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The Battle for Los Angeles

Originally published on 24 Nov 2015 Written by Jack Humphreville for CityWatch

LA WATCHDOG–The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that was recently filed with the City Attorney is the start of a battle that will pit real estate speculators and developers and their bought and paid for pals on the Herb Wesson led City Council against the beleaguered residents of Los Angeles who are rightfully concerned about overdevelopment and the impact on our already congested lunar cratered streets, our residential neighborhoods, and our quality of life.

Very simply, this initiative, sponsored by Hollywood based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (“AHF”), is designed to eliminate “spot zoning” where the City Council “up-zones” a specific property by increasing its density and/or height without regard to the surrounding neighborhood or the area’s community plan.

For example, spot zoning permitted the Millennium Hollywood to essentially double the density of its development, allowing it to build a 1.2 million square foot project with 500 luxury condominiums; a five star, 200 room hotel; 250,000 square feet of office space; 100,000 square feet of retail space; a high end sports club; and an upscale, tourist oriented restaurant. If this project is given the go ahead by the courts, the New York City developer will be $300 million richer while we are stuck with increased gridlock at the already congested intersection at Hollywood and Vine.

This favorable decision by the City Council was facilitated by the Millennium Hollywood developer spreading $4.5 million around Council District 13 to grease the skids, including generous contributions to then Councilman Eric Garcetti, current Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, and their cronies.

AHF was spurred to action by the proposed 927,000 square foot development involving the Hollywood Palladium that will adversely impact their operations, their Hollywood locations, and their local patients. This project, consisting of two 30 story erections with 731 luxury apartments, will result in unacceptable levels of traffic in the already congested Sunset corridor, less than a half mile from Hollywood and Vine. But this traffic mess does not worry the developer who will pocket an additional $35 to $50 million because of the favorable up-zoning.

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will level the playing field between developers and the residents of Hollywood who are under siege by more than 70 individual projects. This will result over 10,000 high end apartments and condominiums, 2,500 hotel rooms, 3 million square feet of offices, and 1 million square feet of retail space, a certain recipe for gridlock.

The initiative will require the City to update its 37 Community Plans so that they are consistent with the City’s General Plan, eliminating the ability of the City Council to up-zone individual projects on a one off basis. City employees will also be in charge of the preparation of Environment Impact Reviews, limiting a developer’s ability to jerry rig the report’s findings and conclusions. Finally, the initiative would place a 24 month moratorium on projects approved by the City that increased their density.

Importantly, this does not prohibit developments that comply with existing regulations. Once the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is cleared by the City Attorney, AHF and other activists will have to collect over 60,000 valid signatures in order to qualify the measure for the ballot. If the initiative qualifies for the ballot, it will be placed on the November 2016 ballot unless there is a costly special election. The City Council can also vote to adopt the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, thereby eliminating the need for a costly ballot measure.

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will be controversial as the real estate industry and their lawyers and lobbyists will view it as an attack on their prerogative to up-zone properties for personal gain. This initiative will also limit the power of the City Council to dispense favors in return for generous campaign contributions and other favors.

On the other hand, residents of impacted neighborhoods throughout the city, including not only Hollywood, but the Valley, Koreatown, the Eastside and the Westside, the Arts District, and the North Valley, are all impacted by self-serving developers who could care less about our neighborhoods and quality of life.

This initiative will most likely qualify for the ballot given AHF’s past successes in qualifying previous measures for the City, County, and State ballots. And despite concerns about Ballot Box Legislation, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will be approved by the voters who are concerned about overdevelopment and increased congestion and do not trust the Herb Wesson led City Council.

Now is the time for the City Council to address the issue of overdevelopment and spot zoning by engaging AHF and other interested parties who are in interested developing Community Plans that serve the City’s residents, not the real estate developers.

By Jack Humphreville

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