Don’t Let Sacramento Steal Your District. Tell Gov. Brown to Veto SB-1250.

CA Senate Floor

The California Legislature has sunk to a new low. At the end of this year’s legislative session they voted to approve SB-1250, which removes the requirement that California legislators live in the district they represent. Basically the bill says that anyone could be elected to represent a district as long as they maintain a residence there. In other words, a politician could live in Beverly Hills, but run to represent San Joaquin County as long as they rented an apartment there. And according to the text of SB-1250, this applies for both “The domicile of a Member of the Legislature or a Representative in the Congress of the United States….”

The implications of this are staggering. This means that any corporate-backed flunky could represent a California district even if they only flew in to campaign there. This means that stooges with enough PAC money behind them could buy themselves a seat in the legislature. And what’s even more scary is the fact that only a handful of legislators voted against this sleazy scam.

The Governor has not signed this bill yet. We need to flood Brown’s office with calls telling him to veto this assault on democracy.

On Monday, September 10, first thing in the morning, please call Governor Brown and tell him to veto SB-1250.

Phone: (916) 445-2841

If you can’t call, be sure to send an e-mail.

E-Mail Gov. Brown

And the second thing you should do is find out if your reps in the State Senate and Assembly voted for or against. Here’s the voting record.

SB-1250 Voting Record

If you don’t know who your reps are, use this link to find out.

Find Your Rep

If your reps voted to oppose this bill, call them and thank them. If they voted to approve it, don’t be shy about letting them know how you feel.

Here’s an editorial from the San Francisco Chronicle that lays it all out.

We Can Live without Legislators Who Don’t Live in their Districts

 

An Unexpected Garden

Gar 01 Walk

Today I went down to the Department of City Planning to file an appeal. It didn’t take as long as I expected, so after I was through I decided to wander around and check the place out.

The building itself is a pretty drab example of institutional architecture. I walked across the lobby to the little cafe and thought about getting some coffee. Decided against it. Then I thought I’d check out the patio at the back of the building. The most interesting thing about that space is it’s just a couple hundred feet from the Harbor Freeway. I wondered if the few people scattered around were bothered by the traffic noise. But I guess you can get used to anything.

I decided to move on, so I walked around the side of the building, on my way back to the plaza. And I came across a beautiful little garden.

When I was younger I paid no attention to gardens. The older I get, the more I love them. This was so unexpected I had to stop and take some photos. This little garden, tucked away on one side of a couple of drab office towers, made the whole trip worthwhile.

 

Hotel Developer Keeps Asking, and City Planning Keeps Giving

Dream 2 Construction Site

Construction site in the foreground, and Dream Hotel in the background.

If you need any more proof that City Hall is ready to give developers whatever they ask for, there’s a block in the heart of Hollywood you should take a good look at. Hollywood International Regional Center (HIRC), a developer that specializes in hotels funded with EB 5 money, has spent years remaking the stretch of Selma between Cahuenga and Wilcox, and they’re not done yet. Richard Heyman, HIRC Managing Partner, filed his first application for this site about ten years ago, and since then he and his associates have come back asking for numerous changes to their project/s. A review of the associated documents seems to show that the Department of City Planning (DCP) has been more than willing to accommodate the developers’ requests. Construction has been going on almost continuously since 2014, and it looks like it’ll be going on a while longer.

Because tourism is thriving these days, there’s a push to build party hotels in Hollywood. HIRC has already finished one and has a few more in the works. In addition to the completed Dream hotel, there are two other HIRC projects under construction, and the City Planning Commission (CPC) just approved a fourth one. All four of these projects are within a one block radius of Selma and Wilcox. Actually, it almost seems like these four hotels could be considered one big project. But more on that later….

HIRC’s latest effort was on the agenda at the CPC hearing on July 12. This is an eight-story hotel to be built at the corner of Selma and Wilcox. Of course, since this hotel is being built in Hollywood, it has to have a rooftop deck with a pool and a bar/lounge, and even though it wasn’t mentioned in the hearing notice, live entertainment is also part of the package. Given the fact that Hollywood is already jammed with bars, and that crime is rising by double digits, and that area residents are complaining about noise from the party scene, you might ask if we really need another party hotel in Hollywood.

But the folks at the DCP don’t seem bothered by the problems Hollywood residents are facing. They apparently weren’t bothered by the fact that this project was already under construction. Yeah, that’s right. The developer had already started to build this hotel, even though it hadn’t yet been approved. How did that happen? It’s complicated. First we have to ask what the project actually is, and there’s no simple answer. Many Hollywood residents feel HIRC has not been honest about what they’re doing, and that the DCP has been too willing to look the other way. The closer you examine it, the more it appears that this new hotel at Selma and Wilcox is actually part of a complex that’s been in the works for years. But to tell this story, we have to go back to the previous decade….

Heyman’s first hotel on Selma was the Dream 1, which was approved back in 2008. According to the original determination letter, the hotel was going to have a total of 120 rooms, and the project would consist of about 73, 814 square feet with two levels of parking. But then the recession hit, and the project got delayed. In 2011 it was back on again, but this time with a few changes. Now it was going to have 136 guest rooms, but the size held about steady at 73,607 square feet. And while the project was originally required to have 107 parking spaces, now the number was reduced to 90.

So far this doesn’t seem like a big deal. A few more rooms, a little less square footage, and 17 less parking spaces. Who cares? But keep your eye on the parking, because it’s about to disappear.

A Zoning Administrator’s letter dated April 2014 shows further changes. “There will be 182 hotel rooms, 77 on-site parking spaces, 14 off-site parking spaces….” And now, while the height is the same, they’ve added another floor, meaning it’s now a ten story hotel with 79,376 square feet of floor area. Obviously the folks at HIRC are prone to changing their minds, and the folks at the DCP are ready to accommodate them.

But you’re probably saying, “What do you mean the parking disappeared? It’s still there. The ZA approved 77 on-site spaces and 14 off-site spaces. They’ve still got plenty of parking.” And that’s the great thing about misdirection. You were busy looking at the ZA’s letter, instead of keeping your eye on the hotel. Next time you’re in Hollywood, take a stroll down Selma past the Dream.

It has no on-site parking at all.

If you didn’t catch on to that trick, don’t worry. The people at the DCP don’t seem to have noticed either. Strangely enough, the Department of Building & Safety (DBS) granted a permit for the change, and apparently the DCP signed off on it, even though they hadn’t approved the change. I tried asking the folks at the DCP how they approved the permit even though they hadn’t approved the project revision. In response they sent a document that had no relation to the question.

Of course eliminating the on-site parking is completely illegal. But there’s another problem. You see, parking isn’t counted in calculating a project’s square footage. This means that the conversion of that space to other uses has boosted the hotel’s square footage significantly. You might think that the DCP would be upset over a developer unilaterally adding several thousand square feet to a project, but you’d be wrong. They’ve taken no action to enforce the terms of the Department’s determination letter.

Some people speculate that maybe HIRC has friends at City Hall. The developer seems to get pretty much everything they ask for. But they’ve made a lot of enemies in Hollywood. The developer’s aggressive push to build party hotels has angered a lot of folks in the community, and these days people are watching their moves much more closely.

In 2015 HIRC applied to build another, more modest project, next to the Dream 1. This was going to be a one-story restaurant, with 6,000 square-feet of retail space, and three levels of underground parking. Who could object to that? But then people who live in the neighborhood took a look at the application and saw that the name of the LLC that HIRC was using for this project was “6421 Selma Wilcox Hotel”. Seemed like an odd choice of names for a project that was supposed to be just a restaurant with some retail. It also seemed odd that a developer who specialized in building hotels was asking City Planning to approve something so much smaller. The DCP, of course, ignored the community’s concerns and signed off on the project.

It was no surprise to area residents when HIRC came back in 2016, now asking the DCP to approve an eight-story hotel on the same site. Again, since the legal entity being used to build the original project was “6421 Selma Wilcox Hotel”, it’s hard to believe that this was an unexpected evolution of HIRC’s plans. And the fact that the papers for this LLC were filed with the State of California in October 2014, well before HIRC applied to build the restaurant/retail project makes it appear that their goal was to build the hotel all along.

And if you spend a little time surfing the web, you’ll find documents indicating that not only was this project conceived as a hotel from the beginning, it was always intended to be the second phase of a complex that began with Dream 1. If you take a look at the web site for Space Global, a firm HIRC partnered with in raising EB 5 money from Chinese investors, the project is repeatedly referred to as Dream 2. In fact, information for investors posted on-line specifically refers to it as an extension of Dream 1, saying construction is expected to begin by the end of 2014. The text not only mentions Tao Restaurant & Lounge, but another restaurant, Beauty & Essex, which is on the far side of the project site. The web site features renderings of the completed project showing both hotels stretched across the length of the block, with Tao sandwiched in the middle.

This seems to be pretty strong evidence that back in 2014, around the time the DCP gave its final approvals for Dream 1, that HIRC already saw the two hotels, the restaurant and the renovated bar as one project. Now, ordinarily if you were going to build a hotel complex with just under 300 rooms, multiple locations selling alcohol, and live entertainment, it would seem reasonable to assume that it could have significant impacts on the neighborhood. HIRC could have revised their original application to reflect the project they apparently intended to build, but that might have meant submitting to a higher level of environmental review. Instead, in 2015 HIRC submitted an application for the property at Selma and Wilcox, directly adjacent to Dream 1, saying they just wanted to build a restaurant, some retail, and three levels of parking. Then in 2016, with the restaurant taking shape and heavy machinery digging a huge hole right next door, they came back and filed the application for the eight-story hotel that their promotional materials refer to as Dream 2.

So let’s get back to the July hearing held by the City Planning Commission (CPC) where they considered the Dream 2. It was actually more entertaining than most CPC hearings. Developer Grant King gave a stirring speech, hypnotizing the crowd with an account of his dramatic effort to rescue Dream 1 in 2012. “I took the last $75,000 I had in the world and bought a one-way ticket to China….” The union workers who attended to protest the failure of King and his partners to hire union labor may not have been moved by his story. I guess it never occurred to the intrepid developer that these union workers had probably never had anything near $75,000 in their bank account. I don’t doubt the Commissioners were enthralled by King’s story, but a number of them had serious reservations about the project. Commissioner Renee Dake-Wilson had some especially harsh words. While she emphasized that she didn’t believe the developer was engaged in “piecemealing” (seeking approvals in pieces, rather than all at once), she stated forcefully that she thought the original restaurant/retail project was “a sham in order to get this hotel going.”

But the last Commissioner to comment was President David Ambroz, who offered a ringing defense of the project. Responding to criticism of the developer’s first structure on Selma, he said, “I think the Dream is a well run hotel.” In response to another Commissioner’s suggestion that the rooftop bar/lounge be restricted just to hotel guests, Ambroz said, “I like going to these rooftops. I would not be in agreement with prohibiting public access.” The Commission President was apparently not impressed with Hollywood when he first arrived years ago, but he feels it’s come a long way because of projects like this. “The renaissance that has occurred there is a testament not just to Grant and his company, but others as well.” Ambroz was definitely sold on the project, and he seemed to be doing his best to sell it to everyone else.

However, there were concerns about parking, and that discussion was really interesting. The project would require a certain amount of off-site parking, and the Commissioners weren’t certain where that would end up. You see, parking is at a premium in Hollywood, and some of the Commissioners wanted to know where the developer would find those off-site spaces within the required 750 feet. Fortunately, HIRC’s rep stepped forward to explain that the developers had two other hotels under construction nearby, and he was certain that one of them could handle the overload. Which is actually really odd, because the CPC approved both those projects and they’re strongly opposed to providing excess parking. There’s also the bizarre idea of creating a covenant to provide parking at a building that doesn’t exist yet. And lastly, if the developer has already made plans to provide additional parking for the Dream 2 at one of these other locations, it makes it sound like these projects were conceived together. That really these hotels, all proposed by the same developer, all within a one block radius of Wilcox and Selma, all approved within the last ten years, should be seen as one project.

In the end, the CPC approved the Dream 2 by a 6-2 vote, with Commissioners Vahid Khorsand and Dana Perlman voting no. We’ll see what actually happens with the parking down the road. But I doubt Grant King is worried. For all the talk during the hearing about how enforcement is key, the Dream 1 was built with none of the required on-site parking, and the City hasn’t taken any action at all. Even if the off-site parking for the Dream 2 never materializes, King knows that the City of LA won’t do a damn thing about it.

Garcetti Talks about Sustainability, While City Keeps Cutting Down Trees

CH Cars Trees 1 EDITED

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

CH Cars Trees 3

 

Help Save the Regal Place Bungalow Court

RP 01 Stairs

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.

RP 20 Unit Sheraton

One of the units at Regal Place.

RP 30 Stairs Green

Stairs leading to the top of the complex.

RP 32 Top Unit

The complex is filled with trees and shrubs.

RP 40 Trees Wide

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.

RP 50 Apt Frnt

One of the apartments at Regal Place.

RP 51 Randi Int 1

Interior of one of the units.

RP 56 Porch Back

A shady back porch to relax on.

RP 58 Arch

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.

RP 90 Window

Ignoring Danger, City Approves Distillery Next to School

Dist 05 HD

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.

Dist 01 HPC

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

 

Dist 10 HD Bldg

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

Dist 15 HD Playground EDITED

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

Dist 20 Playground