocation assistance because the owner benefited from the applicability of a waiver in the Los Angeles Municipal Code (Chapter 151.09G), provided for in the following circumstance: “The tenant received actual written notice, prior to entering into a written or oral tenancy agreement, that an application to subdivide the property for condominium, stock cooperative or community apartment purposes was on file with the City or had already been approved.” 

This is another example of how Hollywood is rapidly changing people’s lives and bank accounts. This hotel conversion project shines a spotlight on the politicos that have helped to shatter the dreams of everyday people who have been living in Hollywood in redevelopment projects; and there are dozens more on the books. These are tenants who, under the politico’s pro-development addiction, are now unable to afford living in Hollywood once they have been “Ellis-Acted” out. 

Bertoni, Huizar and Cedillo now admit to being complicit in creating an increase in homelessness through their constant approvals of tearing down affordable housing, throwing people onto the street. More of their colleagues need to turn the corner away from denial and into the reality of taking solution-based actions. 

While everyone is scrambling for up to two billion dollars in funding to help the homeless, there’s an easy non-monetary first step available: place a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions. Get the facts and a perspective on how this directly and cumulatively impacts our homeless crisis.

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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