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Tue, Apr

8150 Sunset Project: Welfare for the Rich, Greed on Steroids

LOS ANGELES

PLANNING POLITICS--When I first wrote for CityWatch about the 8150 Sunset project (“Rotten to the Core”), I thought something was really wrong with it. Now, two months later, after much research, I know there is. Back then I had heard that Luci Ibarra of the Planning Department’s Major Projects Division had insulted many who opposed the project, including the representative of West Hollywood and Councilman Ryu’s office. The talk from the neighborhood was that she was committed to the developer and hostile to any criticism.   

On Thursday, July 28, 2016, the 8150 Sunset Project breezed through the CPC hearing aided by the star power of Frank Gehry (photo above) and considerable help from Ms. Ibarra. City staff must be objective in their evaluation of projects. She was not. 

Some have described the Frank Gehry design as putting lipstick on a pig. But it is so much more than that. It is the prototype of things to come and if allowed to stand will dismantle zoning all over the City and destroy our neighborhoods. 

In a stroke of brilliance, Townscape Partners hired Gehry to redesign a project that seemed doomed to fail and turned it into a star, tripling its square footage. This is Hollywood, after all, where celebrity is worshiped and people line up to get a glimpse of the rich and famous. That is what happened on Thursday when the planning commissioners fell all over themselves in praise of a project that will overwhelm the local streets and infrastructure. 

But do they care? Not when they got Frank Gehry himself to show up and talk to them about design and his ideas on architecture. The commissioners swooned while the local community wept. Four Commissioners even admitted that they had visited his studio regarding the project. Still, they claimed to be objective. The fact that four of the six commissioners that were voting made this admission is of concern. 

After Gehry spoke the real show began. Representatives of four groups that had appealed the planning department’s initial approval of much of the project got up one at a time and listed the reasons why the City should deny this miscarriage of justice. Next, the representative of the Neighborhood Council told the Commissioners why the project would not work for the neighborhood. Sarah Dusseault, chief of staff for David Ryu, stood up next and argued that the project was too big and pointed out why it should not be approved as presented as well as the terrible precedent it would create. 

I sat in the back of the room nodding affirmatively at each point. Sarah and Julia Duncan from Ryu’s office really nailed a couple of very salient points, telling the Commissioners that, contrary to what Planning staff had written in their reports, there was ample reason and justification in the law to turn this project down, send it back for more work and to make it smaller. 

Then the crowd of extras delivered by the developers came to the microphone one at a time to sing the praises of Mr. Gehry and the project. Whenever the commissioners had a question they turned to Ms. Ibarra for clarification. If there were three facts and two did not support the developer she chose the third that did. Misinformation was sprinkled in to flavor the meal she was serving up and the commissioners devoured it.   

Members from the four groups opposing the project, along with the Neighborhood Council and the Council office, listened in silence as all of our arguments were turned down. Once again, the commissioners once sang the praises of Frank Gehry and approved the project.  All of us left worn out after a five hour ordeal in an un-air-conditioned room. But we are determined to carry on. 

I have no idea what the City of West Hollywood or the two other appellants will do, but Fix the City stands ready to protect all the neighborhoods across the City and litigate if necessary, fast-tracked or not.  

This project is welfare for the rich, greed on steroids -- one more example of the ruling class sticking it to the rest of us. It is also the advanced guard of projects that will destroy zoning as we know it. Using Senate Bill 1818, (Density Bonus) law, Townscape partners agreed to set aside 28 of their 249 apartments for very low income residents. For that they are asking the Commissioners to grant them a 300% increase in square footage instead of the 35% they are really entitled to get. Instead of asking for a Height District change to increase the FAR, Townscape is using the Density bonus law. Fifty (50) of those 249 units they will build will be condos selling from three to twelve million dollars. There will also be 65,000 sq. feet of commercial space.   

In their own financial statement, they claim they will make a 15.9% profit which translates to $52 million. Like I said, welfare for the rich. They will also close the southbound section of Crescent Heights from Sunset Boulevard without the standard process required by the Streets and Highway Code to vacate it. They claim they will use B permits to cover over the road and take over the current traffic island which has its own address (8118 Sunset) to create an outdoor public space. 

When questioned on how they can do this, Planning’s answer is the City will continue to own it (the island and road to be covered over by cement) and the developer will maintain it.  First the people of California own the streets, not the City but who’s going to stop the City from doing this? This is the big gamble developers are taking all over Los Angeles. They ask themselves, how many projects can we slide through before someone sues us?  Given that there are more of them than groups who can afford to sue, the odds are forever in their favor. 

We the people have few options available to us except to carry on and organize to affect change. I am sensing all over the City a feeling similar to the one that led to the secession movement. What is different this time is that it is not just the Valley and some in Hollywood that feel disaffected -- it is most of Los Angeles.  

(Jim O’Sullivan is one of the Fix the City founders and President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association.)  Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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