Thu, Jun

Neighborhood Politics

Do We Have a West Coast 9/11 in the Making?

GUEST COMMENTARY--It’s hard to overestimate the enormous implications of the City’s total failure on New Year’s in Hollywoodland. The last remaining thread of trust in the City has finally been cut for most of us who live here. We have communicated to the City on numerous occasions about the lax (a very generous word) enforcement on top of Mt. Lee. Its response is always the same: we are wrong and they have it secured. Still, we thought that, at least on New Year's Eve, when the entire world increases enforcement and is on alert, extra care would be taken in our neighborhood. 

Instead, not only was there nothing extra -- there was nothing! How long does it take for someone to change the Hollywood Sign? Certainly longer than I imagine it would take to leave bombs there. And after an initial blast, a subsequent fire could have devastating consequences. The whole world would have seen what a farce the City enforcement is.

Since 9/11, it’s no longer a prank to change the sign. It’s a serious breach of security that threatens our lives and homes. 

Our previous councilmember, on his own, went against decades of precedent (when the top of Mt. Lee was off limits to the public for good reasons) and without studies, hearings or process, recently opened it up and created a new activity of "walking to the Sign,” inviting tens of millions of people to come up here. The present Councilmember has continued and thereby supports these policies. 

Anyone can come up here carrying anything -- huge backpacks used for weeks of camping, metal suitcases and various equipment. We've seen it. Everything is allowed. Nothing is checked. The lack of security takes one's breath away.

And what is atop of Mt. Lee? There are multiple terrorist targets and any one of them should the sound alarm:

  • The famous Hollywood Sign known worldwide as a symbol of Western Culture, one of the biggest tourist magnets in Southern California.
  • The emergency communication tower for first responders in the entire City of Los Angeles. 
  • 8000 gallons of stored fuel.
  • Hundreds of nearby homes built on narrow, winding substandard streets (so narrow that a resident died in a house fire because a fire truck could not get up the narrow street.) It’s a fragile neighborhood placed in a bottle neck surrounded on three sides by Griffith Park. 
  • All of this in a very high fire hazard zone in the midst of a drought. 

These are incredibly easy, vulnerable targets -- all in one location. And the probability of hundreds or thousands of residents and visitors being stuck on gridlocked streets as they try to evacuate could be turned into a certainty by the placing of just a few vehicles at key locations.

At this point it has gone beyond ignorance, incompetency or neglect. Over and over again, the City has chosen to disregard our warnings. Over and over again, the City has shown that safety is not its top priority. It scrambles to react rather than to prevent. Such conditions would be unacceptable anywhere else. 

We need and are entitled to protection. The City failed us on New Year’s Eve and we greatly fear what the next failure will bring.

(Sarajane Schwartz is a 40-year resident of Hollywoodland, a founder of Homeowners on Beachwood Drive United, and a former president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association.

Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

City Council Greenlights Controversial Reef Development in South LA

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Controversial plans to build a massive housing, hotel, and retail project with a skyscraper on a parking lot in South LA was unanimously approved by the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday. More than 1,400 apartments and condos will be built, but many will be unaffordable for South LA residents 

City leaders have said the development, called The Reef, has the potential to transform the neighborhood, which has been overlooked by developers until now. It may bring job opportunities and quality restaurants to a neglected area, but it has drawn fierce opposition over fears it will drive up living costs and displace thousands of residents. 

Streetsblog LA has followed the plans closely and offered this critique today: While it sounds like “livability wet dream” it “caters to a well-heeled clientele;” it is “situated on the edge of a neighborhood that is both one of the poorest in the city and the most overcrowded in the entire country.” 

Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, who reps South LA, told the Los Angeles Times: “It is new … and we have not seen this in the 9th District or South Los Angeles and there’s certainly some uncertainty about it but definitely some excitement and enthusiasm.” 

With the city’s approval, physicians Avedis and Ara Tavitian will develop a parking lot and warehouse at South Broadway and Washington Boulevard with 1,444 condos and apartments, a grocery store, a gallery, a hotel with 208 rooms, outdoor plazas, and more than 67,000 square feet of shops and restaurants in buildings ranging in height from 77 to 420 feet. 

Opponents have speculated the city was swift in approving the project ahead of the implementation of a ballot measure approved by Los Angeles voters earlier this month that will require residential developers to make 20 percent of all condos and 11-25 percent of apartments in their buildings affordable. 

The Tavitian brothers agreed to designate just 5 percent of the 549 apartments for tenants earning very low incomes. (None of the condos will be designated affordable). But they did agree to pay the city $15 million for affordable housing off-site, but within Council District 9. 

But with The Reef, affordability isn’t the only concern. Streetsblog’s Sahra Sulaiman says residents fear gentrification in the neighborhood will make their lives more difficult in other ways. She quotes Alfredo Gama of the Central Alameda Neighborhood Council: “I get stopped by police going out to my car at two a.m. to get my books!” Then she writes, “How much more frequently would he and others like him be harassed once higher-income residents moved in and sought protection from their “suspicious-looking” lower-income neighbors?” Those types of tactics, she says, are not uncommon in gentrifying neighborhoods.

All images via Department of City Planning except photo of protesters - Credit: Angel Jennings / Los Angeles Times)


(Jenna Handler posts at Curbed LA ….where this commentary originated) Prepped for CityWatch by Dianne Lawrence.


Venice: Councilman Mike, Do You Hear Me Now?

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--"Do you hear me ... Do you hear me now?" How many times did one hear the Verizon ad man ask that question in response to obtaining adequate service? The Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) is now asking this of Councilman Mike Bonin.

Projects affecting Venice are being approved by the City and they have never been thru the Venice Neighborhood Council. (Photo above: Ira Koslow, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council.)

In August the VNC sent a letter to Councilman Mike Bonin asking him to present all current projects to the VNC rather than skirting the system. They did not receive an answer to the letter. In the December meeting, Matt Shaw presented a motion that all projects affecting Venice, in whatever state, be presented to the neighborhood council and "stop taking any actions until such time as our council and stakeholders have had a chance to voice our opinion on any and all proposals."

Councils Created to Provide Grassroots Input

The neighborhood councils were created by Charter amendment in 1999 to provide grassroots vetting and input to the governing bodies. "To promote public participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs by creating, nurturing, and supporting a citywide system of grass-roots, independent, and participatory neighborhood councils."

There are 96 councils and Venice, one of the first 4 or 5 to be certified, has outshone all councils with its professional participation and voting record at the polls. The VNC has the largest turnout of any neighborhood council each year.   Last year the governing body had to print extra ballots three times.  Other neighborhood councils visit the Venice council to see how it is done. Former Land Use and Planning committee (LUPC) Chair Challis Macpherson wrote the book on LUPC and taught other councils how it should be done.

The Board is Heavy with Talent

The people on the board are businessmen, attorneys, architects, professionals and some are retired professionals. They have all been trained to address a problem and provide solutions. Because of their broad backgrounds, many times the suggestions, solutions are varied prior to consensus. 

Ira Koslow, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, says "I have been on the board a long time before becoming president. These people who have never served before just do not understand the lack of cooperation from the CD11 council office," he said. "I don't understand it."

Koslow, now retired, is no lightweight in the field of accomplishments. He worked 25 years in the music business as a talent manager with Peter Asher management. Before that he was an associate professor at California State University, Long Beach for four years. His last job was with the LAUSD where he was a math teacher for 10 years and taught economics for 12 and for five years was Dean of Discipline.

Examples of No Vetting

Koslow started reciting in rapid fashion the latest instances he could remember regarding the preempting of the Venice Neighborhood Council.

"Bonin brought an "ice rink" to be put at the park on Windward to the neighborhood council," he said. "No one wanted it. Then he wanted to bring it back thru the Venice council again. Normally, we do not hear a case twice but he said he had altered the plans enough for it all to be considered new. The Venice council voted it down again. Bonin then went over the Venice council to the California Coastal Commission and got it approved in spite of the Venice council members testifying against the project at the Commission hearing. Whatever happened to the project after that, we do not know.

"The three homeless projects--Westminster Senior Center, Venice Median, and Thatcher Yard have never been thru the Venice Neighborhood Council. Bonin claims that he had a town hall and that was sufficient. Hardly. Telling Venetians what he plans to do is not vetting a case.

"The Business Investment District (BID) that was so controversial and had to be redone, It never went thru the Venice council. Had Bonin not thrown in 25 percent of the city land, it would never have passed. Now the City has to pay $480,000 in fees.

"Lava Mae, the mobile shower service, was new to us. It was mentioned as a project but never presented with details until our December meeting when everything was a fait accompli. There are Board members who live on Third who could have given valuable input at some point.

"This is why we are here."

(Reta Moser writes for Venice Update] … where this perspective was first posted.) Photo credit: Yolanda Gonzalez.


Tenants Win Big: LA Council Okays Buyout Protection Law

TENANTS RIGHTS-Wednesday the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Tenant Buyout Protection Ordinance. This was a culmination of months of effort by the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) to win passage of this necessary tenant protection.

The need for the law came out of the growing tactics being used by unscrupulous landlords attempting to coerce tenants living in rent controlled units to move by offering them “cash for keys.” This then allows the landlord the ability to jack up rents once the tenant vacates the unit.

In addition, landlords are using these buyouts to avoid having to go through the Ellis Act Eviction Process or filing a Tenant Habitability Plan, two programs that provide tenants some safeguards against abuse. By avoiding these processes landlords can obtain higher rents without paying correct relocation amounts, providing tenants the legal amount of time to move, providing tenants temporary relocation housing while the building is being renovated, being limited in raising rents and being prohibited from re-renting the units for 5 years, depending on what their intentions are for the property.

CES Affordable Housing Lead Organizer Joel Montano, testifying before the City Council prior to the vote stated, “Many tenants don’t know they rights, believe they have no choice and opt to take the money and leave. The longer you delay, the more tenants will be illegally forced out of their homes. We urge your vote to pass this ordinance today.”

LA City Council Member Gilbert Cedillo, who chairs the Council Housing Committee, was instrumental in guiding the proposal, developed by Los Angeles Housing + Community Development Department (HCIDLA), though the Council to its eventual adoption.

The new law will do the following:

  • Require that landlords provide tenants with a written disclosure notice of the tenant’s rights under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) with regard to eviction and relocation assistance, including contact information for the HCIDLA landlord/tenant hotline.
  • Allow tenants to rescind buyout agreements for any reason for up to 30 days after the agreements are fully executed.
  • Further provide that agreements that do not satisfy the stipulated requirements may be rescinded by the tenant at any time.
  • Require that landlords file copies of all buyout agreements with HCIDLA.
  • Provide tenants with an affirmative defense to an unlawful detainer and a civil remedy for actual damages and civil penalties against landlords who fail to comply with the buyout agreement regulations.

(Larry Gross is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival and an occasional CityWatch contributor.)


Street Vending Permits Create More Problems than Solutions

GUEST WORDS--As an immigrant myself, I understand the situation and appreciate the City's effort to protect the immigrant community by not actively participating in the federal's deportation effort but, if the City's intention is to protect the undocumented community, will the vending permits be issued "only" to them? Will the City be providing work permits in the form of vending permits? (See story, “LA Council Committee Moves Street Vending Legalization Forward”)  

How would they determine the cost and requirements for the permits? Will the County wave their requirements? Will the State wave their regulations? Street vending also generates "unreported" income, why would anyone pay for a permit that might force them to report the income and/or pay taxes? 

There is no easy solution to the problem but providing vending permits will only worsen the situation. 

The City cannot currently enforce those Municipal codes and City ordinances that prohibit Street vending, the County cannot monitor, regulate or enforce health requirements and the State is not even trying to collect sales taxes. What will be the plan to monitor and enforce those with or without permits? 

They are considering two vendors per block but what will happen when there are four vendors on a block? Vending permits will increase the number of street vendors, some will have permits and others will not! The City, the County and the State will still have the same "limited" enforcement resources, why would they want a bigger headache? 

Street vending is a custom in third world countries because they do not have social services. For the vendors it is the only way to make a living and for their customers it is the only thing they can afford with their salaries. Every elected official in city government promised to deliver a world class and a safer Los Angeles. Are they telling us now that a third world status is the best that they will do? 

Restaurants and stores pay rent, business licenses, occupancy permits, utilities, employees, payroll and sales taxes; they are expected to meet City, County, State and Federal labor, health and income reports requirements and liability insurance. 

Is it fair to them that street vendors pay less for a permit and use City Streets to conduct business at no cost and being a cash business, income and sales taxes are none existent! Will they City carry the liability insurance for those permitted vendors? 

If the city of Los Angeles, or any other city, wishes to help the undocumented population and act against federal mandates, they should just eliminate, within the city limits, the need to ask and/or prove immigration status at any job. The only thing needed should be the willingness and ability to do the work and the job opening! The federal government already provides them with a tax ID number for the purpose of filing income taxes and the City has already set a minimum wage within city limits.

((Edwin Ramirez is a long time activist and co-publisher of Pacoima Today.)


Smearing the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative: Big Real Estate is No ‘Grassroots Organization’

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-The opposition to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative pawns itself off as a grass roots coalition, but it is, in fact, an astroturf organization funded by four major Big Real Estate players.  These large enterprises have a global reach, with billions of assets stretching far beyond their Los Angeles operations. 

  • Westfield Group, based in Australia, owns and operates shopping centers throughout the world, including 38 malls in the United States. In Los Angeles their malls include Century City and Warner Center. 
  • Crescent Heights, based in Miami, builds and operates up-scale commercial and residential projects throughout the United States, including the proposed Palladium high-rise tower in Hollywood. 
  • Lowe Enterprises is headquartered in Los Angeles and invests in commercial and residential real estate projects throughout the United States. 
  • Eli Broad, based in Los Angeles, has not completely moved on from insurance and tract housing to philanthropy and museums.  He did find time to donate $25,000 to oppose the Initiative. 

Last week CityWatch republished a Real Deal (real estate site) article, “How did LA’s Planning Process become such a Mess,” that went after the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative with a vengeance. But, this article was so filled with inaccuracies that my annotated notes had 31 separate corrections. Let me present the most egregious errors and corrections: (Anyone who wants to see the full 31 can shoot me an email at [email protected].) 

Claim: “The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is an effort by NIMBYs to put the breaks on most development in Los Angeles.” 

Correction. NIMBY is a pejorative term used by Big Real Estate to smear their critics when they raise legitimate zoning, planning, design, and environmental objections to their mega-projects. The critics’ objections are based on violations of legally adopted policies, laws, and regulations. Furthermore, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative only impedes a small percentage of real estate projects, about 3-5 percent, because they require parcel level legislative actions (e.g., spot-zoning) from the Department of City Planning and the City Council to turn illegal projects into legal ones. As for the rest, the Department of Building and Safety quickly issues building permits to 90 percent of applications because they are by-right projects. As for the remaining five percent of building permits, the Department of City Planning internally reviews and approves them since they do not require City Council legislative actions. 

Claim: “…The County’s zoning code itself has not been updated since 1946.”  

Correction: Location, location, location. The General Plan addresses the City of Los Angeles, not Los Angeles County. They share the name, Los Angeles, but that is it because the County’s General Plan only applies to unincorporated areas. 

Claim: “29 of LA’s 35 plans are currently more than 15 years old. Beyond money, updating the plan would entail heavy input from the community and approval from City Council.”

Correction: Thirty-five plans refer to the Community Plans, not the entire General Plan. But, short-staffing only explains some of the delays in updating the General Plan’s elements, including the Community Plans. A bigger part of the explanation is LA’s elected officials. They have little interest in planning since they view Los Angeles through a project-by-project, contribution-by-contribution lens.

A comprehensive, long-term perspective would gum up their system of campaign contributions, shakedowns, and political influence. 

Finally, the biggest impediment to timely updates was the City’s misuse of the Hollywood Community Plan update. Its not-so-hidden agenda was to promote real estate speculation, regardless of underlying demographic trends and public comments. As a result, the City lost three legal challenges, and the courts threw out the entire Hollywood update, its EIR, and its implementing zoning ordinances and planning amendments. Since the Hollywood Update was the up-zoning, up-planning template for the remaining 34 Community Plans, the Planning Department was left high and dry for many years as it regrouped from this major legal defeat. 

Claim: “Up until 1960, LA had a residential capacity of 10 million people … But as real estate politics shifted toward the stronghold of homeowners associations, capacity diminished. Between the 60s and the early 2000s, LA was effectively “downzoned” by 60 percent …”  

Correction: The one major planning and zoning program during the 1980s and early 1990s was AB 283. It resulted from local lawsuits and California State Assembly legislation that required the City of Los Angeles to ensure consistency between its plans and its zones. When this project concluded in 1991, the AB 283 staff calculated that LA’s amended zoning could accommodate another 5 million people. Several years later the General Plan Framework’s technical consultants confirmed these findings. They determined that Los Angeles had enough remaining commercial zoning (which can also be used for apartments) for all conceivable growth scenarios in the entire 21st century. Their technical reports also reported that the build-out of the city’s residential zones would transform Los Angeles into a city of 8,000,000 people.

Since Los Angeles has had virtually no population gain over the past two decades, and only tiny amounts of down-zoning, the city still has sufficient zoning for all foreseeable growth scenarios. What it does not have, however, is the exact zoning that a few high stakes real estate investors require to build luxury high-rise towers at the most lucrative locations. 

Claims: “The Coalition to Preserve LA … believes a two-year moratorium on all developments seeking a zone change will light a fire under the Council.” 

Correction: The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s two-year moratorium is on General Plan Amendments, Height District changes, AND zone changes. But, 100 percent affordable housing projects would be exempt from the spot-zoning ban. After this two-year hiatus, legislative land use actions would then be allowed for entire Community Plan areas, Specific Plan areas, and for local areas that are 15 acres or larger. This approach is also consistent with the City of Los Angeles City Charter, which states that these legislative actions must be for geographic areas that have significant social, economic, and physical identity. Spot-zoning and spot-planning, therefore, does not conform to the City Charter. 

Charter Section 555 (a)   Amendment in Whole or in Part. The General Plan may be amended in its entirety, by subject elements or parts of subject elements, or by geographic areas, provided that the part or area involved has significant social, economic or physical identity. 

Claim: “While developers may be gung-ho for higher building capacities, density alone will not heal LA. It takes community discussions, which are easier when the rules are clear. The real need, planners say, is just a little bit of certainty, from which both community members and builders can benefit.” 

Correction: The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative provides absolute certainty by stopping legislative actions that allow mega-project developers to define their own rules for separate parcels, usually in tandem with their campaign contributions. But, as should already be obvious, Big Real Estate has NO interest in such certainty. It is anathema to them. They want total flexibility to build whatever they want, wherever they want, as long as it pencils out to their advantage. That is why they oppose the certainty created by the Neighborhood Integrity Ordinance. It also explains why they are spending vast sums to defeat it, including planting info-mercials in real estate trade journals and City Watch..

A LESSON: Is there a lesson in this list of corrections? Yes, the bigger they come, the harder they fall. Money can buy you lots of things, but so far, basic facts are not for sale.


(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angele city planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch. Please send any comments or corrections to [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.