A Breath of Fresh Exhaust

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The balconies at the Da Vinci offer a view of the Hollywood Freeway.

A while ago I wrote a post about a project going up in my neighborhood. The site was less than 200 feet from the Hollywood Freeway, and the developer was capping it with rooftop decks. In light of the extensive research showing elevated health risks for people living near freeways, this seemed absolutely insane. But after a few phone calls and e-mails I confirmed that both the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Department of Building & Safety (DBS) had signed off on it. And while I don’t have much respect for the the folks at City Hall these days, this seemed like a new low. I felt like they’d really crossed a line.

I was so wrong. The City crossed that line a long time ago. Turns out they’ve been routinely approving new residential projects near freeways that include rooftop decks and/or balconies. In spite of years of research that has shown strong links between exposure to freeway traffic and increased health risks, especially for children, the DCP and the DBS have okayed a number of projects near freeways that offer these amenities.

For over 20 years, USC has been gathering data on health impacts related to living near freeways. By the early years of the last decade, they were warning that residents in these areas faced significantly higher risk of asmtha, heart attacks and lung cancer, and that children were at risk of suffering permanent lung damage. In 2005 the California Air Resources Board published a handbook that specifically warned against residential construction within 500 feet of freeways. The City of LA, however, argues that the need for new housing outweighs the health risks.

But even if you buy that argument, how can you justify approving amenities that put people in direct contact with some of the most toxic air in the nation? Balconies and rooftop decks are not necessary. And in fact, when they’re placed on residential structures less than 500 feet from a freeway, this clearly fits the definition of a hazardous building as outlined by the LA Municipal Code:

Whenever a building or structure, used or intended to be used for dwelling purposes, because of dilapidation, decay, damage or faulty construction or arrangement, or otherwise, is insanitary or unfit for human habitation or is in a condition that is likely to cause sickness or disease, when so determined by the health officer, or is likely to work injury to the health, safety or general welfare of those living within.  [Emphasis mine.]

So allowing these features creates buildings that the City’s own Municipal Code defines as hazardous. Does that stop the City from approving them? Of course not.

The City does require that new buildings provide a certain amount of open space, and certainly developers will tell you that rooftop decks and balconies are one way of fulfilling that requirement in dense urban areas. But let’s look at a couple of the objectives listed for open space in the City’s General Plan….

2) to provide safer play areas for children

4) to increase natural light and ventilation

Can anybody argue that a balcony placed a couple hundred feet from a dense concentration of nitrogen oxide, CO2 and particulate emissions fulfills these objectives?

Sure, there are a number of apartment buildings near freeways with balconies and/or rooftop decks that were constructed long before the health risks became clear. But City Hall has known about the dangers since at least 2005. Let’s take a look at some of the residential projects they’ve approved over the last ten years or so….

Here’s Patio del Cielo at 4410 Sepulveda in Sherman Oaks. You could translate “cielo” as either “sky” or “heaven”, but obviously the implication is you’ll be living somewhere far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. Not too far removed from the San Diego Freeway, though, which is just about 200 feet away.

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Traffic lining up for the freeway in front of Patio del Cielo.

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Rush hour traffic on the San Diego Freeway.

The balconies/decks that adorn these homes along 2775 Cahuenga are between 100 and 300 feet from the traffic on the Hollywood Freeway. And since this housing complex is right on Cahuenga Blvd., from June through September residents can enjoy the spectacle of thousands of cars inching their way past during Hollywood Bowl season.

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Balconies at the front of 2775 Cahuenga.

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Traffic on the Hollywood Freeway near 2775 Cahuenga.

The Carlton, at 5845 Carlton Way, has both balconies and rooftop decks. I bet you get a stunning view of the Hollywood Freeway from the roof. It’s just about 200 feet away.

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The Carlton is the white building on the left.

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A view of the rooftop from the rear of The Carlton.

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A view of rush hour traffic near The Carlton.

But first prize for really bad planning goes to the Da Vinci, at 909 W. Temple. Developer Geoff Palmer has made a fortune building massive residential complexes near freeways, but this may be his masterpiece. The Da Vinci sits right where the Hollywood and the Harbor Freeways meet. And just like every other Palmer apartment block I’ve seen Downtown, the developer has made sure that residents can get their fill of diesel fumes and particulate emissions simply by stepping out onto their private balcony.

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Would you say those balconies are 100 feet away from the freeway?

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Traffic on the freeway north of the Da Vinci.

You could argue that a number of Palmer’s buildings went up before the adverse impacts of living near freeways were fully known. But City Hall approved the Da Vinci years after our elected officials had learned about the dangers. Again, they’ll tell you that we can’t afford not to build near freeways. But giving people balconies so they can get a face full of auto exhaust? How do you justify that?

I’ve suggested before that people write to the Mayor if they feel this needs to stop. Obviously, it hasn’t had much impact. But I’d like to suggest something a little different this time. How about writing to the Mayor and copying your congressional rep? Maybe if City Hall heard from someone at the federal level they’d think twice before approving hazardous amenities on apartments next to freeways.

Try using the following subject line….

Why Does the City of LA Keep Putting Residents’ Health at Risk?

Here’s Garcetti’s e-mail address.

mayor.garcetti@lacity.org

And if you don’t know who represents you in Congress, use the link below to find out.

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

LA’s Latest Innovation: Freeway-Adjacent Rooftop Decks

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You just never know what the City of LA will come up with next….

There was an empty lot in my neighborhood that had been sitting vacant for years.  After a developer pitched a hotel for the site and got turned down, a new project came along consisting of 18 3-story condos.  It seemed like a good fit, the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council (HHWNC) looked it over and gave it a thumbs up, and construction started last year.

Everything seemed okay until last November when I noticed what looked like a railing going up around the perimeter of the roof.  Were they adding rooftop decks?  That wasn’t mentioned in the hearing notice for the project or the environmental assessment, and it wasn’t part of the project approved by the HHWNC.  Not long after the railing went up, it became clear that the construction crew had added staircases leading to the roof, and soon they were building stairwell coverings.

Why was I concerned?  Well, here in Hollywood people like to give parties.  Nothing wrong with parties in general, but sometimes they get pretty noisy, and sometimes they go on really late.  It’s already an issue in the neighborhood, and building 18 individual rooftop decks seemed like it was just increasing the chances of someone throwing an all-night open-air bash.

So initially my concern was selfish.  I was worried about the noise this project might create, and I was wondering why the rooftop decks hadn’t been included in the package that was presented to the community and approved by the Department of City Planning (DCP).  I called up my City Council office, and talked to a very nice guy who said he’d look into it.  Over the next two months I sent three e-mails to this Council Office staffer asking for an update.  Never got an answer.

But during that time it occurred to me that there might be another problem with this project, a much more serious issue than raucous late night parties….

You see, these condos are going up right next to the Hollywood Freeway.  I’d say at the farthest point the structure is about 150 feet from the freeway and at the nearest point about 50.   I started wondering if building so close to a major traffic corridor wouldn’t pose health risks for the future occupants, so I got on the net to do some research.

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The space between the project site and the freeway.

Probably everybody reading this already knows what I found out.  There’s a large body of research showing a higher incidence of respiratory problems among people who live near freeways.  The risk is especially high for children and seniors.  In fact, young people can suffer lifelong damage since ongoing exposure to pollutants from auto exhaust may affect the development of their lungs.  This problem has gotten a lot of media attention recently, but the information has been out there for years.  USC has been studying the effects of air pollution on children since the 90s.  Here’s an article published by USC News back in 2004.

USC Study Links Smoggy Air to Lung Damage in Children, September 2004

Not long after, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) published their Air Quality and Land Use Handbook, warning cities about the risks of building housing near freeways.  Here’s the number one item on the handbook’s list of recommendations.

“Avoid siting new sensitive land uses within 500 feet of a freeway, urban roads with 100,000 vehicles/day, or rural roads with 50,000 vehicles/day.”

So the information has been out there for more than a decade, and the City Council is well aware of the health impacts to people living close to freeways.  They’ve talked about ways to deal with the risks, but very little has happened in the way of concrete action.  In fact, in recent years the Council has approved thousands of residential units in close proximity to freeways.  They argue that LA’s housing shortage is so dire we can’t afford to prohibit construction in these areas even if there are health risks.  Even though I don’t buy that argument, I know that many people would agree.

But rooftop decks?!  Are they crazy?!

After reading up on the potential health risks, the idea of adding rooftop decks to these condos seemed so absolutely insane I thought it was worth making a few phone calls.  I rang up the woman at the DCP who prepared the initial study for the project.  I explained that the rooftop decks hadn’t been included in the project description or the renderings that were shown to the HHWNC, and that the height had increased by 30%.  She said that the project complied with existing zoning and that the Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) had the final authority over what was permitted.  I asked how the DCP could allow this since noise impacts from rooftop decks weren’t considered in the environmental assessment.  She replied that the DCP had considered operational impacts from the project and had approved the assessment.  Finally, I pointed out that the rooftop decks posed significant potential health risks to the future tenants.  Her response was that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) did not require the DCP to consider impacts to those who would live on the site in the future.

I was angry, but not really surprised.  I’ve realized over the last few years that the folks at the DCP really don’t care about how proposed projects will affect the lives of the people who live in this city.  It’s all about keeping the developers happy.

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Traffic on the Hollywood Freeway near the project site.

Who knows why I even went on to contact LADBS.  I guess I must get some kind of sick kick out of banging my head against a wall.  Anyway, here’s their response.

 

The roof top decks and the overall building height of 44.9 feet is allowed by right, therefore LADBS does have the ability to approve the project as proposed.  The Zoning Variance reviewed by City Planning only addressed a parking requirement.  City Planning has approved the plans for the current project.

LADBS’ authority to approve projects is based on Building Code requirements.  The Building Code does not have any restrictions for a rooftop deck near a freeway.

 

So according to LADBS, they did everything by the book.  They don’t see a problem.

But there is a problem here.  It’s bad enough that a developer is allowed to present one project to the community and then build something substantially different.  But it’s even worse when a developer is allowed to create a clear health risk for the people who will live in the finished building.

I tried arguing with the bureaucrats who approve these projects and got nowhere.  Maybe it’s time to take it to the higher-ups.  If you feel there’s a problem here that needs to be addressed, I hope you’ll feel strongly enough about it to write an e-mail to the three people listed below.  And please use the following subject line….

Freeway-Adjacent Rooftop Decks at 2111 Cahuenga

Eric Garcetti, Mayor

mayor.garcetti@lacity.org

Vince Bertoni, Director of City Planning

vince.bertoni@lacity.org

Frank M. Bush, LADBS General Manager

frank.bush@lacity.org

RD Tight

 

 

Tenants Kicked Out as Landlords Cash In

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Ellis Act evictions are so common in LA these days that I’ve gotten used to hearing reports of landlords kicking their tenants out. It happens all the time. As speculative development continues to push property values higher, property owners are eager to cash in. Over 20,000 units have been removed from the rental market through the Ellis Act since 2000. And in addition to the thousands of tenants who’ve been kicked out under Ellis, it’s likely that thousands more have lost their apartments because they were bamboozled by unscrupulous landlords using cash-for-keys scams.

In the course of writing this blog I’ve met a number of people who’ve either already been evicted or are facing eviction. So when I went to meet a group of tenants who live in a small building on Las Palmas it seemed like a familiar scenario. The owner plans to demolish the existing structure in order to build a 7-story mixed-use project, and so the people currently living there have got to go. The breadwinners in these families are working hard to make ends meet, and odds are they’re getting by on paychecks that add up to well below LA’s median income. While I’m sure they’re worried about getting evicted, one thing that encouraged me is that they seemed much more angry than scared. They’re not going to take this lying down.

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Some of the tenants facing eviction.

The tenants are paying much less than the area’s median rent, but they’re also getting next to nothing in terms of repairs and maintenance. I could see walking into the building that the owner wasn’t taking care of it properly. The tenants told me a number of stories about problems with their units that the landlord was either slow to fix or didn’t fix at all. My guess is that he’s been sitting on the property, waiting for the right deal to come along, and didn’t see any point in spending money on upkeep. I should mention that he has laid out some cash to fix up a few of the units, just not the ones that are occupied by the current tenants. You may be asking, why would he do that? The answer is simple. He’s posting the refurbished units on the net as short-term rentals. This is a pretty common practice. Landlords are doing it all over the city, and it’s more or less legal unless the tenants were evicted under the Ellis Act. So when we talk about a shortage of apartments in LA, we have to remember that there are probably thousands of units that are actually being used as unofficial hotel rooms.

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Council District 13 Candidate Sylvie Shain.

My friend Sylvie Shain came by to talk with the tenants. Sylvie is running for the CD 13 council seat, in large part because of her concern over LA’s affordable housing crisis. She knows first-hand what it’s like to be evicted, having been forced out of her apartment by owners who planned to turn the building into a boutique hotel. Sylvie spent over an hour with the tenants, giving them info on what protections they had under the law and helping them figure out their next steps.

Several days later I went to a neighborhood council meeting on the proposed project. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the impacts of the new structure, not the eviction of the current tenants, but it’s hard to separate the two. The owner has said that he will reserve seven units in the new building to replace the seven units that are currently occupied in the old building, and that he will offer them to the current tenants at the price they’re now paying. This may sound like a good deal, but there are a few problems with it. First, the owner hasn’t actually signed an agreement, which means he’s under no obligation to honor these terms. Second, while the owner is offering to replace seven units, there are actually fifteen units in the existing building that are covered by the rent stabilization ordinance (RSO). His deal would mean the loss of eight more RSO units. This may not sound like a lot by itself, but thousands of RSO units have been taken off the market in recent years, which is one of the reasons affordable housing is so scarce these days. Third, the owner knows that the new structure will probably take a couple of years to complete. If the current tenants get forced out, there’s a good chance they won’t find anything they can afford in LA. It’s entirely possible that by the time the proposed project is completed, none of them will still be living in the area, and he won’t have to offer them anything.

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Neighborhood Council meeting on the proposed project.

Then there’s the way the Department of City Planning (DCP) is trying to push this project through. They’re trying to approve it with a categorical exemption, which means they’re arguing that because it’s in-fill development and conforms to the current zoning, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) doesn’t require an environmental assessment. And to make that argument, they cite CEQA Guidelines, Section 15332. But CEQA requires that the project meet a number of conditions in order to grant the exemption, including the following….

Approval of the project would not result in any significant effects relating to traffic, noise, air quality, or water quality.

Traffic is already getting to be a problem on Las Palmas. Formerly a quiet residential street with one lane going each direction, in recent years it’s become a short cut for drivers looking to avoid congestion on Highland during rush hour. And traffic on Las Palmas is going to get a lot worse, because in addition to this project there are two others about the same size that are currently under construction, one just to the north and one just to the south of the existing building. But wait, there’s more. At the corner of Las Palmas and Franklin work recently began on a complex that wil contain over 100 units. In other words, if this project is approved, the neighborhood will gain about 300 units, which will definitely have a significant impact on traffic.*

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Traffic northbound on Las Palmas at rush hour.

What’s more, the proposed project is about 500 feet away from the facility that houses both the Canyon Pre-School and the Las Palmas Sr. Center. Children and seniors are known to be sensitive receptors, and to say that there will be no significant impacts to air quality or noise levels during construction is ridiculous. The kids and seniors at this small facility already suffered an onslaught of construction dust and noise when work on the project at Las Palmas and Franklin began last year. But the DCP apparently just doesn’t give a damn, and so they’re trying to rush this project through with no environmental review whatsoever.

After the neighborhood council meeting, I contacted the DCP hearing officer to find out what the timetable was for the project’s approval. It’s tentatively scheduled to go before the City Planning Commission on April 13, though it could get pushed back. Meanwhile, the tenants wait and wonder whether they’ll have to find a new place to live, in a city where rents are spiralling higher every year.

*
Some housing advocates may be cheered by this news, but don’t get too excited. The vast majority of these units will be well beyond the reach of those making the area’s median income, $34,807 a year. [Source: LA Times, Measuring income along L.A.’s Metro stations by Kyle Kim and Sandra Poindexter, March 4, 2016]

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View of construction site from Highland.

Traffic-Oriented Development

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For over a decade people at City Hall have been talking about transit-oriented development (TOD). In theory, if we create high-density residential and commercial developments near transit centers, people will be encouraged to take busses and trains instead of driving their cars. Makes sense, right? So for years the City has been telling us we have to build up instead of out, that we need to go vertical instead of horizontal. And they’ve approved a slew of high-rises, all the while insisting that this will get people out of cars and onto transit.

Before I go any further, I’d like you to watch a video. It lasts about twelve minutes, and it was shot during rush hour not too far from Hollywood and Vine.

I hope the video makes my point clear.* The City keeps approving high-rises, and when communities complain that congestion will get worse, planners and politicians invariably say that the people who live and/or work in these buildings will surely take transit. But they’ve been saying that for over a decade now, and it ain’t working. The MTA station at Hollywood and Vine is a hub for a number of bus lines, as well as the subway. But these people are all driving right past it.

I’m not against TOD, but to make it work, you’ve got to do some planning. Instead of creating a well thought out framework for all this development, the City keeps dumping project after project in the Hollywood area. Mayor Garcetti will tell you that the City did produce the Hollywood Community Plan Update (HCPU), and residents sued to overturn it. That’s true. Among the HCPU’s many shortcomings, the population figure it was based on was inflated by about 10%, in spite of the fact that US Census numbers were readily available. The judge who threw the plan out called it “fatally flawed”.

To give you an idea of how little City Hall cares about planning, let’s go back to those two buildings in the video. The residential high-rise on the southwest corner is just getting started, and the hotel on the northeast corner isn’t quite finished. But look at how bad traffic is already, long before these projects are completed. Unbelievably, the City is considering approval of a third high-rise at the very same intersection. How clueless can you get?!

As I said in the video, I don’t own a car and depend on transit to get around. I support planning to encourage transit use. But TOD isn’t working in LA. Why? I think primarily it’s because that’s not really what the City is building. If our elected officials were really interested in building TOD, they’d be pushing high-density housing made up mostly of affordable units. But instead, the City has been encouraging developers to build high-priced housing by offering them generous entitlements.

I got on the Department of City Planning web site and took a look at multi-family projects in Hollywood and North Hollywood that have been built near Red Line stations since the subway was completed. The Lofts and The Gallery at Noho Commons combined contain 724 units. Eastown, when the second phase is completed, will have over 1,000. The Jefferson has 270, and is the only one that offers any affordable housing, 27 units. So out of about 2,000 apartments, only 27 are accessible to people in lower income brackets. And if you’re not one of the lucky few to snag one of low cost units, you can expect to spend at least $2,000 a month for a one bedroom. Let’s not even talk about what it might cost to live at The Vermont, which sits just across from the Vermont/Wilshire station. And call it a hunch, but I don’t think the massive Wilshire Grand Tower, which is rising up next to the 7th/Figueroa station, will be offering any affordable units at all.

According to a story published by the LA Times earlier this year (Measuring Income along LA’s Metro Stations, March 4, 2016), the median income in almost all communities served by the Red Line is well below the County median of $55,870, ranging roughly from $22,000 to $46,000 a year. (Universal City is the lone exception, with residents there making well above the County median.) For the people in the lowest income bracket, renting an apartment at the newer “TOD” buildings would consume pretty much all their earnings, and even at the higher end of the scale it would mean spending over half what they make in a year. The City says these high-density projects encourage transit use, but most transit riders couldn’t afford to live in them.

Could this be one of the reasons that transit ridership is lower now than it was back in 1985? There may be many reasons for the decline, but you’ve got to wonder why the MTA is serving fewer people than it did three decades ago. The drop in ridership is even more disturbing when you realize that the population of LA County (the area served by the MTA) has grown by over a million since 1985. Does anyone see a problem here? City Hall has been telling us for years that their policies will get people off the road and onto transit. Instead, we’ve seen a net loss in transit ridership since the eighties, in spite of the fact that the population has continued to climb. And the traffic that used to just clog the main thoroughfares is now spilling over onto side streets.

The City’s claim that they’re promoting transit-oriented density is bogus. What they’re really doing is allowing developers who spend a fortune lobbying City Hall to cash in on projects that don’t serve the majority of Angelenos. They’re backing projects geared towards the affluent, which is what developers want because that’s where the highest profits are. Meanwhile lines of cars sit on our streets and freeways at rush hour, burning fossil fuels and spewing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

You call this transit-oriented development? I call it a disgusting sham.

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*
Just in case you’re thinking traffic is bad because it’s a Hollywood Bowl night, it’s not. The video was shot on Tuesday, October 25. Nothing was on the schedule that evening. But I can tell you the back-up on these streets can get way worse when something is happening at the Bowl.

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Manufacturing the Facts

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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.

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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.

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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.

How Many Hotels Do You Need?

DSC02054

Hotel construction is booming in Hollywood. Obviously, tourism is big business and brings a lot of money into the area, so it makes sense to build accommodations for visitors. But there are also tens of thousands of people who actually live in the community, and they need to be considered, too. Is City Hall thinking about them? Why don’t we ponder that question as we do a quick rundown of the hotels that are coming to Hollywood. It’s quite a list. We’ll start with the ones that are currently under construction.

1 Camden

The Camden
There’s the nearly completed Camden at the corner of Vine and Selma. In addition to the beautifully appointed rooms, the Camden also offers a heated saltwater pool, a movie lounge, a dog den, and the “The Garden”, a “quiet zen filled space to meditate and reflect.”

2 Dream

Dream Hollywood
According to the web site, “Dream Hollywood is an ultra-luxury merger of familiar and fantasy, where the line between entrée and exclusivity is refreshingly blurred.” Geared toward the “creative class”, it offers 179 “hyper-chic, yet comfortable” rooms and suites, along with a rooftop pool, restaurant and lounge “destined to become a player in the Hollywood skyline scene.”

3 Argyle Hotel b

Argyle Hotel
Currently under construction, the Argyle Hotel will rise 16 stories above the intersection of Yucca and Argyle. It will feature 225 rooms, 6,000 square feet of meeting space and 3,000 square feet of restaurant space. There are also two residential high-rises planned for this same intersection, one already under construction. Afternoon rush hour traffic on Argyle is already pretty bad. Expect it to get way worse.

4 1850 Cherokee

1850 Cherokee
The owner of this formerly rent-controlled apartment building realized he could make more money by evicting the tenants and turning it into something else. He used the Ellis Act to get rid of the residents a few years ago, saying that he was going to build condos on the site. When that project fell through, he decided to turn the building into a boutique hotel. The owner asked the City for a zone change to make it happen, and no surprise, the City let him have it.

A similar scenario has also played out at the historic Villa Carlotta on Franklin. The owners evicted the tenants from their rent-controlled units with the aim of turning it into a boutique hotel. It was only through the efforts of dedicated activists that the change of use was thwarted. But the evictions have already taken place, and 50 rent-controlled units were taken off the market.

5 Crossroads

Crossraods Hollywood
This massive project would be situated near the intersection of Sunset and Highland. Three skyscrapers are planned, including a 32-story hotel tower featuring 308 guest rooms and 10,500 square feet of ground-level retail and restaurant space. The developers are also asking for a Master Conditional Use Permit for “the sale of alcoholic beverages and for live entertainment in connection with a total of 22 alcohol-related uses”. You read that right. Twenty two new places for folks to buy alcohol in this one project. In addition, approximately 80 rent-controlled units will be demolished to build this behemoth, which the developer says will be replaced by approximately 80 affordable units. Even if the current tenants are granted right-of-return, where they’re supposed to live during the construction phase isn’t clear.

6 Ivar Gardens

Ivar Gardens
The Department of City Planning(DCP) decided this 21-story hotel at the extremely congested intersection of Sunset and Cahuenga didn’t need a full Environmental Impact Report. Instead, planners have been trying to rush this through with a Mitigated Negative Declaration, a much lower level of environmental review. The traffic study claims that PM rush hour traffic northbound on Cahuenga flows freely with no significant delays. Anyone who’s made that trip at rush hour knows how ridiculous that claim is. But that didn’t stop the LA Department of Transportation from approving the report. Just further proof that when a developer with deep pockets wants something to happen, the City of LA is only too happy to oblige.

1919 Wilcox
One more example of how Hollywood area developers are pushing hotels into residential neighborhoods. While a small hotel does exist on Franklin just to the south, apartment buildings are directly adjacent to this proposed project on the north and west boundaries of the site. Residents were not happy to learn that they might have a 6-story, 150 room hotel next door. It didn’t help matters that the developer is seeking a liquor permit for a 1,200 sq. ft. bar/lounge in the lobby and a 3,500 sq. ft. restaurant/lounge on the north side of the site. Who cares if Chief Beck has written to the DCP warning about the oversaturation of locations that serve alcohol in Hollywood and the resulting problems with violent crime? Certainly nobody at the DCP. They keep handing out liquor permits like there’s no tomorrow.

1717 Wilcox

Also on Wilcox, but closer to Hollywood Blvd., is this planned 134-room hotel with a 2,500 sq. ft. ground floor restaurant and a rooftop bar. You can never have too many rooftop bars, right? Who cares if the people in the apartment building next door don’t like it? And as traffic on Cahuenga continues to spill onto neighboring streets, you can bet these two projects will help turn Wilcox into a parking lot at rush hour.

The point of all this is not to say that we shouldn’t have hotels in Hollywood. The point is that these 8 hotels are just a few of the over 60 projects currently proposed for the Hollywood area. All of these projects will have impacts on infrastructure, air quality, traffic, and LAPD response times, but the City of LA isn’t making any serious effort to assess the cumulative effects of all this development. Whenever possible the DCP tries to approve these projects with a quick MND, and even when they do an EIR there’s no credible attempt made to calculate the collective impacts caused by this massive building binge. The Hollywood Community Plan Update was thrown out by a judge, in large part because the City inflated its population figures, but that hasn’t stopped the City from going full speed ahead. With no community plan in place, the DCP continues to approve thousands of new residential units, hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial, and who knows how many new hotels.

No doubt all these classy new hotels will make Hollywood a great place for tourists. Just not so great for the people who actually live in the community.

A New Vision or Another Con?

A view of the Hollywood Freeway from Franklin

A view of the Hollywood Freeway from Franklin

A while ago I was walking down Franklin around rush hour, and I came across a sight that’s becoming way too familiar. Looking down Vine, I saw a line of cars that extended all the way down the block.

Looking down Vine at rush hour

Looking down Vine at rush hour

I pulled out my camera, because I’ve kind of gotten obsessed with documenting traffic in LA. You probably think this is a pretty weird pasttime, but it keeps me off the streets. Oh, wait. No, actually it doesn’t….

Intersection of Vine and Yucca

Intersection of Vine and Yucca

Anyway, I walked down Vine taking pictures, and guess what I saw when I got to Yucca?

Cars lining up in the left turn lane on Yucca

Cars lining up in the left turn lane on Yucca

If you guessed another long line of cars, you were right. If you don’t live in the area, this may not seem like anything remarkable. But having lived in Hollywood for a while, I can tell you that this is a pretty recent phenomenon. Yucca used to be very quiet. I’d say up to three or four years ago Yucca was empty even at rush hour. Obviously that’s changed.

I kept on walking, and you’ve probably already guessed that when I got to Argyle, I saw yet another line of cars crawling along.

More cars backed up on Argyle

More cars backed up on Argyle

But the thing that surprised me was, traffic on Argyle was backed up all the way to Hollywood Blvd..

Still more cars backed up on Argyle

Still more cars backed up on Argyle

I walked up Argyle, shooting more photos as I passed underneath the bridge.

Traffic crawling north on Argyle

Traffic crawling north on Argyle

Then I was back at Franklin, and by now everybody knows what I found when I got there.

Westbound traffic on Franklin

Westbound traffic on Franklin

You may be asking, where were all these cars heading? Well, they were all trying to get on the northbound Hollywood Freeway. And traffic on the freeway was moving pretty damn slow.

Northbound onramp for the Hollywood Freeway

Northbound onramp for the Hollywood Freeway

I think we’d all agree that LA’s streets are way too congested, and we’ve got to start thinking about transportation in new ways. Cars are a dead end. We’ve got to stop building to accomodate them. The recent expansion of the San Diego Freeway showed what a waste of time that is. We can add as many lanes as we want, and they’ll all end up choked with traffic.

So some people see the City Council’s adoption of the Mobility Plan 2035 as a major step in the right direction. It sure sounds swell. With chapters titled “Safety First”, “World Class Infrastructure” and “Access for All Angelenos”, the MP 2035 paints a picture of a utopian LA, where everybody can get everywhere they want without ever needing a car.

But a lot of people are skeptical about the benefits the plan will actually provide, and I’m one of them. I totally support increased access to all modes of transportation, and if you take the MP 2035 at face value, it sounds great. The question is, will the plan deliver what it promises, and to answer that question you have to look at what our elected officials have actually been doing for the last several years.

Under the heading Key Policy Initiatives, the plan includes the following goal….

Consider the strong link between land use and transportation

No doubt about it, land use and transportation have to be considered together. For years now the Mayor and the City Council have been pushing transit oriented density (TOD). In theory, planning for higher density near transit centers will create a new dynamic where people will find using public transit preferable to driving a car. Now, if we were building affordable housing near transit centers that allowed easy access to the areas where jobs were concentrated, this might actually work. But that’s not what the Mayor and the City Council have actually been doing. Instead, they’ve been pushing relentlessly for high-end, high-rise housing that caters to people with six figure incomes. Check out the proposed 8150 Sunset, Horizon Hollywood and Shenzhen Hazens project in South Park for three examples. There are many more in the planning stages. Do the rich ride the subway? I’m sure some of them do, but let’s be honest. In LA, this is the demographic that is least likely to use public transit, while people at the lower end of the economic spectrum often have no other choice.

This is not transit oriented density. It’s profit oriented density. The Mayor and the City Council can tell us they’re linking land use to transportation to make transit more accessible, but recent history shows that this is mostly a con used to push through projects that only benefit developers who are looking to make a pile of money. Not only have our elected officials’ efforts to create affordable housing been pathetic, but by pushing gentrification in areas that used to be affordable, they’re actually forcing low-income workers farther away from job centers.

So if you ask me whether the MP 2035 will deliver what it promises, I can’t say I’m optimistic. Even before Garcetti became the Mayor, when his council district covered much of central Hollywood, he pushed through a number of “TOD” projects, telling residents that this would solve our transportation problems. Take a look at the video below and let me know if you think it’s working.

The Changing Face of Hollywood

Rendering of the proposed Kilroy project at Vine and De Longpre

Rendering of the proposed Kilroy project at Vine and De Longpre

Hollywood is hot. Developers are jumping in with both feet. A number of projects have gone up in the last few years, and many more are in the works. My feelings about the building boom vary greatly, mostly depending on the quality of the individual projects. Some of them will definitely benefit the community, some I can tolerate, and others should never have gotten off the drawing board.

Just recently Kilroy Realty unveiled their plans for a project on Vine, south of Sunset. Over all, I’m inclined to support it. As many people have pointed out, almost anything would be better than what occupies the site now. It’s an underutilized parcel, and Kilroy’s idea of turning it into a media campus makes perfect sense for the area.

A recent shot of the site from the corner of Vine and De Longpre

A recent shot of the site from the corner of Vine and De Longpre

But I do have a couple of reservations….

First, traffic.

Anyone who’s lived in Hollywood for a while can tell you that traffic is steadily getting worse. This is especially interesting when you consider that the Hollywood area lost over 10,000 residents between 2000 and 2010. So even though there are fewer people living in the community, more of them are driving. It seems probable that this is because the low-income residents who were forced out by rising rents have been replaced by more affluent residents who are more likely to own cars. The Kilroy project will be continuing this trend, since the residential units are geared toward people who have money to spend.

For those of you who don’t live in the area, here are a few photos of the northbound traffic on Vine on a Wednesday evening around 7:00 pm. These were taken at the corner of Vine and De Longpre, right across from the project site.

Traffic on Vine, heading toward Sunset.

Traffic on Vine, heading toward Sunset.

Traffic on Vine, coming from Fountain.

Traffic on Vine, coming from Fountain.

Same perspective as previous shot.  Note that cars are not entering the intersection even though the light is green.

Same perspective as previous shot. Note that cars are not entering the intersection even though the light is green.

This project will definitely be putting more cars on the road. What really concerns me is that it’s just one of many projects being considered for the Hollywood area. My point is that the City of LA needs to do a cumulative traffic study to plan for all this growth. The City argues they don’t have the money, which is ridiculous. They don’t have a problem throwing away millions of dollars on legal fees to defend projects that never should have seen the light of day, but they won’t spend a relatively modest sum to plan for a sustainable future. If Garcetti wants to push for big growth in Hollywood, he needs to start by springing for a cumulative traffic study that will help to lay the groundwork.

Second, the residential component of the Kilroy project is definitely catering to the crowd that makes six figure salaries. Again, it’s not so much that I have a problem with this specific project, but the vast majority of the residential units that have been built in the area over the past ten years are geared towards the rich. You can’t move into places like the W, Blvd. 6200 or the Avenue unless you have money to burn. This push to make Hollywood a playground for the wealthy is driving rents up throughout the community. It’s not just the low-income working class families that are being forced out. The artists, musicians and writers who used to live in Hollywood are having to look for less expensive places. The desperate drive for gentrification is great for bringing in the trust fund kids who want to party, but it’s pushing out a lot of the people who really enriched the local culture.

Over all, Kilroy seems to be making an effort to respect the community. This project is planned more or less within the current zoning laws, though the residential tower does go a little high. They’re including a fair amount of open space. It makes sense that they’re catering to media/entertainment companies, and, according to the LA Times story, there is a demand for office space in Hollywood.

So my problem isn’t with this project itself, but the trend that it’s a part of. Hollywood is becoming more expensive and more congested. The mayor doesn’t care. He’s got a mansion in Hancock Park and a driver that takes him wherever he wants to go, both of which are paid for by the taxpayers. So naturally Garcetti wouldn’t be concerned about housing prices and traffic, since he doesn’t have to deal with those problems.

Unfortunately, the rest of us do.

If you want to take a look at the LA Times article on the Kilroy project, the link is below.

Kilroy Unveil Plans for Complex in Hollywood

Hollywood Journal – Some Photos

While I was keeping my Hollywood Journal, I tried to take photos to document some of the changes that were occurring. These were taken while the Hollywood & Highland Center was being constructed, and they sort of go along with the first entry I wrote (Hollywood Journal – Intro). Sorry the quality isn’t better. I’m not a great photographer, and these were taken with a disposable camera.

It’s important to remember that Hollywood & Highland was being built as the same time as the Red Line was under construction below Hollywood Boulevard. Because one of the subway stops is built into the complex, the two projects had to be done concurrently. It was a crazy time, because the construction of that stretch of the Red Line was a mess. Hollywood Boulevard sank six inches, in part because the contractor was was not following proper procedures during tunneling. It was reported that they were using telephone books instead of metal wedges to prop up the supports.

Construction site on Hollywood Boulevard.

Construction site on Hollywood Boulevard.

A different angle on the site.

A different angle on the site.

Above are two views of the construction site from Hollywood Boulevard. In both you can see part of the office building that used to stand on the northwest corner of Hollywood and Highland. Also, in the background you can see the former Holiday Inn, which is now Loews Hollywood Hotel. Those familiar with the area will notice that in those days it didn’t have the facade which was added back when it was known as the Renaissance.

Looking down Orchid to the El Capitan.

Looking down Orchid to the El Capitan.

This is a shot of the El Capitan from Orchid. This part of the street no longer exists, since it was closed off in order to construct Hollywood & Highland. You can still enter Orchid from the north on Franklin, but it no longer continues through to Hollywood Boulevard.

The Walk of Fame during construction.

The Walk of Fame during construction.

The stars on the sidewalk in front of the project were removed during construction, and then replaced when the project was finished.

Looking west on Hollywood Boulevard.

Looking west on Hollywood Boulevard.

Above is a shot looking west. It’s too bad the image isn’t very sharp, but you can see the remnants of a cool mural depicting whales in the ocean. It was painted on the side of the Chinese Theatres. Also, in the distance, you can see the Roosevelt Hotel.

The construction site, again facing west.

The construction site, again facing west.

Another shot of the construction site facing west.

The First National Building stands alone against the sky.

The First National Building stands alone against the sky.

In the first two photos above you can see the office building that used to stand on the northwest corner of Hollywood and Highland. It had to be demolished to make way for the new mall, and I remember how its disappearance created this amazing sense of space. Before the new structure rose up, you had a mostly unobstructed view of the hills. And for a while the First National Building, which still stands today, seemed to tower over everything.

Looking across the construction site towards the El Capitan.

Looking across the construction site towards the El Capitan.

Another view of the construction site, looking towards the El Capitan.

Next to the Chinese Theatre, you can see the Chinese Two and Three, not long before demolition.

Next to the Chinese Theatre, you can see the Chinese Two and Three, not long before demolition.

During the eighties movie exhibitors began building multiplexes instead of stand-alone theatres. In order to compete, the company that owned the Chinese built two more auditoriums right next door, the Chinese Two and Three. They didn’t look like much from the outside, but they both offered large screens and excellent sound. When Hollywood & Highland was built these two theatres were demolished, and were replaced with six more inside the mall.

Brake Lights at Midnight

I wanted to follow up on my earlier post about two proposed projects, one at Highland and Selma and the other at Highland and Franklin. Together these developments will bring over four hundred new residential units to an already crowded corridor. But the problem isn’t just on Highland. As anybody who lives in the area knows, traffic on Franklin is also pretty damn bad. Highland is a major thoroughfare that is primarily commercial north of Melrose. From Highland to Cahuenga, Franklin is completely residential, and has only one lane running in each direction.

Twenty years ago, this was not a problem. These days, though, Franklin is carrying much more traffic than it was designed for. In an earlier post (Hell on Highland, October 25), I talked about the night Katy Perry played the Hollywood Bowl, and traffic was backed up all the way to the freeway. That’s by far the worst I’ve even seen on Franklin. But check out these photos of a couple other traffic jams I witnessed lately. These were both taken at the intersection of Franklin and Whitley….

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The photo above shows traffic heading toward Cahuenga. And this next one…

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…shows traffic coming from the direction of Highland. Locals looking at these pictures are probably saying, Big deal. It’s always like that at rush hour. But these weren’t taken at rush hour. These were taken around twelve thirty am. A car had stalled near Grace, and a steady flow of westbound traffic kept drivers from getting around it.

Now check these out.

DSC02764

This was taken just before eight o’ clock on a Saturday morning as I was coming up on Whitley. And this next one…

DSC02771

…was taken as I was approaching Las Palmas. Pretty nasty for a Saturday morning. Now in this case, one of the left turn lanes at Highland was closed. Not sure why, but it may have had something to do with the fact that Hollywood was closed at Highland that morning.

Now in all three cases I’ve mentioned, there are unusual circumstances that caused the back-up. A concert at the Bowl, a stalled car, a closed lane. But it shows that it doesn’t take much to turn this residential street into a sea of brake lights. Franklin is already carrying way beyond the capacity it was designed for. It amazes me not only that the city wants to add to the congestion, but that they have determined that the two new complexes mentioned above will have no significant negative impacts.

Again, if you disagree with the city’s finding, if you think Franklin is maxed out as it is, please let the City Council know how you feel.

LA City Council