How Bad Is Rent Control?


A while ago I was at a neighborhood council meeting in Hollywood, and things were getting pretty heated. The topic was the conversion of a rent-controlled apartment building into a boutique hotel, and the people who spoke weren’t shy about saying which side they were on. It was the tenants versus the property owners, and there was no middle ground. Each side was convinced they were absolutely in the right.

The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. And it only jacked things up higher when one of the pro-business attendees jumped into the debate. I can’t remember her exact words, but she said something like, “Let’s face it. The vast majority of economists are against rent control.”

I didn’t believe it. I thought she was just trying to bolster her own position. But I didn’t get a chance to call her on it, because the meeting was running late, and ended up lurching to an abrupt halt. The crowd wandered slowly out of the room, with little groups banding together to keep the debate going, while the security guard kept trying to herd us all toward the exit.

Later on, I got on the net to find out what economists really had to say about rent control. And I found out she was right. The vast majority of economists are totally against it. It really floored me when I found a piece Paul Krugman wrote back in 2000 where he argues forcefully that rent control discourages new construction, thereby limiting supply, and inevitably driving rents up. I have a lot of respect for Krugman. I figured if he said it was bad, then it had to be bad.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to question whether the economists really knew what they were talking about. They’re making the standard argument, that prices rise when supply is short and demand is high, and that prices fall when supply starts to outstrip demand. It’s one of the basics of economic theory, and you can find thousands of examples where the market works exactly that way.

So who am I to tell Paul Krugman he’s wrong? He’s got a Nobel Prize. I don’t even have a college degree. But actually, I don’t think his view lines up with the facts. And here’s why….


In surfing the net, I learned that there are two schools of thought on rent control. The economists who argue that it’s inevitably bad point can point to a mountain of evidence in their favor. But the evidence they’re basing their conclusions on is mostly decades old. In the early- to mid-twentieth century, you had “hard” rent control, which meant setting absolute limits to what landlords could charge for a unit. Once the price was fixed, there was no changing it. The result was poor maintenance, black markets, and little or no construction of new units. But this kind of rent control largely vanished after WWII. And yes, the reason it disappeared in the US was because of a building boom that created huge numbers of houses and apartments, aided by federal policies that made it possible for the average person to get a home loan. Supply-siders please take note. The federal government actively supported middle-income families who wanted to buy a home, spurring the creation of housing developments nationwide.

The second generation of rent control came in the 70s, when rental prices started climbing rapidly. Numerous US cities passed some kind of ordinance to keep a lid on rising rents. And right there the supply siders should see a problem with their argument. If the absence of rent control led to plentiful supply and cheap housing, then nobody would have felt the need to impose regulation. The fact that municipalities all over the US felt pressure from renters to take action indicates that the free market wasn’t working the way it was supposed to.

But the ordinances passed in the 70s were different from “hard” rent control. These measures mostly took a “soft” approach, meaning they didn’t set absolute limits. The Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) passed in LA allowed gradual yearly increases. Also, it only applied to units constructed before 1978. There are economists who are argue that even measures like this still suppress construction, but that didn’t happen in LA. In fact, in the mid-80s the city saw a building boom that created around 100,000 units in the space of a few years. Another feature of “soft” rent control was vacancy decontrol, meaning that when a tenant moved out the landlord could raise the rent as high as they wanted.

But according to the supply siders, it doesn’t matter how you structure it, rent control is bad. And many of them cite LA as a classic example of why it doesn’t work. “Of course tenants are paying outrageous prices there,” they say. “It’s because they’ve got rent control. It drives prices up.” The problem with this argument is that most of the people making it don’t even know which LA they’re talking about. Generally they’re thinking of the County of Los Angeles, not the City of Los Angeles, and there’s a big difference. The County is made up of 88 different cities, and only a few of them have rent control. If the argument put forward by the supply-siders was true, then rents within the City of LA would be higher than rents in surrounding cities that don’t have rent control. But that’s not necessarily the case.


Before I go any further, let me say that finding useful data to make any judgments at all about rent-control isn’t easy. I looked at a number of sources before writing this post, and gradually realized that it’s hard to find reliable, objective info about prices for apartments that are currently on the market. My first move was to look at US Census data, and I quickly ruled it out because it records what tenants are paying instead of prices for units that are currently being offered. That would definitely drive the numbers down in rent-controlled cities, so I had to look elsewhere. I checked out a number of sites that list current rentals, and I was astounded by how high the prices were on some of them. But this is because these sites are mostly geared towards newer apartments, and they often get revenue, directly or indirectly, from the companies that are marketing the units. Another problem is that most commercial sites tend to focus on the hotter markets. Zumper covers the entire US, and regularly issues reports on rental prices. The data they collect is cited by many who write about the market, including journalists. But after taking a closer look I have to question the reliability of Zumper’s info. Check out this map they published this summer about the rental scene in LA.

LA Rental Prices from Zumper, Summer 2016

LA Rental Prices from Zumper, Summer 2016

Based on the data from this sampling, they report that the median rent for a one-bedroom in LA is $1,970, and that LA is the seventh most expensive city in the nation. Let’s take the second claim first. It’s not true. LA may be the seventh most expensive major city in the nation, but there are many cities that are more expensive, including a number in California, like Santa Clara, Redwood City, Dublin, and Cupertino. And none of them have rent control.

Second, this map includes three cities besides the City of Los Angeles. It shows Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Culver City. If you think this is nitpicking, let’s move on to the fact that the map actually only shows about half of the City of Los Angeles. It doesn’t include anything east of Downtown or north of the Hollywood Hills. While it includes some neighborhoods where rents are lower, the map seems to have been deliberately drawn to focus on the hottest areas. Why isn’t East LA in the picture? And how come the entire Valley is left out? Is this Zumper’s idea of objective data? There are some pricey neighborhoods in the Valley, but if they’d included Van Nuys, Arleta, Panorama City, Pacoima, Reseda and Sylmar it would almost certainly have brought the median rent for a one-bedroom down. The fact that Zumper’s map is centered on the neighborhoods where prices are highest makes their conclusions seem pretty dubious.

So where do you go to get credible data on current market rates? Honestly, I don’t think there’s any source you can trust completely, but I did find one that seemed more reliable than the others. Rentometer not only covers all of LA, but it also offers information on specific neighborhoods. Its data covers the range of units currently being offered, both new and old. Also, since I wanted to compare LA with other cities that don’t have rent control, I needed a site that would give data limited to a certain area. You may think that’s pretty basic, but I’ve been to sites where I punch in a zip code and they give me everything within a five mile radius.

So using Rentometer, I started entering zip codes to compare prices in neighborhoods all over LA County.* Here’s the data I found based on the median rent for a one-bedroom.

LA Rental Prices from Rentometer, Summer 2016

LA Rental Prices from Rentometer, Summer 2016

The first thing the graph shows is that there’s a huge range of prices just within the City of LA. This may sound obvious, but again, most commercial sites focus on the high end, and really don’t give an accurate picture of how much variation there is. You can find a huge difference in prices even in neighborhoods that are right next door to each other. I was skeptical about how high the median price given for Van Nuys was, but looking at a map I found that the area covered by this zip code was just west of Valley College. Definitely a more upscale neighborhood than what you’d find around Van Nuys Blvd. and Sherman Way. I was also surprised by how low the median rent was on the west side of Pasadena, but a friend who lives in that city told me that housing around the Foothill Freeway is definitely cheaper.

The second conclusion I came to is that prices don’t seem any lower in cities with no rent control. Neither Burbank nor Long Beach have rent control, but they come out right about in the middle. Pasadena and Culver City don’t have rent control either, and they both appear at the high end. Comparing Palms and Culver City seems like a good way to make my point, since they’re right next to each other. The first is part of the City of LA and subject to rent control, while the second is an independent city where there is no rent control. But the median price for a one-bedroom is almost exactly the same.

I’m sure there are those who will say that this comparison is flawed, since these cities are all within LA County, and that the RSO is causing a spillover effect, pushing up prices even where there’s no rent control. To those people I say, take a look at Orange County. None of the cities within its boundaries have rent control, but you’ll find pretty much the same range of prices.


Is this data conclusive? Or course not. If there’s anybody who can come up with a better source and compile a more comprehensive sample, I’d love to see the results. But based on the data I’ve found, I don’t see any reason to believe that rent control drives prices up. To me it looks like the deciding factor is how desirable an area is for people who have money to spend.

Yes, it’s true that the majority of economists are opposed to rent control. But it’s also true that there’s a younger generation of economists who see the situation as being more complex than your standard supply side formula. I found an article on-line by economist Richard Arnott, (Time for Revisionism on Rent Control?, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter 1995) that makes a compelling case for a more nuanced view. Arnott acknowledges that the older “hard” rent control measures were counter-productive, but he doesn’t believe that the newer “soft” measures necessarily have the same damaging impacts.

Arnott also talks about imperfect markets. These are markets where there are forces in play that disrupt the standard dynamic, creating situations that can’t be explained using a simple supply side equation. Twenty first century LA is a great example. Fifty years ago if you built an apartment complex in LA you were most likely marketing your units to people who lived in LA. That’s not true any more. These days developers are pitching their product not just to prospective tenants all over the US, but in some cases all over the world. To them it doesn’t matter if the average Angeleno can’t afford their prices. There’s probably somebody in New York, or Paris, or Seoul, who can.

Here’s something else to consider. With interest rates at record lows, real estate is one of the few sectors that has offered a high rate of return. Investors have been plowing their money into development in search of big payoffs. Why should they waste their time building modest housing for middle-income renters when they could reap huge profits building luxury skyscrapers for the wealthy? This has led to a speculative binge that’s caused real estate prices to skyrocket, and made it difficult for anyone to build housing for middle-income or low-income families. The higher prices charged for new units distort the numbers, and push the so-called “market rate” higher than it should be. A report produced by LA’s Housing + Community Investment Department (HCID) in November 2015 found that there was a 12% vacancy rate in units built since 2005. At the same time, the overall vacancy rate in the city was around 4%. To my mind this shows that these days developers aren’t building units geared toward the people who actually live in LA. If they were, you wouldn’t be seeing such a huge disparity in vacancy rates.


Short-term rentals (STRs) are also having an impact. If landlords find that renters can’t afford their units, no problem. You can actually make just as much money (or more) by listing the units on the net as STRs. Why should a landlord bother with pesky renters who expect a livable dwelling in return for their money, when they can cash in by turning the place into a weekend crash pad? City Hall recently passed legislation to clamp down on this practice, but it’s too early to tell if it’s having any effect.

Again, I’m not going to claim that the data I’ve collected proves anything conclusively, but if anyone wants to argue that rent control is evil, they’ll have to come up with something better. I believe that skyrocketing rents in LA have nothing to do with rent control, and everything to do with a speculative market that’s been actively encouraged by the politicians who run this city. And anyone who wants to make a supply side argument had better show how they’ve factored in the forces described above. When it comes to housing, the landscape has changed. I don’t believe the old rules apply.

If you’re interested in reading more on the subject, I recommend Arnott’s article. Here’s the link.

Time for Revisionism on Rent Control?

I should note that when I started checking prices on Rentometer, the site allowed you to search by zip code. That changed recently, and now you have to search by neighborhood. When I looked up the last couple of communities for the graph, I searched by neighborhood and then found the corresponding zip codes.


How Do We Help the Homeless?

Notice outside of vacant homes on Roscoe Blvd. in Panorama City.

Notice outside of vacant homes on Roscoe Blvd. in Panorama City.

If you live in LA, by now you’ve gotten used to the fact that homeless people are part of the landscape. No matter where you go, Downtown, Koreatown, Hollywood, Van Nuys, you see people living on the streets. It used to be that homelessness was one of those things you could escape by running to the suburbs, but not any more. Nowadays Burbank, Glendale, Encino, all have their share of people living in tents and cardboard boxes. The homeless are everywhere, and there’s no simple solution.

The homeless population in Panorama City has been growing for a long time. For a while there was a large encampment off of Van Nuys Blvd. over by Smart & Final. Not too long ago the City dismantled it, but of course, that didn’t solve the problem. The residents of the camp were dispersed, but they didn’t go away. They just bundled up their stuff and moved it somewhere else.

Homeless encampment near Roscoe and Lennox.

Homeless encampment near Roscoe and Lennox.

Another shot of the makeshift shelter.

Another shot of the makeshift shelter.

At the corner of Roscoe and Lennox there was a row of houses that were empty. A developer had bought them intending to tear them down, but since work on the project hadn’t started yet, the homes just stood there, vacant. It wasn’t long before a group of homeless people decided to move in. The police chased them out, but instead of leaving the area, they simply created a makeshift shelter on the parkway in front of the houses. As weeks went by the shelter grew larger and longer, until it was difficult to pass on the sidewalk.

Vacant houses near Roscoe and Lennox.

Vacant houses near Roscoe and Lennox.

A view from the alley behind the vacant homes.

A view from the alley behind the vacant homes.

I was curious to find out what was going on with the empty houses, so I contacted Councilmember Nury Martinez’ office. I got a call back from her Communications Director, Adam Bass, who told me that the developer had pulled a demolition permit for the houses, though he wasn’t sure when they’d actually be bulldozed. I asked how Councilmember Martinez was dealing with the homeless situation in her district, and he informed me that earlier this year a new program had been launched in CD 6. The Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement (HOPE) initiative brings together the LAPD, the Bureau of Sanitation, and the LA Homeless Services Authority to engage with those living on the streets. While the City still clears away illegal encampments, the idea is to offer assistance to those who want it. Bass told me that since May, the HOPE initiative had helped dozens of homeless people in the Valley, in some cases finding them space in shelters and in others giving a hand to those looking for jobs. Over the summer the program expanded into the LAPD’s Central and West bureaus, and next month it’ll move into South LA.

This is a big improvement over the City’s past efforts. Some of City Hall’s recent attempts to deal with the homeless have been outrageously heavy-handed. Their efforts were so draconian that they were challenged in court three times, and the City lost every time. So the idea of a multi-pronged approach that brings different agencies together to offer assistance is a welcome one, and I’m glad it’s been successful so far. But unfortunately, the problem is so big and so complex that it’s going to take a lot more to bring about real change.

There are no easy answers. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this issue, and everybody’s got ideas, but there’s no consensus. In November there will be a measure on the City ballot to approve a $1.2 billion bond which would pay for construction of permanent supportive housing. At the same time, the County is expected to ask voters to approve a quarter cent sales tax increase which would help provide new services to the homeless. These initiatives could make a big difference, but really they both have to pass in order to make things work. To construct new housing without expanding staff to provide support for the homeless would be a waste of money, and the same goes for offering additional support without getting people off the streets.

And it could be that both of these measures will go down. In this upcoming election, the City, County and State are asking voters to approve billions in taxes and bond measures, and it seems possible that many voters, overwhelmed by the flood of initiatives, won’t be in the mood to approve anything.

As for other ideas on how to help the homeless, some people have suggested that the City use existing vacant housing to provide shelter. My feeling is that without support services, this would be futile. The idea of gathering tens of thousands of homeless together in empty buildings without offering mental health services, help for addicts or counseling seems like a recipe for disaster. Another proposal is to get the state and/or federal government to kick in more money. Garcetti already tried that. It went nowhere.

Personally, I think the most important thing is to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. This probably sounds so obvious you may ask why I’m even mentioning it, but it’s important to keep in mind. One of the leading causes of homelessness is eviction, and thousands of LA tenants have been kicked out of their homes in recent years. In part, this is because the City offers incentives to developers that make it very tempting for them to take advantage of the Ellis Act. If City Hall really wants to make a dent in the homeless problem, our elected officials need to stop rewarding landlords who throw their tenants out. The recent passage of an ordinance to crack down on “cash for keys” scams is a good start, but City Hall needs to do more. If you don’t want people living on the streets, then you need to do everything possible to keep them in their homes.

Demolition of the houses on Roscoe.

Demolition of the houses on Roscoe.

Earlier this month, the homeless encampment on Roscoe was dismantled. Around the same time, the houses that had been standing empty were demolished. But it’s only a matter of time before another makeshift shelter springs up in the neighborhood. This problem isn’t going away any time soon.


Tenants Take a Stand


There’s been a noticeable shift in City Hall’s public stance on evictions recently. A couple years ago, the Mayor and the City Council weren’t saying much, and certainly weren’t doing much, about the wave of displacement that was sweeping across LA. Ellis Act evictions had been rising steadily, thousands of tenants had been forced out of rent-stabilized apartments, and City Hall’s reaction was pretty much, “Who cares?”

But now that the issue is getting media attention and our elected officials are taking some serious heat for their inaction, the change in attitude at City Hall is noticeable. Mayor Garcetti has unveiled the Home for Renters campaign, designed to inform tenants of their rights. The Housing & Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) web site is offering booklets renters can download in English and Spanish to learn about how the law protects them. There’s also been an accompanying media blitz to get the word out. I have to wonder if City Hall’s sudden concern for LA’s renters will last beyond next year’s election, but right now you can tell the politicians are nervous.

One of the most striking examples of this turnaround can be found in the story of a group of tenants living in the apartment building at the corner of Yucca and Argyle in Hollywood. The building is home to 44 households, including singles, couples, families with children, seniors and veterans. It’s subject to LA’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO), which means that rents can only go up about 3% every year. A while ago they got word that the building was going to be sold to Champion Real Estate, a developer that had plans to build a luxury high-rise on the site. It seemed like it would just be a matter of time before the new owner started handing out eviction notices.


But that hasn’t happened. Yet. And a large part of it has to do with the fact that the tenants decided they weren’t going to let themselves be pushed around. They connected with the LA Tenants Union (LATU), which helped them organize the Yucca Argyle Tenants Association (YATA). They spoke out. They took part in public actions. They got support from their neighborhood council. They let the world know they weren’t going without a fight.

In fact they made so much noise that the developer stepped forward with pretty unusual offer. I asked Sasha Ali, of YATA, for an update, and here’s her response.

The developer recently stated at the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council’s Planning and Land Use Management meeting that he is willing to offer affected tenants the right of return to the proposed development at their existing terms of rent. He also offered to relocate returning tenants in Hollywood during construction and subsidize their rent.

When you think about the fact that many tenants evicted under the Ellis Act have to fight to get the payments that the law requires, this is pretty impressive. It’s a sign that the media attention about displacement is having an impact. Remember, this is happening in Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s district, and O’Farrell has been getting a lot of heat about widespread evictions happening on his watch. Could he have asked Champion to make some concessions in order to cool things down? Well, O’Farrell is up for re-election next year.

There’s no way of saying for sure what will happen next. Sasha said that at this point, eviction notices have not been served, and in fact Champion hasn’t actually bought the building yet. The tenants have retained a lawyer to help them negotiate with the developer.

I’m glad that the tenants at Yucca and Argyle are demanding a fair deal, and I wish them the best. But the dynamics that have created this situation are still wreaking havoc across LA. The eviction juggernaut is being driven by the huge profits developers can reap by buying an existing building, knocking it down, and putting up something much larger. This usually works pretty smoothly, because the City Council is mostly willing to grant whatever entitlements the developer asks for. Want a zone change? Sure! Boost the floor area ratio? No problem! Reduce setbacks to zero? Hell, yeah! Developers feel pretty confident they can make a bundle on these projects because they know all they have to do is hand a wish list to someone like O’Farrell, and he’ll do everything he can to make their wishes come true.


The City Council has no legal authority to stop Ellis Act evictions, but they need to stop incentivizing the practice. They need to stop handing developers massive profits by approving endless entitlements. If you want to talk about building higher density, fine. Let’s create community plans that will allow the City to increase density in an orderly way. Let’s revise our zoning so that developers can work within a consistent framework. (And I’m not talking about wasting time on a worthless sham like re:code LA.) And then let’s make the City Council abide by those plans, instead of making exceptions for every project that comes their way.

Hopefully things will turn out okay for the folks at Yucca and Argyle. But we need to stop the practices that create these situations in the first place. The City Council needs to stop handing out favors and start doing some planning.


Manufacturing the Facts


At a hearing last week, the City Planning Commission gave a green light to the proposed Ivar Gardens Hotel, which is planned for the intersection of Sunset and Cahuenga. But like a lot of projects planned for Hollywood in recent years, it wasn’t a smooth path to approval.

The hearing room was crowded with people. Most of those who were there to speak about the hotel were against, but there were also those who wanted to support it. A representative of the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council gave it a thumbs up, and a woman from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce went through the usual spiel about how the hotel will bring jobs and revenue.

Let me say up front, I can see good reasons for making something happen at the corner of Sunset and Cahuenga. The Jack in the Box that ‘s been sitting there for years isn’t exactly an architectural jewel. Sure, the block is underutilized. Could it be a good place for a hotel? Maybe. But a twenty one story hotel? At one of the busiest intersections in the city? I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Still, I should try to keep an open mind. I should think about the possible benefits. And I should trust that the City of Los Angeles would only approve such a project after the most rigorous review. I should have faith that the City would never approve such a project unless it was absolutely certain that the positive would outweigh the negative.

Yeah, right.

Before I start talking about the Department of City Planning, let me say that I believe that most of the folks who work there are smart and capable. In most of my dealings with them I’ve been impressed by how friendly and helpful they are. But I also believe the culture at the DCP has been warped by outside pressures, and I often get the impression that the state-mandated environmental review process is seen as a pointless waste of time. The documents that are supposed to assess the pros and cons of a project often seem like they’ve been slapped together as quickly as possible. In some cases the data is presented in misleading ways, and in other cases it’s clearly wrong.

Like with this hotel. To begin with, a project of this size really needs the highest level of environmental review, in other words, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). But the folks at the DCP disagreed, and they went ahead with a much lower level of review, a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND). By making this choice they’re basically saying that all of the impacts caused by this project can be mitigated to the point where they’re insignificant. Whether or not that’s true is not important to the City. What’s important here is that the MND is much easier to prepare and makes the approval process much faster.

So let’s get back to the hearing. Like I said, there were a few people who supported the project, but a solid majority came out against it, and the speakers represented a wide variety of interests. Many of them belonged to various unions, and they raised a number of issues, but the biggest one was jobs. They couldn’t believe the City was going to approve this project without any requirement for local hire. A woman representing the Los Angeles Film School came to the mike to say they were concerned about impacts during the construction phase. The LAFS is right across the street from the site, and their programs could be severely affected by the project, but apparently the developer has shown little interest in meeting to discuss these issues so far. A number of people expressed concern over increased traffic from the hotel. One group talked about the importance of properly assessing hazardous wastes at the site. Others asked why the City was ready to hand the developer entitlements worth millions, while the developer was offering a pathetically small package of benefits to the community. And yes, the Commission was asked why an MND was being used for a project that clearly required an EIR.

That’s what I wanted to know. And I also wanted to know why the MND being considered was such an inaccurate, dishonest piece of work. I know that’s a strong statement. But let’s take a look together.

The MND supposedly assesses greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by the project. Honestly, I think the numbers are questionable, and the reductions promised by mitigation measures are pretty optimistic. There’s a lot of talk about building clean, green structures these days, but environmentalists are starting to realize that developers don’t always deliver what they promise. Still, let’s pretend the GHG numbers are accurate. The MND offers a table to show how small the impacts are.


In assessing the production of CO2 emissions, the bottom line says the “project net total” will be 1,921.34 metric tons per year (MTY). But what it should actually say is “project net total increase”. If you look at the table carefully, you can see that the actual total is 3,102.31 MTY. They came up with the 1,921.34 figure by subtracting the estimated emissions produced by the existing fast food restaurant. In reality, the proposed hotel will be spewing out CO2 at a rate of 3,102.31 MTY, or over two and a half times what the site produces now. At a time when the state is struggling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and traffic in LA is getting steadily worse, can the DCP really claim that this is not a significant impact?

Under Public Services the MND talks about police protection. Now, the LAPD has been pretty up front in admitting that it’s struggling to deal with increases in crime across the city. The MND includes a table showing that crime has been steadily rising in Hollywood since 2013. In light of the fact that the LAPD has said they don’t have enough staff to deal with current levels of crime, how can the DCP claim this hotel, along with a number of other projects under construction in Hollywood, won’t put an even greater strain on law enforcement? In addition to the hotel’s security lighting and secure parking facilities, the MND claims that, “the continuous visible and non-visible presence of guests staying at the hotel at all times of the day would provide a sense of security during evening and early morning hours.” Actually, there are already plenty of people on the street in this area, and it doesn’t seem to be doing much to discourage crime.

To demonstrate how little the DCP cares about facts, under Population and Housing they say, “The Hollywood Community Plan (HCP) projected a 2010 population of approximately 219,000 persons….” This is true. The HCP did make that projection. What the MND doesn’t say is that the Plan was written back in the 1980s, and that according to the US Census, Hollywood’s actual population in 2010 was 198,228, about 20,000 people less than the figure they reference. The DCP surely knows that the projection was mistaken, because a judge threw out their HCP Update in 2011, largely because the population figures were wildly off base.

One of the biggest problems with the MND is its cavalier approach to cumulative impacts. This project is just one of more than sixty planned for the Hollywood area, but I haven’t seen a single environmental document come out of the DCP in the last five years that sees any significant cumulative impacts. The DCP always inserts endless bureaucratic double-speak citing regional planning reports and state guidelines. And they always find ways to ignore anyone who produces real data to call their conclusions into question. CalTrans has made numerous attempts to get the DCP to do a serious analysis of traffic impacts from all these projects. The DCP’s response is to pretend that CalTrans doesn’t exist.

I’ve saved the best for last, because it’s such a classic example of the City’s shameless dishonesty. Under Transportation/Traffic, a study included in the MND states that PM rush hour traffic at the intersections of Cahuenga/DeLongpre, Cahuenga/Sunset and Cahuenga/Hollywood flows at Level of Service A, in other words that there’s no congestion at all. Here’s a table from the MND.


This is so absurd it’s laughable. Anyone who’s travelled north on Cahuenga during evening rush hour knows it’s a parking lot. And in case you don’t live in the area, here are a few photos of what traffic really looks like on Cahuenga after working hours are over.

Rush hour on Cahuenga, July 2014.

Rush hour on Cahuenga, July 2014.

Rush hour on Cahuenga, same day as above.

Rush hour on Cahuenga, same day as above.

Rush hour on Cahuenga, July 2016.

Rush hour on Cahuenga, July 2016.

Rush hour on Cahuenga, same day as above.

Rush hour on Cahuenga, same day as above.

A lot of the people who spoke at the CPC hearing complained that traffic was bad enough and that this project would only make things worse. Knowing that this was a hot topic, Commission President David Ambroz realized he had to do something to prop up the MND’s ridiculous claim that rush hour traffic flowed smoothly. So he called on a guy from the DCP to get up and talk about the traffic study. And this guy rambled on for a few minutes about how the analysis was done in accordance with LA Department of Transportation standards, and that LADOT had approved the analysis, and that any variation may have been due to the fact that counts were taken during a holiday week. In other words, he didn’t claim that the traffic study actually reflected reality. Just that the people who compiled it followed the rules.

But it gets better. At the hearing, Commission President Ambroz mentioned that he lives in Hollywood, and that he’s familiar with the site for the proposed hotel, which means that he must know how bad the traffic is on Cahuenga at rush hour. And that means he also knows that the traffic report in the MND is substantially incorrect. But of course, he would never acknowledge that, because then he’d have to ask for the report to be done again, and done correctly. Instead, Ambroz sat there, somehow keeping a straight face, while the bureaucrat from the DCP went through his routine, trying to legitimize a traffic study that most of the people in the room knew was rubbish.

And then the Commission voted to adopt the MND and send the project on to the City Council. Interestingly, some of the Commissioners did vote no, not because of the MND, but because they felt the community benefits being offered by the developer were totally inadequate. This in spite of the fact that a last minute deal was cobbled together where the developer committed to 50% local hire.

So is the hotel a done deal? Not quite yet. It still has to go before the Planning & Land Use Management Committee (PLUM), and then on to the full City Council. Many of the people in the room were disappointed in the CPC’s decision. Afterwards I wrote to Elle Farmer of Unite Here, a labor group that spoke against the project, to ask how they felt about the outcome. Here’s a quote from their response.

We are still in this, and we still oppose the project as it currently stands, with no real community benefits, and no care for the environmental protection process.

And Unite Here is not satisfied with the last minute promise of local hire, as they feel it’s impossible to enforce.

I also asked for a statement from the Los Angeles Film School. Here’s an excerpt.

We support a vibrant Hollywood community and believe we played a major role in kickstarting the current renaissance. We are also the largest and most impacted stakeholder of this proposed project. Although the Commission did not grant a continuance, representatives for the developer did convey their willingness to sit down with us and discuss the project and its impacts to our campus after the hearing. We look forward to that opportunity.

And what am I looking forward to? The day when the DCP can put together an MND that actually reflects reality. And in the process shows a willingness to put the interests of the community ahead the interests of developers.

A Big Win for Tenants

Members of Union de Vecinos and the LA Tenants Union at a gathering on Thursday.

Members of Union de Vecinos and the LA Tenants Union at a gathering on Thursday.

It’s not uncommon these days to hear about a group of investors buying an apartment building and forcing the tenants out. Sadly, this kind of thing happens all too frequently in LA, and we’ve seen thousands of apartment dwellers lose their homes in recent years. Many renters don’t know their rights and leave without putting up a fight. Those that try to stay can get ground down by long and costly court battles.

But every once in a while the tenants win out.

Apartments at 4330 City Terrace.

Apartments at 4330 City Terrace.

Earlier this year the apartments at 4330 City Terrace were bought by Manhattan Manor, LLC. (Love the name. It’s so classy.) The new owners immediately imposed a steep rent increase on the tenants, certainly knowing that most couldn’t pay and would have to leave. Carolina Rodriguez’ rent went from $1,250 to $2,000, far beyond what she could afford. She could have thrown in the towel and left, hoping to find another place she could afford. But she decided to fight, and last month, she won.

With the help of the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action (LACCLA), Carolina went to court, and the jury sided with her. In fact, not only did the jury decide that $2,000 a month was unfair, they said that the apartment she occupied needed major repairs and was only worth $1,050 in its current state. Must’ve been a shock to Manhattan Manor.

Celebration on City Terrace after the victory in court.

Celebration on City Terrace after the victory in court.

On Thursday a crowd of people gathered at 4330 City Terrace to celebrate this victory. In addition to residents from the building, members of Union de Vecinos (UV) and the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) showed up to hear speakers talk about Carolina’s struggle, and to remind everyone that the struggle is still going on. Noah Grynberg, the lawyer from LACCLA who argued the case, gave an energetic speech about the importance of protecting people’s rights. Elizabeth Blaney, of UV, emphasized that there was still a long way to go in the battle against gentrification and displacement.

Noah Grynberg, of LACCLA, speaks to the crowd.

Noah Grynberg, of LACCLA, speaks to the crowd.

And Carolina took the mike to talk about how she came to the point where she felt she could stand up to the landlords. She mentioned another tenant who lived in the building, Jesus Baltazar, who had been a major influence. Though he was very ill, Jesus had insisted passionately that the tenants had to make a stand, that they shouldn’t be pushed around. His determination inspired her, and she decided to go to court. Sadly, he has passed away. His daughter, Georgina, is still fighting eviction.

Carolina Rodriguez tells how she decided to fight eviction.

Carolina Rodriguez tells how she decided to fight eviction.

The struggle goes on. Property owners will continue to kick people out of their homes in their pursuit of higher profits. But this story shows that tenants can fight back, and they can win.

If you’d like more info about the organizations mentioned above, the links are below. They all deserve your support.

Union de Vecinos

Los Angeles Tenants Union

Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action