Garcetti Talks about Sustainability, While City Keeps Cutting Down Trees

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LA’s sidewalks are in really bad shape, and this poses safety risks for anyone who uses them.

LA’s urban forest is shrinking rapidly, and this poses health risks for anyone who relies on air and water to survive.

We need to address both of these problems, but it’s going to be a real challenge.

The City’s sidewalks have been in such bad shape for so long that in 2010 a class action lawsuit was filed, Willits vs. City of Los Angeles.  In 2016 the City finalized a settlement which will require it to spend about $1.37 billion over the next 30 years to remove barriers to access for pedestrians.  One of the items high on the list is repairing sidewalks that have been ruptured by tree roots.

At the same time, LA’s urban forest has been declining for years, and unless things change, it will continue to decline for years to come.  There are a number of reasons for this, including new residential development, a drier climate, and insect infestations. 

The City could also potentially remove thousands of trees in its efforts to repair sidewalks, and this will only hasten the decline of our urban forest.  This is a serious threat, because the tree canopy is crucial to the City’s ecosystems.  Trees clean our air, help capture stormwater, and keep neighborhoods cool.  If you think the heat is intense now, remember that climate scientists project that LA is only going to get hotter over the next few decades.  Our tree canopy will play a major role in keeping the city cool.

As part of the Sidewalk Repair Program (SRP), the City is preparing to cut down 18 mature trees on the 1200 block of North Cherokee.  It could happen any day.  And the problem with this is that the City hasn’t completed the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the SRP.  The EIR will outline alternatives to removal, impose standards for tree replacement if removal is necessary, and define the requirements for maintenance and watering to insure new trees survive.

The City acknowledges that they have to do an EIR, and they’ve already started to work on it.  But now, without even having released a draft version, they’re going ahead and cutting down trees.  In other words, they’re rushing forward with the removal of trees, even though they know full well the damage it will do to our environment.

Why is Eric Garcetti allowing this?  How many times has the Mayor claimed that he’s championing sustainability?  How many times has he talked about the importance of expanding our urban forest?  Now the City is ready to start cutting down trees under the SRP, without even completing the EIR, and the Mayor’s Office is dead silent on the issue.

We can repair our sidewalks and we can grow our urban forest, but we need to plan to make sure we do the job right.  We need to finish the EIR.  We need to protect our tree canopy.  The stakes are high.  We can’t afford to blow it.

Does the Mayor really care about creating a sustainable LA?  Or are his promises just more empty words?  Maybe we should ask his Chief Sustainability Officer, Lauren Faber O’ Connor?  Why not give Ms. Faber O’ Connor a call and ask why the City is cutting down trees for sidewalk repair without even completing the EIR.

Lauren Faber O’ Connor, Chief Sustainability Officer

213 473-7078

And you can show your support for LA’s urban forest by attending a vigil/protest on Wednesday night.  Here are the details….

1200 Block of North Cherokee, Hollywood

Three blocks east of Highland, between Fountain and Lexington

Wednesday, August 1 at 8:00 pm

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Help Save the Regal Place Bungalow Court

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LA’s bungalow courts are becoming extinct. In recent years we’ve seen a number of them demolished by developers. Even the Norton Court, which was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, was torn down by real estate investors who valued cash over culture.

Now another bungalow court complex is threatened, but you can act to save it. The apartments at 3649-3657 Regal Place are slated for demolition, but community members believe the City should designate these units as a Historic Cultural Monument (HCM). Just above Cahuenga Blvd. near the foot of the Hollywood Hills, the first of these apartments were built in 1928. They stand directly across from Universal Studios, and according to film historian Joseph McBride, Steven Spielberg was living in one of these units when he became the youngest director ever to sign a multi-picture deal with a major studio.  McBride also says that Bobby Darin was a former resident.  Records from the County Assessor’s Office show that actress Yvette Mimieux owned the property in 1970.  The Cahuenga Pass Property Owners Association (CPPOA) strongly supports the HCM nomination. In their letter to the Cultural Heritage Commission, the CPPOA states that they believe the complex is the last bungalow court remaining in the Cahuenga Pass.

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One of the units at Regal Place.

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Stairs leading to the top of the complex.

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The complex is filled with trees and shrubs.

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Looking down from the highest point in the complex.

Visiting these apartments, it’s easy to understand why bungalow courts were so popular in Hollywood’s heyday. This cluster of small units gathered around a central green space, shaded by tall trees, creates an intimate, peaceful space for tenants. You’d never guess that the Hollywood Freeway was just a few hundred feet away. It’s worth mentioning that the developer also plans to cut down five of the seven protected oaks on the property. While replacement trees will be planted, it would take decades before they could reproduce the shady canopy that currently shelters these units.

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One of the apartments at Regal Place.

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Interior of one of the units.

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A shady back porch to relax on.

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View of the neighborhood from one of the units.

Please ask Councilmember David Ryu to nominate this lovely bungalow court for HCM status.

Councilmember David Ryu:
david.ryu@lacity.org

Please copy Randi Aarons at:
lilrandi@yahoo.com

Be sure to include the address, 3649-3657 Regal Place, in your subject line.

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Ignoring Danger, City Approves Distillery Next to School

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It’s been clear for a while that the Department of City Planning (DCP) doesn’t care much about how new development impacts communities, but a recent project approval shows a new level of reckless disregard for the safety of the people who live in LA.

Last year a company called Hollywood Distillery filed an application asking the City to allow the sale of alcohol for on-site and off-site consumption in conjunction with the operation of a craft distillery.  The distillery is located at 5975 Santa Monica Blvd., at the corner of Santa Monica and Gordon.  The site is zoned for commercial manufacturing, which you might think would include the manufacturing of spirits, and it might seem perfectly reasonable to allow Hollywood Distillery to sell their wares at the place they were being produced.

When I first heard the project was being appealed, I was puzzled.  Lots of places brew alcoholic beverages and have tasting rooms on site.  It seemed totally natural.  I couldn’t see a problem.

But there is a problem.  A serious one.

Distilleries are a special case.  They shouldn’t be considered alongside other typical manufacturing uses. Why?  Because sometimes things explode at distilleries.  Check out the following news articles.  They’re all reporting on incidents that happened in the US within the last year.

Worker Injured in Explosion at Whiskey Distillery, January 2018

 

Vodka Distillery Explosion Sends Three to Hospital, November 2017

 

New Jersey Distillery Owner Injured in Explosion, December 2017

 

So you say, okay, a distillery might be dangerous.  But if the site is zoned for commercial manufacturing, it’s in an industrial area away from crowds of people.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.  This distillery is right next to a primary school.

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Hollywood Primary Center serves pre-school through third grade students.  It’s located directly behind the distillery.  The only thing that separates the two is a wall about eight feet high.  And while the stories listed above involve a relatively small number of people who were injured or killed, accidents at distilleries can get much worse.  Check out this article from the National Fire Protection Association.  The article specifically mentions the danger of putting a distillery in an area where there could be a risk to the public.

Small Scale, High Proof

 

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The building that houses Hollywood Distillery at Santa Monica and Gordon.

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The school playground appears to lie about 50 feet from the distillery.

So the Central Area Planning Commission heard the appeal on July 24, and of course they denied it.  The distillery got the green light.  The Commissioners specified that the Department of Building & Safety (DBS) and the LA Fire Department (LAFD) had to review the site before permits were issued, but that’s not good enough.  Property owners violate conditions of approval all the time in LA, and there’s rarely any meaningful enforcement.  And even if everything is in order when City personnel inspect the property, there’s no guarantee things will still be in order six months down the road.  Assuming DBS and LAFD allow this to go forward, we basically have to trust the owners to follow the rules.  I’m sure they have no intention of allowing an explosion, but I’m also sure the owners of the distilleries in Pennsylvania, Texas, and New Jersey had the same intentions.

If you don’t think the City should allow distilleries next to schools, please contact Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s Planning Director, Craig Bullock.  Here’s a possible subject line:

No Distilleries Next to Schools!

Craig Bullock, CD 13 Planning Director

craig.bullock@lacity.org

And please copy the City of LA’s Director of Planning, Vince Bertoni.

Vince Bertoni, Director of Planning

vince.bertoni@lacity.org

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Harbor Gateway Community Fights Toxic Project

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Site at Vermont and Redondo where Prologis wants to build a massive distribution center.

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.

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The community shows their opposition at the City Planning Commission hearing.

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.

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Residential neighborhood directly across the street from the project site.

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.

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Kei-Ai Healthcare Center sits just across the street from the project site.

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.

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Gardena Convalescent Center is just over a block away from the project site.

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.

Toxic Emissions

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.

Site Clean-Up

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.

 

HG Rosecrans Rec Ctr from Google by Carmelita Ibarra

Rosecrans Recreation Center, directly north of the project site.   Photo by Carmelita Ibarra from Google Images.

Protesting Immigrant Detentions

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”

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Patricia Morison, 1915 – 2018

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Edmund Breon and Patricia Morison in Dressed to Kill, 1946

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.

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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.

Patricia Morison, Broadway’s First Kate to Be Kissed

Morison Pasadena Playhouse 2014