Sat, May

LA City Council Ignores Protestors, Unanimously Exempts Hollywood Target from City Height Rules

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Once again, the LA City Council displayed its unanimous voting tendencies – and its deep connection with developers. Wednesday, they voted to permit the construction of a controversial Target shopping center in Hollywood, which seems to be one of the epicenters of runaway development. Close to two years ago, a judge ordered work at the site to be stopped but times, they are a-changin’.

Following a 13 to 0 vote, the council revised planning and zoning rules to give heads up on the Sunset Boulevard Target’s 74-foot-tall retail center … more than double what the City allows and in the face of law suits and protests from the community. The city council has been pretty liberal with zoning variances, allowing for a Wild West, anything goes environment that seems to be friendlier to commercial interests than to constituents.

In 2014, Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr. put the brakes on the council’s approval of the Target center. The judge said the council failed to demonstrate that Target would suffer an “unnecessary hardship” if the retail chain complied with the city’s height rules … which limit shopping centers at that location to no more than 35 feet. The construction was halted but is now expected to resume within weeks.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes part of Hollywood, is a proponent of the vote, which he says will bring in tax revenue. Challengers to the project say they’ll file another lawsuit, charging that an environmental impact report should have been prepared on the changes to city planning rules.

Proponents of the multi-story Target also cite increased commercial revenue, employment opportunities, and convenience as reasons to support the project.

On another front, the city council faces concerns that its approvals may continue to be challenged in courtrooms, which happened when a judge struck down a 22-story apartment building that had been approved by the city council. A judge also invalidated the council’s greenlight on the Millennium skyscraper project, ruling that the city didn’t properly assess impact on the nearby community.

Target was also at the center of a controversy over a city requirement that a child care facility be included in the project. In lieu of onsite facilities, O’Farrell told the LA Times, Target will absorb a fee for childcare services near the store. The Board of Recreations and Parks Commissioners will determine the fee. According to Target, the new store will bring 250 full- and part-time permanent jobs to the community. The store is expected to be completed next year.

Although commercial development may have the upside of increased employment, the continued path of unanimously approved development projects has left Hollywood and other communities in a whirlwind of constant construction. EIRs funded by independent sources or the city should be the rule, not reviews funded by less than objective developers themselves. The fox cannot be trusted to guard the hen house. Should neighbors and activist groups bring a lawsuit to put a damper on the project once again, they’ll join a long list of community activists who aim to maintain the integrity of the city.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)-cw

Follow the Money! Home-Sharing Ordinance would Legalize Hotels in Residential Neighborhoods

NEIGHBORHOODS RIGHTS--While short-term rentals help a few people make ends meet by renting their home to vacationing strangers, the protection of the safety, stability and character of our residential neighborhoods is being threatened by a misguided proposed Home-Sharing Ordinance. Furthermore, it is a disservice to the legal system and system of justice to pass a law that you know is going to be disobeyed – and not enforced! 

RIGHT TO TAKE ACTION--Thousands of illegal short-term rentals of 30 days or less that are strictly prohibited by existing law are being openly advertised and rented in Los Angeles every day. The lack of inspections, investigations, and prosecutions reflect the lack of resources and commitment to enforcement on the part of the Department of Planning, the Department of Building and Safety, and the City Attorney. There is nothing new in the Draft Ordinance that provides any enforcement process against a Host that refrains from registering. 

Under a similar law passed February 2015 in San Francisco, it is reported that only 1,647 Hosts had registered by March 2016 -- out of an estimated 9,000+ Hosts with listings on Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and Flipkey. The only hope of containing this illegal activity is to afford neighbors and/or neighborhood homeowner associations the right to bring a civil action in Court for injunctive and monetary relief with the right to recover attorney fees and costs. And the private right of action should be based on the existing law in Los Angeles that completely prohibits short-term rentals -- not complicated by new issues proposed in the Ordinance that would be difficult to prove, such as whether a Host has resided at the property for at least 6 months or a limit on short-term rentals by a Host for no more than 90 days each calendar year. 

NO REASONABLE LIKELIHOOD OF ENFORCEMENT--The critical primary residence requirement is not capable of being disputed by the City and would be difficult even in a private right of action. What proof would the City Attorney require, and how would the proof be obtained, to show that a Host is not eligible to register because the property was rented out legally to four different persons for 60 days each during a calendar year? In addition, how would the concepts of “Host” and “Primary Residence” be made applicable to properties owned in the name of different limited liability companies organized in Nevada -- where no information is required about the ultimate owner? This is only one example of the impossible morass created by any attempt to regulate short-term rentals as opposed to the existing, clear, outright prohibition. 

Questionable Jurisdiction-Does the City have a legal opinion that it has the necessary legal jurisdiction over any Hosting Platform to be able to impose the requirements and impose the fines set forth in the Draft Ordinance? Is there jurisdiction if the Hosting Platform has no personnel, office, or assets in Los Angeles or even in California? It is delusional to expect that Airbnb will willingly help with enforcement. Time after time, they have testified before governing bodies throughout the country and refused to divulge any information about their Hosts. 

Hasn’t Airbnb asserted Federal law and the First Amendment as shields preventing them from being compelled to monitor and police their users, and from liability for content generated by users of their services? Is the City Attorney, who has not brought any cases against illegal Hosts, now ready, willing and able to take on the Hosting Platforms?

90 DATS TOO LENIENT-The prohibition on operating Home-Sharing for more than 90 days each calendar year is much too lenient. It would allow a constant stream of different strangers to occupy a home for 45 full weekends each year which is 87% of the year (assuming the 2 nights between Friday and Sunday equates to 2 days.) If an Ordinance is passed (which it should not be), the maximum permissible annoyance of neighbors should be 34 days, or 17 weekends per year which is 33% of the year. That would be both more reasonable and more enforceable. 

GUEST LIMIT--The provision in the Draft Ordinance limiting a rental to no more than one group of guests is not effective nor adequate. It would allow a 2 bed/2 bath house to be rented to a fraternity of 40 persons for a weekend, which should not be allowed. There should be a limit of 2 guests per available bedroom. 

SHORT-TERM RENTALS LIKE HOTELS--If the City is going to legalize what are, in effect, hotels in residential neighborhoods, the City should enforce the fire code, health, safety, insurance, and labor laws applicable to hotels. The rules should be the same - both for the protection of guests and to level the playing field out of fairness to competing businesses. 

New Ordinance is Not Necessary--The proposed Home-Sharing Ordinance is motivated by a desire of the City Council to collect hotel-type transient occupancy taxes, and by a situation caused by a complete failure of the City Attorney to enforce the prohibition against short-term rentals. Our residential neighborhoods were never intended to accommodate hotel-like environments with transient occupancy by strangers and the noise, parking, traffic, litter and other activities not usual and customary in a residential zone. 

The financial problems of a relatively few residents, and the financial problems of the City, must not be solved on the backs of homeowners who had a right to expect that the residential neighborhood in which they made a large home investment would not be commercialized in any manner. It is doubtful that the City leaders would be considering this Ordinance if the provision for tax revenue was not included -- as usual, follow the money. 

Threatening the destruction of the character and safety and cohesiveness of the single family neighborhood that has meant something since the beginning of urban zoning is not the answer. Enforce the existing law!


(Raymond Klein has been involved with land use and transportation issues for over 10 years on the Boards of the Brentwood Community Council and Brentwood Homeowners Association and is an occasional CityWatch contributor. Views expressed are his own.) Prepped for CityWatch by Llinda Abrams.

California: These Elections are Costing Us a Fortune! Can’t We Email It In?

CAMPAIGN FINANCE FLURRY-A rare competitive presidential primary in California and a crowded November ballot has spurred state action on election financing this year. 

Governor Jerry Brown on Friday signed AB 120, which will help counties incur the additional expenses associated with the high turnout expected in the June 7 presidential primary, and to process the approaching deluge of petitions from interest groups seeking to qualify initiatives for the November ballot. $16.2 million will be divided among the state’s 58 counties. 

“It absolutely goes a long way to assisting us in juggling this kind of perfect storm: the initiatives colliding at the same time we’re producing ballots and tallying ballots,” said Neal Kelley, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. 

The last day for any measure to qualify for the November ballot is June 30. The Secretary of State’s office suggested that proponents turn in their petitions last Tuesday to ensure counties had enough time to verify the signatures by the qualification deadline. 

But proponents of several measures remain on the streets gathering signatures. Among the measures is the Justice and Rehabilitation Act backed by Brown and his allies. 

The money in AB 120, which passed the Legislature last week, creates a financial incentive for counties to get the signature-checking done more quickly--and gives campaigns more time to gather signatures. Counties would be eligible for some of the $16 million only if they verified signatures turned in as late as May 20 before the June 30 qualification deadline. 

Kelley, who is also the registrar of voters for Orange County, called the money “a huge help.” 

Secretary of State Padilla originally asked Brown for twice the amount. Lawmakers will consider the proposal during budget hearings for the fiscal year beginning July 1. 

The issue of how to pay for elections has been a source of tension between state officials and county officials, who administer elections. California Forward, thanks to a grant from the James Irvine Foundation, has been the studying the issue and will release its Election Funding Project in late May. 

“While these funds will help the counties navigate a busy and expensive political year in 2016, the long-term issue of election funding in California needs to be addressed,” said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of CA Fwd. “CA Fwd’s assessment will provide some guidance on how to construct a new state-county funding partnership that provides adequate resources with the right incentives for a collaborative and efficient elections system." 

CA Fwd surveyed the 58 California county election officials, who had some strong opinions about what needs to happen: 

  • Nearly all of who responded (96 percent) agree that California should adopt a different funding framework for elections. 
  • 88 percent think there should be more collaboration among counties in providing election services and procuring voting equipment. 
  • Our voting equipment is aging. 76 percent say they will need to replace their equipment within the next four years…nearly half of those needing replacement in the next year or two.

81 percent want to explore alternative funding methods for elections. 

CA Fwd also convened county registrars, surveyed the funding models in other states, and consulted with state advocates and staff in developing its assessment.


(Ed Coghlan is a contributing editor and special correspondent for California Forward and the California Economic Summit, dealing with all matters related to California's sputtering economy and how we as a state can get it back on track. He is a veteran of television news at all levels and serves as a media consultant in his spare time.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Bicycle Millennium Interrupted for Bike Month



May is Bike Month, something that always seemed odd to me here in SoCal. There is no defined “biking season” in the Southland, and the concept doesn’t make sense anywhere, really. If the good burghers of Copenhagen can ride to work through February snowstorms, if commuters costumed in goosedown and wool can clackety-clack their studded tires down Minneapolis bikeways in January, why do we in La-La Land have Bike Month? What, it was too cold to ride in December, when it was 80 degrees, or in January when it was 70, or in March, when the headlines read, “Drizzle Batters LA”?

So, while in cities with crappy weather, from Boston to Detroit to the baking heat of Phoenix, people who want to ride just ride, often on nice new bikepaths, here in LA we gear up for the start of a mythical window of opportunity that somehow makes cycling “practical,” in a region where the weather barely changes month to month.

And where what would really make riding practical—ie, more bike lanes and paths, and traffic calming—are dismissed as, oddly, “impractical.” So we keep shoveling money at more car lanes, and watch traffic grow worse and worse. For eighty years, we’ve built more lanes, and watched traffic grow worse. Making more room for bikes instead seems more practical to me….

But, Bike Month events are good PR, much needed in a city whose media and commentariat still devote extraordinary efforts to looking wide-eyed with amazement when some middle-aged cube dweller does something so unheard of as pedaling to work. So, I guess LA does need Bike Month, if only to get a few more folks actually to try riding, and see that it’s not in fact “impractical.”

CicLAvia is the prime force in allowing Regular Folks to try riding on real streets without having to get a prescription for anti-anxiety meds first. The event is patterned after Bogotá’s famous ciclovias, which have been a weekly occurence since the late Seventies, and now liberate 80 miles of that city’s streets every Sunday.

LA’s CicLAvias are (for now) much smaller and far less frequent, but they have a huge effect. And there’s one coming up on May 15th, bringing the love to the Southeast partions of Los Angeles county, including parts of LA proper, Huntington Beach, Lynwood, and South Gate.

There’s also the Bicycle Culture Institute’s LA Bike Fest, coming this Sunday, May 8th, to Grand Park downtown. This is a party, not a ride, but it promises to be one hell of a party, so get your tix now. There will be music, art, and beer! And rides will no doubt form up as the day progresses.

And the Los Angeles County Bicycle coalition has a roster of activities for the month, including Bike to Work Day Pit Stops on May 19th, the “Blessing of the Bicycles” on May 17th, and the Ride of Silence on May 18th, plus outreach, workshops, and more.

Farther west, Santa Monica Spoke lists a number of events, some ongoing, on their calendar; you might get a chance to try out the city’s Breeze bikeshare system while you’re there.

Metro, the county’s transit agency, co-sponsors many of these events, and runs a couple of its own, such as Bike Night at Union Station on May 27th. Check out their main event page at The Source for more.

And, of course, just get out and ride your bike everyday….

Wait— you say you already do?

Of course you do. Because every month is bike month, everywhere!

See you on the road …

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are focused on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.)  



Backroom Plan for Basketball in Runyon Canyon Park Continues to Unravel … Tension Mounts

DEEGAN ON LA-The aspiring streetwear-star with a bankroll meets the hard-bitten political operative. The result? Instead of working with each other’s vibe to make one and one equal two (a big win for the community,) we have zero. What they planned -- a basketball court in Runyon Canyon Park -- has unraveled, becoming a seriously controversial issue. This could not have been the intention when what many emphatically call a “secret, back-room deal” was put together. Yet we see what can happen when not enough daylight is cast on the process. Things get overlooked in those deep dark recesses. Instead of “what can we get?” it ends up being “what can we get away with?” 

Hubris and reckless behavior lead to missed opportunities to serve the community. Just consider the mocking statements that were recently published online. This includes, Ryus in our pocket. That’s why this (Runyon Canyon basketball court) went that far. LOL. Just a matter of time till we throw that basketball court in there. They just waiting for the right time playas”, and “Com’n man we run Runyon Canyon playaz! We do music videos up here. Smoke sessions up heya!” And, “Out with the Old and in with the New. Can’t stop it, Won’t stop it!” These public boasts were made by Mike Sabando, obviously a supporter of FORC’s (Friends of Runyon Canyon) plan to install a corporate-branded commercial basketball court in Runyon Canyon Park, but otherwise a random social media unknown. This is indicative of the chatter that’s been characterizing this star-crossed project. 

That Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) would be in Sabando’s pocket is hilarious, but the rhetoric shows how this controversy, and the delusion, is metastasizing instead of settling down. 

It’s been exactly four weeks since the lid blew off this situation when an unsuspecting public learned, what they say was for the first time, about development and commercialization plans in the park under the auspices of Friends of Runyon Canyon, a public benefit support group empowered by the LA Rec and Parks department to find “deals” to bring it revenue in exchange for “sponsorships.” 

The Friends of Runyon Canyon (FORC) is a California 501-3 (c) corporation, whose status is granted by the Attorney General of California. It is considered a charity. Locally, they are supervised by the Department of Recreation and Parks. And the CD4 office has great sway over them, as well. 

What they themselves need now are some friends. It could be time for a make-over in how the community they are supposed to be serving views them. Nineteen public comments were submitted about FORC at a hearing of the Board of Commissioners of Recreation and Parks on May 4. They all amounted to the same request to the board: “Immediately dissolve FORC.” 

At this meeting, Catherine Landers, Ryu’s Hollywood deputy, confirmed that construction of the basketball court had stopped. This follows Ryu’s recent public announcement that, "Per my request, the Department of Recreation and Parks will halt construction of the proposed basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park, and the department also agreed with my recommendation to have the Board of Recreation and Parks commissioners reconsider its prior approval of the project." 

FORC is likely come under more scrutiny because of its dual-status as a charity and city surrogate, due to the deal they made with the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) making them a proxy of RAP in stewarding Runyon Canyon Park. That adds a layer of expected public accountability, transparency and engagement, the same as if dealing with a city official. 

FORC can no longer operate as a closed-door, candle-lit, membership-by-invitation organization with a $5,000 suggested donation -- a clubhouse for an elite few. Openness is their best offense as they struggle to get ahead of some very bad public relations. They granted branding rights in the park to a donor, but now their own brand is hurting. 

Both RAP and CD4 are aware that this is serious. Being a public benefit charity, and a proxy for the city, it’s easy to understand why there have been calls for much more oversight and transparency than FORC has been receiving or providing. Change must come, willingly or mandated, beginning with a program of transparency. 

Extra scrutiny is now being promised by grass roots activist groups like Runyon Canyon Defenders and others, that may have had investigators at the County Recorder, pulling plot maps and parcel information for an-about-to-be-announced acquisition of 2450 Solar Dr.   

The land acquisition is great for the park and for the wildlife, and has been in the works for many years prior to FORC entering the picture. 

Another player in this game, FORC’s streetwear partner in the park, is not regulated except by the economics of supply and demand. Their new product line, “Summer 2016 Dolphin Motorsports Legacy 1.1,” went on sale April 30. It cannot hurt their brand’s street marketing campaign to be in the midst of a controversy like the mess at Runyon Canyon Park when they are dropping their product into the marketplace. The four weeks leading up to that release has been a publicity bonanza for them. Their street cred may actually be increasing from being at the epicenter of this dispute. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” said P. T. Barnum, a 19th century American showman, prankster and circus owner. 

Right now, it feels like the math adds up to plus one for the streetwear brand and minus one for FORC. But the sum is still zero, even though the streetwear partner, who is a FORC board member, gave FORC a quarter-million dollars to provide park improvements. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that, apparently, it was never revealed or stated publicly during negotiations with Recreation and Parks that the donor was an insider board member who would benefit by receiving a corporate designation in the park -- along with a huge tax-write off and other benefits. 

“Neither staff nor I knew that the donor was a (FORC) board member during negotiations…” [that would receive value that] “would directly benefit his company,” states the RAP executive that conducted the negotiations. 

When asked by CityWatch, a FORC spokesperson denied that the board seat appointment existed during negotiations, even when challenged by being shown a timestamped social media screenshot from the donor captioned, “With my fellow board members the other night at one of our fundraisers for Runyon Canyon Park. I’m super excited to part of this organization and can’t wait to see some of our initiatives come to life.” (Like his corporate-branded basketball court!) 

This social media announcement was uncovered and verified by neighborhood activists, in classic political “truth squad” fashion, as being made at a FORC fundraiser held during the period that RAP was negotiating with the donor (a FORC board member.) who was then awarded valuable concessions by Recreation and Parks during the talks. It raises the question: was this self-serving insider dealing? Yes or no, it’s not the kind of shadow that people trying to brand themselves as philanthropists would want hanging over them. Google searches last forever. 

When the timestamp was pointed out, the streetwear star responded by erasing the caption. This is how cover-ups start…one small erasure becomes a termite and, before you know it, the house collapses. 

Councilmember David Ryu (CD4), a major player in this controversy that is in his district, has stepped in to lead the effort to clean up the mess. His goal is to refocus attention where it is needed -- on the future of Runyon Canyon Park, a regional park which must be readied over the next few years to welcome everybody, including millions of visitors and dogs. If Ryu plans to continue working with either of these players in determining the future of Runyon Canyon Park, he has his work cut out for him. He’ll need to help shift the debate from character assessment to park assessment. 

Boss Tweed, the head of New York City’s infamous Tammany Hall political machine (circa 1800’s), was famous for this political advice: “Don’t write it, if you can say it. Don't say it, if you can wink or nod.” The political pro at the heart of FORC seems to be mimicking Tweed when he starts an initial conversation with CityWatch by saying, “can’t we just make this story go away?” When told no, he then asked that nothing be in writing, wanting to just meet for coffee and talk, saying, “I hate using email.” 

So, are we in the shadows of disgraced politicos -- LBJ and his credibility gap, Nixon and his cover-ups, Boss Tweed’s manual of evasive tactics, and a twist of P.T. Barnum? Who and where are the political mentors to guide what started out as well-intentioned citizens, volunteers doing “the people’s business”? 

The spotlight will shortly be on one player who is trying to stay below the radar as things get more complicated – the councilmember who is the chair of the City Council’s Arts, Parks, and River Committee. He is a colleague and campaign consultant client of the FORC board member taking the most heat. In Tweed-speak, he might be the “grease” for this deal…he may have a key to the clubhouse. His committee has an appeal on its docket filed by lawyers to challenge the November 4, 2015 determination by the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners finding that construction of a basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park is exempt from CEQA pursuant to Article III, Section 1(y), Class 11, Categories 3 and 6 of the City's CEQA Guidelines. 

Another mentor must now be David Ryu. This mess is in his district, and, while he is slowly taking steps to clear it up, time will tell if he’s able to pull the variety of disparate, discordant interests together to find a solution that makes sustainability of the park as the top priority. Populations and demographic shifts are variables that will continue to bring new voices into any civic conversation, but the raw earth and nature -- the park -- remains the constant. It must be protected and improved for everybody. 

FORC has a chance to be a star, but must first become a transparent player; its website should include every minute of every meeting, a full financial disclosure report, the agreement with the streetwear donor and any other donors, and an accurate listing and biography of its directors and their terms of office. In addition to their fundraising, they must start “friend-raising” in the community that uses the park. As a quasi-public agency they must not discriminate about who can be a member and should open their doors to all. 

David Ryu can seek full public disclosure by FORC today. He does not need anything but the inherent power of his office to demand that. The credibility of FORC, and their fiduciary role as a fundraiser for the city, is on the line. They are at a turning point, poised to do great things. 

Waiting for a lawsuit to be filed in order to bring a motion to the City Council so it can act on the issue may be a purely technical response. The lawsuit, filed on April 27 and prepared by Citizens Preserving Runyon, is waiting in the wings, held off only by David Ryu’s request to RAP for a review of the situation. But the threat of looming litigation is not the only leverage Ryu has: he can use his bully pulpit. 

With the appeal now pending in Committee, there will soon be a step forward in clarifying one key issue -- CEQUA compliance. CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

It’s time to move out of damage control and into a proactive stance about how to make Runyon Canyon Park the best public resource it can be for all communities. It’s time to move the conversation from silly remarks on social media to serious talk among the professionals that are charged with protecting our parks. It’s time to open dialogue with all the communities that FORC, RAP and CD4 serves. 

A lot has happened in 30 days. Much of it good. 

Other articles in this series include: Lessons Learned from the Runyon Canyon Dispute? Time will Tell!” and LA Councilman Puts the Brakes on Runyon Canyon Basketball Court … as the Growing Pains Continue.” 


(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.

Action Alert: LA Looks to Scale Back Some 'McMansions'

SPEAK UP--Across Los Angeles, homes are being torn down and replaced with bigger houses, called "McMansions" by some. Now the city is considering a plan designed to keep the number of supersized homes in certain areas in check.

To prevent some new homes from blocking views and changing the look of neighborhoods too dramatically, the LA Department of City Planning has proposed changes to a 2008 citywide "mansionization" law. 

The amended law would scale back or eliminate certain building bonuses and exemptions that could lead to overly large homes. For example, homeowners could no longer get a bigger space allowance for including energy-efficient features. And certain patios and porches larger than 150 square feet would count toward the size of the house, the current limit is 250 square feet. 

The 2008 law is "not ... working as well and some neighborhood groups thought there were certain loopholes that developers were taking advantage of," said Principal City Planner Tom Rothmann.

Complaints about outsized homes have been growing in recent years. The city, needing time to amend its mansionization law, offered a temporary fix last year to about 20 neighborhoods in LA predominantly on the Westside and in the southern San Fernando Valley. Two-year building limits went into effect in 15 neighborhoods identified by their councilmembers as having a high rate of mansionization. Five other neighborhoods were being designated as historic zones and got two-year moratoriums on building and demolition permits. 

The planned changes to the citywide ordinance will cover the rest of the city's neighborhoods, ranging from Brentwood to South LA. 

The proposal is creating concern within the building industry. 

Changing the law would jeopardize jobs, said Tim Piasky, CEO of the Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California.  

"There’s a cottage industry out there that is buying older homes and remodeling them and bringing them to current standards," he said. 

The city is also eroding homeowners' rights by preventing them from adding size — and value — to their property, said Piasky. He acknowledged that some houses may offend sensibilities, but said they’re in the minority. 

"You’re impacting all of them just to address a few outliers," Piasky said. "I think that it’s kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater." 

Not all neighborhood groups are pleased with the proposals, either. The group "No More McMansions in LA." is urging its members to e-mail or call lawmakers and let them know the proposed changes to the mansionization law don't go far enough

After four public hearings, the city planning commission and the city council's Planning and Land Use Committee will review the proposal before it goes to the full council for a vote. Rothmann said if all goes as planned, the changes could be adopted by the fall. 

The planning department will take public comment at the first hearing on Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles. 

The other hearing dates are: 

  • Monday, May 9, 7-9 p.m. - Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center
  • Tuesday, May 10, 7-9 p.m. - Felicia Mahood Multipurpose Center
  • Monday, May 16, 7-9 p.m. - Marvin Braude Constituent Service


(Josie Huang writes for KPCC Radio    … where this piece originated.) Photo: Reed Saxon/AP.

Tell Us What You Think … in 30 Seconds or Less: ½ Cent Transit Tax?

WHAT’S THE ISSUE? Metro thinks you should cough up another half cent in sales tax to help provide for $120 Billion worth of transit projects. That’s what Metro thinks. CityWatch wants to know what you think … it will take you less than 30 seconds. If you feel you don’t know enough about this ballot measure, Steve Hymon over at The Source sums it up for you below the LA Pulse Poll.

If the election were today, would you support a ½ Cent Sales Tax increase to pay for $120 Billion worth of transit projects over the next five years?

[sexypolling id="1"] 

STEVE HYMON AT THE SOURCE-A long list of transit projects, road improvements and commuting options could be built over the next five decades under a $120-plus billion spending plan Metro released for a potential November sales tax ballot measure. Here’s the link to a PDF of the report and attachments on metro.net. 

The spending plan would also devote billions of dollars to pedestrian and cycling projects, commuter rail, transit operations and programs to keep the Metro transit system in a state of good repair. The plan, too, would return billions to local cities — money those cities could spend on their own local transportation projects and transit services.

The big theme here in one sentence: we’ve come a long way in building a modern transportation system in Los Angeles County but we still have work to do.

Many transformative projects are part of the plan. If the ballot measure goes to voters and is approved, the sales tax would begin in mid-2017 and target the following highway and transit projects to be completed in the plan’s first 15 years:

Transit projects (first 15 years) 

  • Construction of an expansive rail station/transit center where Crenshaw/LAX Line riders will transfer to a people mover (which LAX is planning to build) that will serve LAX terminals.
  • The Purple Line Extension subway to Westwood (a decade earlier than currently planned).
  • A potential rail line or bus rapid transit project on Van Nuys Boulevard north of the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley.
  • A new ExpressLane and bus service along the 405 spanning the Sepulveda Pass. A second phase of the project would add a potential underground rail line between the Orange Line and Purple Line. A third phase would extend the project from the Purple Line to the LAX area.
  • Grade separations and improvements for the Orange Line busway in preparation for a mid-century conversion to light rail.
  • A potential light rail line between Artesia and the Green Line in South Gate. A second phase in the 2030s would extend this new line from the Green Line to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
  • A bus rapid transit project on Vermont Avenue between Hollywood and 120th Street, which includes the stretch of Vermont between the Red/Purple Line and the Expo Line.
  • An extension of the Gold Line from Azusa to Claremont.
  • Bus rapid transit between the Orange Line and Red Line in North Hollywood and the Gold Line in Pasadena.

Highway projects (first 15 years)

  • Purchase of right-of-way for the High Desert Corridor, a potential new freeway, energy and high-speed rail corridor between the 14 freeway and State Route 18 in San Bernardino County.
  • A project on the 710 South between the ports and the 60 freeway to improve congestion, ease truck traffic and improve the movement of freight. It will be built in two phases, with the second phase in the next 15 years of the spending plan.
  • New lanes for the 71 freeway in Pomona between Interstate 10 and Rio Rancho Road.
  • ExpressLanes on the 105 freeway between the 405 and 605.
  • A new carpool lane and truck lane in each direction on the 5 freeway between the 14 freeway and Lake Hughes Road in the Santa Clarita area.
  • SR 57/SR 60 interchange improvements.

An active transportation project in the first 15 years is completing the Los Angeles River bike path between downtown Los Angeles and the western San Fernando Valley.

Other projects to be built in the second 15 years of the plan: an extension of the Green Line to Torrance; an extension of the Eastside Gold Line to South El Monte or Whittier (the other branch could be built later as an option to accompany an additional 10 year extension of the tax); direct HOV connectors for the 60/105 and 405/110 interchanges; new auxiliary lanes and ramp improvements on the 405 in the South Bay, and; an extension of the 110 ExpressLanes to the 405.

Projects in the final 10 years of the plan: a potential northern extension of the Crenshaw Line to the Purple Line, West Hollywood and Hollywood; bus rapid transit on Lincoln Boulevard, and; an extension of the Green Line to the Norwalk Metrolink Station.   

The full list of projects can be found in Attachment A of the report posted above. A description of the major projects is in Attachment H.

Please keep in mind these projects are on top of the three under construction (Crenshaw/LAX Line, Purple Line Extension to Wilshire/La Cienega and Regional Connector) and the one that is about to open, the Expo Line to Santa Monica (May 20).

The potential ballot measure would ask voters to increase the countywide sales tax by a half-cent for 40 years and to continue an existing half-cent sales tax (Measure R) for 18 years. The staff report will also provide the Board with scenarios for taxes running longer than 40 years.

The Metro Board of Directors will decide at their meeting next Thursday whether to formally release the draft plan to the public and begin a public review and input period. If the Board releases the plan, Metro would hold community meetings and Telephone Town Halls across the county this spring.

Another point of emphasis: This is a draft plan for public review. It could change. The Metro Board will have the final say on the spending plan and whether to put a ballot measure before county voters. That decision is scheduled to be made at the Board meeting on June 23.

Why do I use the word ‘potential’ when discussing some of the above projects? Because Metro still must complete environmental studies for those projects. The spending plan seeks to provide enough funds for more expensive alternatives that were not previously fully funded.

The spending plan for the potential ballot measure is based on input from stakeholders across Los Angeles County. Metro staff selected projects to be funded and the order in which they would be built based on wide-ranging criteria. Among them: improving travel times, increasing safety, providing better access to transit for those most dependent on it, reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change and creating and maintaining local jobs.

Something else that is crucially important to understand: having local funds is the key to building anything these days. Local dollars attract state and federal dollars. That’s how things get built in the 21st century. Example: Metro used local funds to help secure nearly $1.9 billion to help build the Regional Connector project and the first segment of the Purple Line Extension.

To say the least, this is an ambitious plan. I encourage everyone to read the staff report and attachments. There is a lot here to digest. We’ll try best to answer your questions in the comment sections. And we’ll certainly be posting a lot about many aspects of the plan in the coming weeks.

(More from Steve Hymon at the Source)

Ten Billion Dollar Bob: a New Strategy?

PERSPECTIVE-When State Senator Bob Hertzberg announced his tax proposal, SB8, in late 2014, he made no secret of using it as a tool to raise taxes by a net $10 billion – that is, per year.

The senator tried to pass it off as “tax modernization.” 

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Millennials: The New Urban Pioneers

AT LENGTH-San Pedro is once again waiting at the threshold of another round of redevelopment and speculation, based upon the Port of Los Angeles’ commitment to waterfront development and the “about-to-be-signed” lease on Ports O’ Call Village, newly minted as the “San Pedro Public Market.”

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LA Supes Have Once-in-A-Generation Opportunity to Break Inequality Barrier for Parks and Playgrounds

COUNTY WATCH--On Tuesday, May 3, LA County’s Supervisors will consider a ballot measure that could create parks and recreation options for communities that need them most. It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve a long-standing injustice against low-income communities of color, which have been left behind in the allocation of these resources.

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Civil Rights Leaders Call for Email Audits … Want a Halt to Racially Biased Policing in LASD

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--Los Angeles civil rights leaders on Sunday called LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s pledge to conduct random email audits of LA County Sheriff’s employees and deputies emails a good first step toward insuring against racially biased policing. The step comes in the wake of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable’s call for both a full email audit of all LA County Sheriff Deputies and employees emails and the resignation of L.A. County Sheriff Department Chief of Staff Tom Angel.

But Angel’s resignation and a “random” email audit is not enough. Sheriff’s officials must spell out specific timetables for the audits, what employees will be audited, and what the results of the audits are. The goal must be transparency and accountability of a sensitive public agency. 

The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable will monitor the LA County Sheriff’s Department pace and progress of the email audit. They will call for a timely review and disclosure of the results of the audit to help identify employees who demean and disparage minorities and Muslims. These are public employees who work in a highly sensitive public agency that has a highly sensitive interaction with minority communities in LA County.

Racist emails undermine public confidence in law enforcement and heighten suspicion that law enforcement officers engage in racially biased policing. Other police departments including San Francisco and Ferguson, Missouri have conducted similar audits after discovering racist emails by deputies. The offenders were suspended or fired.

A full email audit is absolutely essential to ensure that employees do not bring their racial biases into policing in LA County. It will also send the message that there is zero tolerance in the LA County Sheriff’s Department for racially biased attitudes on the part of sheriff’s deputies and that any demeaning of minorities and Muslims will be severely punished.

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more Hutchinson insight.) 


A Park Over the 101! Dreaming Big in Hollywood

OVER THE RAINBOW-Hollywood leaders have a history of dreaming BIG and making things happen that might not happen elsewhere. The Hollywood Sign is a perfect example. Hollywood entrepreneurs put it up on the hillside, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce rescued it when it was falling down in 1948. It has become the symbol of Southern California. 

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Save Valley Village Coalition Files Unprecedented Suit against All 15 City Councilmembers

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-In my last column, I wrote about the increasing grassroots activism to address quality of life issues, which include a Wild West approach to development where developers fund environmental reviews and politicians greenlight variances and spotty spot zoning to get around the general plan. 

While the Coalition to Preserve LA collects signatures to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot, other groups are filing lawsuits to slow down the rash of development in the meantime. 

As developers and investors work to get in their “last slicks” before a possible turnaround, many see the fast track approval of mega-developments as propelled by what they see to be an obsequious city council and administration. 

Save Valley Village, in an unprecedented move, has filed a suit against all 15 city councilmembers for their “unlawful voting pact.” A spokesperson for the group says, “For the City Council to avoid CRIMINAL charges, each councilmember will have to make his own decisions and no longer succumb to the illegal voting pact.” 

Let’s take a look at Penal Code 86, which criminalizes vote trading agreements. The code grew from the State Constitution requirement that all municipal elections be non-partisan. Removing political parties from the equation would remove corruption from local politics. Wrong. Without parties in play, individual councilmembers had to find some other means to have their measures adopted by the entire city council or at or at least 8 of 15 votes. Enter vote trading. 

In 2006, the State Legislature amended Penal Code 86 to consider any type of voting agreement to be a form of criminal bribery. Councilmembers can’t legally agree to give or withhold his or her vote in return that another councilmember will give or withhold a vote on this or any other matter. 

However, Penal Code 86 doesn’t appear to have halted or even slowed down the unlawful vote trading pact that is the key to developer power at City Hall. Campaign contributions from developers and their attorney fill the coffers of councilmembers at the city and state level. State politicians are not held to the same financial caps as city politicians so the impact on the state level may be even greater. 

What’s the end result? Land-use entitlement approvals for specific plan amendments, zone changes, bonuses, and variances all require public hearings and protocol. Save Valley Village charges that the land use entitlements are being approved without this protocol, as shown by evidence submitted into the case record that proves noncompliance. 

To top things off, Mayor Eric Garcetti is supporting Assembly Bill 2356 authored by Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez. Kathryn Phillips, director at the Sierra Club of California, wrote an April 18 column in CityWatch disclosing the mayor’s involvement. AB 2356 would change the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to allow for infill planning to circumvent disclosure of environmental impact of proposed development projects.

Mayor Garcetti has also received some heat for his role in the “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch Mine” voting agreements that have become commonplace. Back in December 2010, then Council President Garcetti boasted of a 99.35% record for unanimous votes in the Council. A unanimous track record has a flipside to that perceived efficiency, placing a whole lot of power in the hands of a few. Save Valley Village points to Los Angeles Councilmember Krekorian (photo above), who is the subject of the group’s recall effort. 

Critics say Krekorian, who represents North Hollywood, Valley Village, and Studio City, has favored commercial interests above community requests. Save Valley Village accuses the councilmember of approving zone changes, opposing efforts to designate local buildings as historic monuments, and failing to respond to concerns about dangerous demolitions. 

The catalyst for the effort to collect recall petition signatures is the destruction of the Hermitage Avenue home of a 17-year old Norma Jean Dougherty, better known as Marilyn Monroe. In June, the property was razed just days before a Cultural Heritage Commission hearing on the case. Critics say Krekorian failed to support the landmark request, along with his failure to act in another preservation case involving Henry’s Tacos in North Hollywood, both of which critics point to as an example of “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch My Back” voting agreements. The city council voted unanimously to approve the demolition of Monroe’s former home to pave way for a condo project. 

Per the Save Valley Village website, the unincorporated association is “working towards enforcing laws and legislation to protect us from developer-initiated zone changes and City Hall-motivated over-densification that erode the character of our neighborhoods and the quality of our lives by forcing massive developments into already established, healthy and sustainable communities and neighborhoods.” 

The association addresses a “disturbing loss of landmarks, homes, and cultural character. Projects go forward, notwithstanding violations of California Government Codes, Environmental/CEQA laws and local ordinances.” The increased density and growth of McMansions are threatening the Valley Village way of life, resulting in the loss of decades-old trees, historic homesteads, open spaces, and affordable housing, as demonstrated by the 300 percent rise in Ellis Act evictions from 2013 to 2014.

Elected officials, whether at the local, state, or federal level, have a responsibility to represent the needs and concerns of their constituents, not only those interests with the deepest pockets. 

Grassroots groups like Save Valley Village are doing what they can to keep the fox from the hen house, to protect the interests of the rest of us and to save the integrity of each neighborhood in our city.


(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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