On a Friday afternoon at the end of June, a friend and I went to Venice Beach. I was surprised that it wasn’t more crowded, but it was great to have the space. The weather was warm, but not hot. Toward evening it started to get a little hazy. Here are some photos.
Back in February I was at a City Planning Commission (CPC) hearing. I’d come to talk about one of the items on the agenda, but while I was waiting for that to come up, I noticed a group of people sitting together holding signs that said “NO on 7”. These people wanted to voice their opposition to a new distribution center that had been proposed for their community. Logistics REIT giant Prologis was seeking permission to build a 341,000 sq. ft. warehouse with 36 truck loading positions and parking for up to 71 trailers that would operate 24/7. Amazingly, the site they had in mind was right across the street from a residential neighborhood in the Harbor Gateway area.
A long list of speakers got up to talk. First there were the applicants and their reps, all of whom boasted about what a great project this was. There were also a number of union members who came forward to tell the Commissioners that the distribution center would create lots of jobs. And staff from Councilmember Joe Buscaino’s office showed up to speak in support of the project.
But the people who actually live in the community were dead set against it, talking about impacts from diesel truck exhaust, and noise from a distribution center that was going to operate 24/7. They explained to the Commissioners that the site was just across the street from apartments and houses. They pointed out that a healthcare facility, a convalescent home and a public park were all within a few hundred feet of the proposed distribution center. The CPC listened to all this, and then voted to approve the project. While Commissioners Vahid Khorsand and Veronica Padilla-Campos voted against, everyone else gave the distribution center a thumps up, and it passed easily. The final tally was 6-2.
Even though I’d never heard of the project before that morning, it was pretty easy to see that the approval process was a joke. The applicant wants to build a 300,000+ sq.ft. warehouse right across the street from a residential neighborhood. The warehouse will generate hundreds of diesel truck trips every day, and will operate all night long. This is a project that will have major impacts on the surrounding community, but instead of doing a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the Department of City Planning (DCP) allowed the applicant to slide it through with a much less rigorous Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND). In other words, the DCP is saying that even though there could be negative impacts, don’t worry about it, because we can mitigate them to the point where they won’t be a problem.
It’s a familiar game. The City of LA plays it all the time. The DCP lets the applicant run the environmental review process without providing any meaningful oversight. DCP staff will offer some suggestions, the CPC will set some conditions, but the project that gets approved generally gives the developers pretty much everything they were asking for. These days most of the Commissioners on the CPC seem to believe their job is to approve projects. No matter what’s being proposed, the routine is pretty much the same. They listen to testimony, ask DCP staff a few questions, spend a little time haggling over conditions, and then give it a green light. Occasionally, as with this distribution center, one or two of the Commissioners will dissent, but almost without exception the majority gives the proposed project a thumbs-up and the developers and their reps walk out smiling.
But the people who live in the neighborhood aren’t smiling. And they’re not taking this lying down. I contacted one of the residents, Rosalie Preston, to ask if the community was planning to fight the project. She sent me a copy of the appeal they’d submitted. Preston points out that the community is already considered disadvantaged by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) because of its proximity to the 110. The freeway carries hundreds of diesel trucks through the area every day, causing CalEPA to rank it in the highest percentile for pollution burden.
I really hope the appeal will be granted, because the community has already spent way too much time opposing this awful project. But if the appeal is denied and this goes to court, I’ll be laughing my head off on the day the judge hands the City of LA another embarrassing defeat. The City has lost a number of high-profile cases related to development and planning. This will just be one more demonstration of how badly broken the approval process is.
But let’s take look at the appeal, and see why the community has a problem with the CPC’s decision to approve the project….
An EIR, Not an MND
There’s really no question about this. According to State law, an EIR is required if “substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the project may result in significant adverse impacts.” The Prologis Distribution Center will bring hundreds of diesel trucks in and out of this residential community, all through the day and all through the night. Prologis argues that they can mitigate air quality and noise impacts to the point where they’re not significant. It’s not surprising to hear developers make idiotic claims like this, but it’s depressing that the City is happy to take their word for it. The fact that the DCP allowed Prologis to get away with an MND shows just how little they care about how new development impacts LA’s communities.
Diesel trucks emit a range of harmful substances, and the claim that hundreds of trucks will travel through this community every day without having significant impacts on the health of the residents is absurd. Among the components of diesel exhaust are particulate emissions. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) regulates two classes of particulate emissions.
PM2.5: Up to 2.5 microns in size.
PM10: Up to 10 microns in size.
The ARB web site offers this information….
“The ARB is concerned about Californians’ exposures to PM2.5- and PM10-sized particles because of the potential harmful health effects that can result. PM 2.5 and PM10 particles easily penetrate into the airways and lungs where they may produce harmful health effects such as the worsening of heart and lung diseases. The risk of these health effects is greatest in the elderly and the very young. Exposure to elevated concentrations of PM is also associated with increased hospital and doctor visits and increased numbers of premature deaths.”
The consultants who wrote the MND claim that the PM levels residents will be exposed to fall within the limits set by ARB, but the appeal calls this into question. To predict the emissions that will be generated by a proposed project, environmental consultants use a program developed by the State known as CalEEMod. The appellants looked at the numbers used by the authors of the MND for these estimates, and then compared them to the numbers actually given in the MND. “When we reviewed the Project’s CalEEMod output files, we found that several of the values inputted into the model were not consistent with information disclosed in the IS/MND.” The appellants believe that the numbers used by Prologis’ consultants represent only about half of the truck trips the project would generate. This means the actual levels of PM pollution would be double, and the health impacts to the community much more severe than Prologis has stated.
It’s known that former industrial uses on the site left toxic chemicals in the soil, including tetrachloroethylene (a likely carcinogen), trichloroethene (a known carcinogen), total petroleum hydrocarbons and heavy metals. A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment was done in 2016. It concluded that the site was rife with contaminants and recommended additional investigation. Anybody with common sense should understand that there’s no way to talk about mitigating the impacts until all the information is available.
The appeal covers a lot of other issues, but it all boils down to the fact that Prologis isn’t being honest about the impacts that will be caused by the project. And as usual, the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission are letting the developer get away with it. There’s certainly an argument to be made regarding the jobs the project will create, and the increase in economic activity throughout the area. But even if the CPC believes the economic benefits outweigh the health concerns, they’re still required by law to fully assess the impacts and to make every reasonable effort to protect the health of the community. They haven’t done that. By allowing Prologis to use an MND instead of an EIR, they’ve let the developer off the hook and let the community down.
But that’s nothing new. Anybody who’s been following development in LA over the years knows about the cozy relationship that business interests have with City Hall, and by extension, with the DCP. Developers and real estate investors know it’s just a matter of working the machine, and if they play the game right, pretty much anything they ask for will be approved.
City Hall is supposed to protect us. Instead they’re selling us out. The people opposing this project are just the latest victims of the City’s disrespect for State-mandated environmental review. By allowing Prologis to slide through this process without properly assessing the project’s impacts, the DCP is putting residents’ health at risk.
That’s not acceptable. Unfortunately, once again the CPC has ignored the law, and once again residents have been forced to pursue an appeal and possibly a law suit just to protect their community. Once again the City of LA has put the interests of developers over the rights of citizens.
If you’ve been following the news for the past few weeks, you don’t need me to tell you that there’s been a nationwide uproar over the separation of immigrant children from their parents. Today demonstrations were held across the US to protest this practice, and to demand that children still in detention be reunited with their families.
Thousands of people gathered in Downtown to hear a range of speakers. Numerous organizations were represented, including CHIRLA, Black Lives Matter, ACCE, and the Korean Resource Center.
Participants marched from Broadway down First street to Alameda, and then to the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC). Just to be clear, the children being detained are not at the MDC. Those in California are being held at smaller facilites throughout the state.
While this country was built by immigrants, the criminalization of people crossing US borders is nothing new. Waves of hysteria regularly sweep across the nation, inciting fear and hatred of people who come here to escape persecution or build a better life. This most recent chapter is frightening, but it is just one more chapter in a long history of demonizing immigrants.
I didn’t get a shot of it, but there was one poster that I thought summed things up well. It said….
“France Wants Their Statue Back”
I grew up watching the Sherlock Holmes films made in the 40s with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. A few months ago I found out a number of them were on YouTube, and one night I took a look at Dressed to Kill. I don’t know how many times I’d seen it before, but this time I was really struck by the woman who played the heavy, Hilda Courtney. Somehow I’d never noticed how good this actress was, and I stopped the movie to look her up on IMDB.
I didn’t start the movie again for quite a while. I spent a long time reading about Patricia Morison, an actress who spent years in Hollywood and never attracted any serious attention. She made films at Paramount, Universal, and Fox, but never got the parts that might have made her a star. Like so many talented actors, nobody knew what to do with her. In 1948, frustrated by her lack of success, she quit Hollywood and went back to the New York stage, and that’s when she became a star.
I won’t spend a lot of time reciting the details of her career, because you can read the Wikipedia entry for yourself. But just briefly, Cole Porter chose her for the lead in his production of Kiss Me Kate, and she was a hit. Her ability as an actress and her singing voice made her a favorite with audiences on Broadway. She later appeared in The King and I, and was active for the rest of her life on stage, in film, and on television.
So tonight I got off the subway at the Hollywood/Vine station. As I walked up to street level, I looked at the Pantages and saw this.
Morison actually passed away a few weeks ago. She had lived in LA from the 60s up to the time she died, and obviously made an impression on many people. In 2012 she had appeared at the Pantages in an evening titled Ladies of an Indeterminate Age. In 2015 she celebrated her 100th birthday at the Pasadena Playhouse with an event that included her singing selections from Kiss Me Kate. And throughout her later years she spent a good deal of time supporting a number of organizations including The LGBT Community Center, The Actors Fund and The Hollywood Museum.
As I write this, a few different things are going through my mind. First, I can’t say I’m sad to see her go, because it sounds like she had a long and full life and was loved by many people. Second, the fact that I discovered her so late is a reminder of how often we don’t recognize talent when it’s right in front of us. I’d seen Dressed to Kill many times, and her performance never made any impression on me until a few months ago. I can’t blame the Hollywood producers for ignoring her, because I did, too. And what’s really maddening is that I think the reason I didn’t notice her was that she was so good. I just now took a quick look at a scene from Dressed to Kill. It’s a very smart, very assured performance, and most important, she doesn’t do anything to call attention to her performance. This is the mark of a true actor, and it’s also one of the biggest dangers for someone who wants to make a living on stage or in film. If you’re really good, you disappear into the role. People don’t notice you. There are plenty of “actors” who make a name for themselves by grabbing your attention. We tend to overlook the ones who play the part without making a scene.
Third, I think about how random life is. Because I happened to watch Dressed to Kill a few months ago, when I stood across from the Pantages earlier tonight, I recognized the name Patricia Morison and it meant something to me. I’m glad I knew who she was, and in some small way I could appreciate the tribute. If I had postponed watching Dressed to Kill until later this year, I would have walked past the Pantages without thinking twice.
Life is funny that way.
If you want to find out more about Patricia Morison, here’s the obit from the New York Times. She’s definitely somebody worth knowing.
Last Friday I went to the Pasadena Museum of California Art to take in a show called The Feminine Sublime. It features works by five artists, and it explores different ways of perceiving landscapes and experiencing the environment. Up until the 20th century, men dominated painting, and they often viewed the natural world as something that needed to be tamed or transcended. These women have a different perspective, and are looking for different ways to engage with the environment.
The only artist whose work I was familiar with is Constance Mallinson. Her piece offered a panorama of the refuse that our culture produces. A vast, multi-colored mound made up of the stuff that we use and discard on a daily basis stretches out beneath a threatening, grey sky.
The name of this painting by Yvette Gellis is Oil, Earth, Fire, Wind and Water. The title says plenty. The image is beautiful and violent. Harsh strokes of grey and black cut across the peaceful blues and reds that seem to float in the background.
Looking at Marie Thiebeault‘s web site I found out she lived near the Port of LA, which is probably the most heavily contaminated area in the city. She talks about “witnessing […] the continual growth and rebuilding of this industrial expanse” and references “radar dishes, abandoned spy stations, and relics of WWII”. In her view, “… landscape can best mirror our culture’s complex relationship with nature, as well as contain and unfold the expanse of one’s imagination.”
I like posting about art because it gives me a break from writing about all the awful stuff that’s going on in this city, but when it comes to photographing art, I have to admit I don’t have the equipment or the skill to do it properly. I’m bringing that up here because these images don’t begin to do justice to Virginia Katz‘ work. The surface of this piece is dense and complicated, and it has the effect of pulling you through the surface into something dark and mysterious.
The two pieces by Marion Estes are seductive and disturbing. The bright colors and vivid patterns immediately drew me in, but both paintings depict the catastrophic damage we’re doing to the environment. Looking at them was an unnerving experience. I was both fascinated and afraid.
My one complaint about the show? It was too small. I felt like it should have been three or four times larger. These are all gifted painters and they all have a lot to say.
The Feminine Sublime will be on view through June 3. You should go.
New development is necessary. In order for a city to grow, in order for its economy to stay healthy, it’s important to have new construction to bring investment to communities and adapt to the city’s changing needs. But new development isn’t always a good thing. New projects bring new impacts, and the larger the project the more important it is to consider carefully how it will affect the surrounding community. Most large projects are a mixed bag. Pro-business groups will inevitably argue that they bring tax revenue and jobs, and both of these are important. But large projects can also have serious negative impacts, and we need to weigh those, too. Often it’s a matter of trying to figure out if the good will outweigh the bad, and in many cases it’s hard to say for sure.
On the other hand, in some cases it’s pretty easy to make the call. Crossroads Hollywood is a clear example of predatory development. While the backers of the project tout its benefits in terms of tax revenue, jobs and economic activity, they completely ignore the downside. And the downside is considerable.
First, let’s take a look at what this whole thing entails.
Crossroads Hollywood includes about 1,381,000 square feet of floor area, consisting of 950 residential units (of which 105 are for Very Low Income Households), 308 hotel rooms, and approximately 190,000 square feet of commercial space. The project does include the preservation and rehabilitation of the historic Crossroads of the World mall and the Hollywood Reporter building. All other buildings on the project site would be demolished, including 84 Rent Stabilized apartments. The developers are also asking for a Master Conditional Use Permit to allow the sale of a full line of alcoholic beverages at a total of 22 establishments, and another Master CUP to allow eight uses with public dancing and live entertainment.
I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty ambitious. The investors behind Crossroads, Harridge Development Group, are thinking big. They’re also thinking only of themselves and the massive profits they’ll reap from this project. They don’t really give a damn about the community. If approved, Crossroads Hollywood will be devastating for the environment, devastating for housing, and devastating to the health and well-being of the Hollywood community.
Let’s take a look at the project’s environmental impacts….
These days any developer is going to tell you their project is good for the planet. They learned long ago they need to play that angle to sell it to the public. But Harridge’s claims about Crossroads being environmentally friendly are mostly just hype.
The State of California has designated Crossroads Hollywood an Environmental Leadership Development Project. (ELDP). In order to qualify, the developer has to show that it won’t result in any net additional emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). But a project on the scale of Crossroads represents a huge increase in square footage, so it’s to be expected that there will be a huge increase in energy use. The report by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) estimates the Crossroads project will produce 9,440 MTCO2e (Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent) during demolition and construction, and then 14,294 MTCO2e during the first year of operation, though they say that number will decline each year over the life of the project. This is a huge increase in emissions. So how can the State say it achieves a net reduction?
Simple. The developer buys carbon credits. Like many other states, California has an exchange where businesses that aren’t producing their maximum allowed CO2 emissions can sell what they don’t produce as “credits”. Other businesses that want to offset their own emissions can buy the credits to satisfy regulators. So while Crossroads Hollywood will be putting tens of thousands of tons of additional GHGs into the atmosphere, the State says that buying credits actually makes the project carbon neutral. There are people who have reservations about the carbon credit system, but it’s become widely accepted as a tool for reducing global warming, so let’s go along with the idea that this does represent a net reduction in CO2 emissions.
The problem is that this project isn’t just producing massive amounts of CO2. It’s also spewing out tons of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. This is bad news for the people who live in the area. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has evaluated cancer risk from air pollution in its Multiple Air Toxics Exposure Study IV (MATES IV). You can see by the map below that Hollywood is near the top of the scale.
But it gets worse. After going through pages of boiler plate language about localized significance thresholds and standard methodologies, the Crossroads Environmental Impact Report (EIR) gets around to analyzing impacts during the construction phase of the project. After listing nearby sensitive uses, including Selma Elementary School/Larchmont Charter School (same campus), Hollywood High, and Blessed Sacrament School, and acknowledging that young people are at higher risk of chronic lung disease from air pollution, the EIR claims, “…, localized construction emissions resulting from the Project would result in a less-than-significant air quality impact.”
Give me a break. Four years of construction, including demolition and excavation, thousands of diesel truck trips and extensive use of heavy machinery will have “less-than-significant” impacts on the kids at these schools? And it’s also important to point out there have been projects under construction on Selma for years now, many of them within three blocks of Selma Elementary. These kids have been inhaling construction dust and diesel fumes since 2015, and the folks behind Crossroads want to keep that going til 2021. But don’t worry. It won’t harm the students a bit.
So let’s talk about transportation. I will give the authors of the EIR credit. Usually traffic assessments for projects like these are ridiculously dishonest. In this case, the EIR acknowledges that traffic is already bad in the area, and that the project will make it worse. Here are a few shots of what it looks like at rush hour.
The EIR does analyze existing weekday rush hour conditions as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The problem here is, Hollywood is a special case. In addition to really awful congestion at rush hour, you can also have heavy traffic at night and on weekends because of the constant parade of concerts, movie premieres, food fairs and other miscellaneous events. There are multiple happenings in Hollywood every month, many of them involving street closures. And don’t even ask what it’s like during the Hollywood Bowl season.
I wouldn’t expect the authors of the EIR to include all this, because they’re not required to. But they should at least talk about additional traffic generated by the eight live entertainment venues that are included in the project. Crossroads Hollywood isn’t just meant to be a place where people live and work. It’s intended to be a destination. While I’m sure some of the spaces offering entertainment will be fairly small, it seems likely that at least one of them will be a dance club offering live DJs. And I wouldn’t be surprised if popular singers and bands start showing up on a regular basis. Which means that a community already overwhelmed with events that draw tons of cars and disrupt transit will have to bear an even heavier load once Crossroads is up and running.
And what about the impacts that eight places featuring live entertainment will have on the LAPD’s workload? Not to mention the 22 establishments selling alcohol. Incredibly, the EIR doesn’t even discuss these things in the section dealing with police protection. They conclude again that project impacts will be “less-than-significant”. Obviously the authors of the EIR haven’t seen the research indicating that high alcohol outlet density has been linked to higher rates of violent crime. Back in 2014, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck wrote to the Department of City Planning (DCP) pointing out that the “oversaturation” of alcohol outlets in Hollywood was contributing to increased crime, including robbery, shootings, rape, and assault. The DCP obviously paid no attention, because they’ve gone on granting liquor permits, and violent crime in Hollywood has risen every year since then. LAPD stats for Hollywood as of April 21 show violent crime has gone up 28.9% over the same period last year. The LAPD is understaffed, and doing their best to cope with a difficult situation. Too bad the DCP has no interest in helping them out. Apparently the folks at City Planning have no concern for the safety of Hollywood residents, or for the people who visit the area. And it looks like Harridge shares their total indifference.
This same indifference extends to the project’s noise impacts. Remember, the developer is asking permits for live entertainment in 8 venues. It seems like at least some of these will be outdoors. Check out this table from the EIR that lists the spaces where they plan to have amplified sound.
It’s hard to say how much overlap there will be, since they don’t distinguish between those spaces intended for live performances and and those that will just have recorded sounds. But it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a lot of music, and a lot of it will be outdoors. The EIR acknowledges that there could be significant impacts from noise, but don’t worry, they have a plan to take care of that. What’s their plan? They’re going to build a 12-foot wall on the project’s eastern boundary, between Crossroads of the World and Blessed Sacrament Church. And according to the EIR, that fixes everything.
This is so ludicrous it’s hard to believe they expect people to buy it. A single 12-foot wall is going to addres any concerns about noise. Live outdoor performances have been a problem for years in Hollywood. Area residents can tolerate a lot, and nobody gets bent out of shape if someone puts on a show during the day. But in recent years more and more club owners have been pushing the limits at night. There have been a lot of complaints about DJs ripping it up on rooftop bars in the small hours. The EIR’s claim that amplified music will only be heard in the immediate vicinity is bull. People who live in the hills have told me they can hear late night noise from down on the boulevard, and they’re not happy about it.
But Crossroads Hollywood wasn’t meant to benefit the community. It was meant to benefit the investors who are hoping to reap huge profits. This project will put more cars on the road and more poison in the air. It will create more crime than the LAPD can handle and more headaches for residents trying to get a good night’s sleep. And what do we get in return? Yeah, there’s the tax revenue, but the City is already seeing record revenues and still can’t balance its budget. More housing? Yeah, the vast majority of it priced way beyond the reach of most people who live in Hollywood. When we put the 105 Very Low Income units gained against the 84 Rent Stabilized units lost, we see a net increase of 21 units that will be accessible to the low income families that really need housing. The gain of 21 units will quickly be erased by the project’s gentrifying impact. If Crossroads is built, you can expect to see a lot of other investors buying up apartments and kicking people out. And will the project create jobs? Sure, mostly low-paying jobs in bars, restaurants, and hotels. Most of the people who will work there could never afford to live there.
This is predatory development. A project designed by investors for investors. The reason the EIR doesn’t see any serious problems for the community is because the needs of the community were never considered in any meaningful way.
It’s just about money.
Next week the City will be holding a hearing on Crossroads Hollywood. If you want to show up and speak your mind, here’s the info.
Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 9:00 am
Los Angeles City Hall
200 North Spring St., Room 350
ENTER ON MAIN STREET.
Walking around LA you see messages all over the place. I’m not talking about ads or street signage. I’m talking about messages posted by individuals. These might be handwritten or printed, they might be taped to a streetlight or scrawled on the ground.
There are obviously lots of people with lots of things to say. For a while now I’ve been snapping photos of these messages. Sometimes they’re poetic. Sometimes they’re political. Sometimes they’re bewildering. But all of these people are trying to communicate with us. In some cases it seems like they feel a desperate need to tell us what’s on their mind.
This first shot was taken in Panorama City in front of a vacant house that some homeless people were camped out in. Just a straightforward plea from someone who’s trying to get their stuff back.
I found this next one on the sidewalk as I was walking down Lankershim in Studio City. Really sad and disturbing. This is obviously someone who’s mentally ill, and feeling pretty desperate.
And I found this one a little farther down the road.
Some people have ideas about how to solve the country’s problems.
This one took me by surprise. I was in Burbank, and saw it on the side of a utility box. I guess the Me Too backlash has already begun.
Here’s a closer view so you can read the text. The comments are interesting.
I miss the good old days when it was easier to scrawl stuff in wet concrete. Seems like contractors are a lot more careful about protecting their work these days. I’m guessing this dates back to the 90s.
I found these words on Franklin in Hollywood.
Another message, not too far from the first.
It’s continued in the next shot. I know the text in these isn’t totally clear, so I’ve tried to transcribe it below. Can’t guarantee it’s completely accurate.
OF TOKEN FORTUNE
THE SILENT GUNS
OF LOVE WILL
BLAST THE SKY
WE BROKE THE
BUILT [?] OUR WEAPONS
WERE THE TONGUES OF
This last one was hung on a fence at the freeway onramp on Cahuenga. It’s a memorial for a homeless man who had died.
Here’s what the author has to say about his friend.
When I first read this it made me sad. But after a while, I started to think it was actually pretty beautiful. Like I wrote at the beginning of this post, there are a lot of people in this town who have things they want to say, but often no one’s paying attention. It sounds like Danny’s life was pretty hard, but at least for a while toward the end he connected with somebody who took the time to listen.