The Hollywood Rip-Off

DH SM 01 Tao Dream 2

The other day I picked up a copy of the LA Weekly and came across Besha Rodell’s review for Tao in Hollywood. Clueless loser that I am, I’d never heard of this popular mini-chain before, and had no idea it had been a huge success in New York and Las Vegas. Tao’s latest location is tucked into the just-opened Dream Hotel in Hollywood, and it seems to be doing big business. But Rodell wasn’t impressed. At all. You can read his review here.

Worse Than We Imagined from LA Weekly

Reading Rodell’s description of the decor’s garish excess and ridiculously inflated prices, I felt like his review could apply to a lot of what’s happening in Hollywood these days. The Dream Hotel and Tao just seem like the latest in City Hall’s efforts to wreck the community.

DH SM 10 Tao

Tao on Selma in Hollywood

Does that sound extreme? And does it sound strange to be railing against garish excess in Hollywood? Hasn’t that been Hollywood’s game all along? Certainly if you look at the movie industry’s output, from the lurid spectacles of the 20s to this summer’s CGI-fueled action flicks, you’ll find plenty of outrageous, vacuous entertainment. You could also point to the sumptuous nightclubs and decadent nightlife that flourished during the studio era, when gossip columns were filled with the shameless antics of movie stars.

But the studio era ended decades ago, and over the years the place called Hollywood has grown into something very different. For a long time now it’s been a low to middle-income community with a fairly dense mix of residential and commercial. The movie stars are long gone, but there are lots of hardworking people here, people who run small shops and family-owned restaurants. Would-be actors and actresses who knock themselves out waiting tables while trying to get auditions. Kids who walk to school on streets where they have to learn early to look out for themselves.

And these people are struggling harder than ever because the City seems to be doing everything it can to push them out of Hollywood. What these people need more than anything is housing they can afford, and instead the City keeps approving high-end mutli-family projects that most Hollywood residents could never hope to move into. Yes, some affordable units have been created in recent years, but the wave of evictions continues, and we’re still losing scores of rent-stabilized apartments.

And with all this going on, the City decides we need over a dozen new high-end hotels? With multiple bars? Rooftop decks? Live entertainment? In some cases right up against apartment buildings? Really?

The City has long said that one of the key components to its plan to revitalize Hollywood is to boost the night life, but how’s that working out? I like a drink as well as the next guy, but last time I counted there were 67 places that serve alcohol in Central Hollywood. It’s not hard to get a drink here. And still the City continues to approve new liquor permits, even though violent crime and property crimes have been rising steadily in the area since 2014. Are you wondering if there’s a connection? Actually there are years of research that show a strong connection between alcohol and crime. Check out this report from the Department of Justice if you’re skeptical.

Alcohol and Violent Crime

And then there’s the traffic. Every time the City approves one of these projects, planners insist it won’t have any significant impact on congestion because Hollywood is a transit hub. The hotel guests and the partiers won’t need to drive because they can ride the bus instead. Well, take a look at these photos I snapped in front of the Dream Hotel around seven o’clock on Saturday night.

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Cars lining up in front of the hotel.

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The line of cars continues west on Selma.

And now let’s take a look at traffic a half a block away on Cahuenga.

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A shot of traffic on Cahuenga, facing Hollywood.

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A shot of traffic on Cahuenga, facing Sunset.

Remember, this is not a weekday at rush hour. This is early evening on a Saturday. Somehow I don’t find the City’s claims about people taking transit to be completely credible.

It used to be the club scene in Hollywood was mostly concentrated on Cahuenga. But the City wants to change that. Selma used to be a fairly quiet street running through a largely residential neighborhood between Vine and Highland. There’s a senior center about a block and a half away from the Dream Hotel. And there’s an elementary school about two blocks away in the other direction. But the City doesn’t seem too concerned about the elderly or the children living in the neighborhood. Our elected officials are going to turn Selma into a party corridor. A few years back Mama Shelter opened up, now the Dream, and the City Planning Commission (CPC) recently approved the tommie, an eight-story hotel featuring 2 bars, a rooftop deck, and live entertainment. It didn’t bother the CPC at all that Selma Elementary is less than 500 feet away from this latest project.

And you haven’t even heard the best part. Just blocks away, a developer is planning to build the massive Crossroads Hollywood project, and they’re asking for a master alcohol permit to allow 22 establishments to serve alcohol. You read that right. Twenty two. And not only is Crossroads Hollywood in close proximity to Selma Elementary, it’s right across the street from Hollywood High School.

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The front of the Dream Hotel.

This is the City’s idea of revitalizing Hollywood. We need low-cost housing. They give us high-end hotels. We need relief from violent crime. They keep pouring on the alcohol. Meanwhile traffic is worse than ever, transit ridership continues to decline, and the number of homeless keeps growing.

City Hall keeps saying they’re trying to bring Hollywood back to life. Why does it feel like they’re trying to kill it?

DH SM 90 Motorcycle

Where’s the Water Coming From?

The Palladium, with Columbia Square rising in the background.

The Palladium, with Columbia Square rising in the background.

There’s a hearing at City Hall this Wednesday on a project proposed for the site surrounding the Palladium on Sunset. The project is called Palladium Residences, and there are two ways it could go. Either 731 residential units, or 598 residential units and a 250 room hotel. Both options include 24,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space.

My question is, where is the water for this going to come from? I think by now everybody in LA knows there’s a drought going on. In fact, an extreme drought. Gov. Brown has declared a drought state of emergency and soon the Metropolitan Water District will be cutting deliveries to its Southern California customers, including Los Angeles. Angelenos have already been asked to voluntarily cut their water consumption by 20%, but the move by the MWD means we have no choice.

So let’s look at the Palladium project in this context. How will it impact water usage in the Hollywood area?

First, in its current state, the site needs very little water. Aside from the Palladium, it’s pretty much all parking lot, so unless there’s a show going on, consumption is zero. Whatever the developer builds, it’s going to cause a large increase in water usage. Even if we assume that the project will be built utilizing every water conservation measure imaginable, we’re probably looking at a net increase of between 100 and 200 acre feet per year.

But that’s just looking at the Palladium Residences in isolation. The site is surrounded by a number of other projects that are already under construction. Right next door, we have Columbia Square, which includes 200 residential units, over 400,000 sq. ft. of office space and 30,000 sq. ft. of retail.

Columbia Square

Columbia Square

On the opposite side and just to the north the new Camden is going up, offering 287 rooms.

The Camden

The Camden

Just across the street from that is 1601 Vine, an 8-story office building. Relatively speaking, office space doesn’t require a lot of water, but since the site was previously a parking lot, there will still be a net increase in water use.

1601 Vine

1601 Vine

A couple blocks to the west, the new 182-room Dream Hotel is rising over Selma.

The Dream Hotel

The Dream Hotel

And just beyond that is the Mama Shelter Hotel, with 70 rooms, which will occupy a building that was previously vacant.

Mama Shelter Hotel

Mama Shelter Hotel

Remember, all of these projects are being built on sites that previously consumed little or no water. It’s important to say, too, that all these hotels will have at least two restaurants, and will be hosting banquets, which drives water use way up. So putting all this together, conservatively speaking, we’ll probably see a net usage increase of at least 500 acre feet of water per year.

But wait. There’s more. Aside from the projects I’ve already mentioned, there are around 60 others proposed for the Hollywood area, many of them just as large as the ones listed above. So we’re not just talking about 500 additional acre feet of water per year. We’re talking thousands more. And that’s just Hollywood. If you look at Downtown, you’ll see a similar number of projects, some of them way bigger than anything proposed for Hollywood. There are also plans for major developments for Wilshire Blvd., the Crenshaw District and Boyle Heights.

Does anyone see a problem with this?

I’m not saying we should put a halt to development. But we do need to figure out how much development we can actually support. The DWP says that LA is in fairly good shape in the near term, but they’re only looking a couple of years ahead. Some scientists think this drought could last for several more years. By now everybody who lives in California knows that many of our reservoirs are at less than half of capacity, and the snow pack has shrunk to 6% of what’s normal for spring. The wells in the San Fernando Valley that we used to rely on have become contaminated, and it will take years before they’re cleaned up.

We need to figure out a water budget. First the DWP needs to prepare a realistic estimate of how much water we can rely on for at least the next five years. Then the Department of City Planning needs to make sure they have solid numbers regarding the water that will be consumed by each proposed project. With that information, they can make a cumulative assessment of the impact all these projects will have on our water resources, and prioritize them based on how beneficial they’ll be to the community. Let’s get real. We don’t have the water to build all this stuff. Even if we have supplies to last for the next year or two, these projects will be consuming water for decades, and some scientists believe this drought could get much worse than it already is. We need to know how much water we can realistically count on, and then we need to plan accordingly.

The Mayor has been telling us that we need to cut our water use by 20%, but at the same time he’s pushing this aggressive development agenda which is guaranteed to boost water consumption even as Angelenos are told they need to conserve. And let’s be honest. We haven’t made much progress in cutting our water use. Even with the threat of a massive drought, we’re using about as much water as we always have. So residential towers and high-rise hotels are just pushing us farther into the danger zone.

We need development, but it has to be planned development. If the City of LA wants to grow, it needs to find out first how much water we have, and how much each of these projects is going to consume. Much of the reason we’re in trouble today is that for decades the City allowed massive growth without proper planning. We’ve been sucking up water from all over the Southwest to build a vast metropolis in an area that has very little water of its own. We can’t do that any more. We need to start living within our means.

Another view of The Palladium, now with The Camden construction site in the background.

Another view of The Palladium, now with The Camden construction site in the background.

Mama Shelter Update

Work continues the building at the corner of Wilcox and Selma.

Work continues the building at the corner of Wilcox and Selma.

Just wanted to follow up on the piece I wrote about the Mama Shelter hotel at the corner of Wilcox and Selma.

I went to a hearing last year to express my concerns over some variances that were being considered for the project. The three issues that worried me were the request to allow live entertainment on the roof, liquor permits for the two restaurants, and the amount of parking required. I got the zoning administrator’s determination a while ago, and these are the results.

They’re not going to allow live entertainment or amplified music on the premises. Very happy about this. While the hotel isn’t close enough to my apartment for the noise to bother me, this is becoming a big concern for residents in the Hollywood area. A few people who attended the meeting complained that they’re already having trouble sleeping because of existing venues that play music far into the night. So I was very glad that the City nixed this.

They did decide to grant a full liquor license for the two restaurants. I was not happy about this. It’s not so much that I’m worried about the hotel itself, as the fact that these days the City is giving out liquor licenses like candy. With so many places in Hollywood for people to get hammered, there’s been a significant increase in crime. In fact, the problems are so serious that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck wrote a letter to the Department of City Planning last year in which he expressed his concern about the number of liquor licenses that are being issued. The City really needs to slow down on this. There are already plenty of places to get a drink in Hollywood.

The last issue was the parking, and this was tricky. The administrator’s decision said that Mama Shelter would be allowed to lease five spaces off-site. Apparently these were for patrons of the restaurant, but it didn’t sound like nearly enough. I also wondered where the hotel guests would be parking. I knew the lot adjacent to the building wasn’t available. I ended up writing to Gary Benjamin at the Council District 13 office and Jared Sopko of Archeon Group, a company that’s working with Mama Shelter on the project. Both of them responded to me quickly, explaining that the hotel has contracted with a valet parking service that has access to 300 off-street spaces in the area. That was good to hear, because parking on the street around Selma and Wilcox can be really challenging. I was afraid local residents would be fighting with valets for spaces, a scenario that’s not uncommon in Hollywood.

All in all, I’m cool with the outcome. I wish they hadn’t granted the liquor permit, but I’m happy with the resolution on the other issues. I’m glad that Mama Shelter is refurbishing a building that’s been vacant for years. That’s definitely a plus. And of all the new hotels that are flooding into Hollywood, Mama Shelter seems like the best fit with the neighborhood.

So I can live with this.

Too Much Liquor, Not Enough Parking

Hotel at the Corner of Wilcox and Selma being renovated by Mama Shelter

Hotel at the Corner of Wilcox and Selma being renovated by Mama Shelter

Last week I went down to City Hall to attend a hearing. An old hotel at Wilcox and Selma that hasn’t been occupied for years is being renovated with the intention of turning it into a new boutique hotel run by the Mama Shelter chain. I have no problem with them renovating the hotel, and Mama Shelter seems like it might be a good addition to the neighborhood, but one of the variances they were asking for concerned me. Here’s the text from the hearing notice.

Pursuant to LA Municipal Code Section 12.24-W,1, a Conditional Use to permit the sale of a full line of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption in conjunction with a proposed ground floor restaurant and a rooftop restaurant, with live entertainment.

Before I go any further, let me give you a little background. I like a having a drink as much as the next guy, and maybe even a little more than the next guy. I certainly don’t want to see Hollywood go dry. But for those of you who don’t live in the area, I can tell you that you couldn’t throw a rock down the street without hitting a bar or a club. The place is crawling with them. Some of you may be familiar with the Cahuenga club scene, which has become a major attraction for people who want to party.

This has caused some problems. In fact, the problems are so serious, that the LAPD recently sent a letter to the Chief Zoning Administrator which complained of the “oversaturation of ABC [Alcohol Beverage Control] locations in the area”. Among the problems caused by this high concentration of bars and clubs are “traffic collisons involving pedestrians, driving under the influence, assault with a deadly weapon, robberies, thefts, fights with serious injuries, shootings and rapes”.

You can see the problems are pretty serious. And while Mama Shelter’s reps at the meeting said that their focus is on serving food, not alcohol, the fact that they want a full liquor license, they want to have live entertainment, and they want to stay open til 2:00 am, seems to indicate that they’ll be drawing the party crowd.

There are other issues. A couple of senior citizens attended the meeting. They live in a building near the proposed hotel, and they both said that they’re already having trouble sleeping because of bars and clubs in the area that have live music. Live entertainment on the rooftop is only going to make it even harder for neighborhood residents to get a good night’s sleep. The noise issue was also brought up by a couple other people who attended, one of whom works for a hostel right across the street.

Then there’s the parking. Here’s another item from the hearing notice.

Pursuant to Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 12.27, a zone variance to permit the five (5) required parking spaces to be provided off-site within 750 feet by lease in lieu of covenant as required pursuant to Section 12.26-E.5.

This makes it sound as though the hotel has almost enough on-site parking, and they’re only asking to have five additional spaces located off-site. But during the hearing there was an exchange between the zoning administrator and the project rep, and it sounded like the hotel has no parking at all right now. The rep said they were still looking to sign a deal, but that parking is difficult to come by in Hollywood. Yep. Sure is. And if Mama Shelter opens their hotel without adequate parking for guests and visitors, that’s going to make it way harder for those who live in the neighborhood to park their cars.

It seemed unbelievable that Mama Shelter could be as close to opening as they are and still not have the parking nailed down. So earlier this week I e-mailed the zoning administrator to ask if I’d understood the situation correctly. I still haven’t heard back from him.

One of the project reps said the renovations are almost completed. Apparently they hope to open early next year. You might ask why anybody who had invested so much money in a project would wait until they were almost ready to open before having this hearing. They’re looking for permits to allow them to sell alcohol and have live entertainment, which apparently is a key part of their business model. And whatever the situation is with the parking, right now they don’t have enough to satisfy the City’s requirements.

So why would they go this far down the road without having resolved these key issues? Why would they spend millions of dollars on renovations before they’d even secured the necessary permits? Unless maybe somebody at City Hall told them not to worry about it. That it would all be taken care of.

The comment period has been extended to Wednesday, December 17. If you live in the area and you’re concerned about any of the issues this project raises, you might want to contact May Sirinopwongsagon at the Department of City Planning. Here’s her e-mail.

may.sirinopwongsagon@lacity.org