More Millennium Madness

There’s an excellent article in the August 9 issue of the LA Weekly covering recent revelations about the fault line that may run under the Millennium Hollywood site. You can follow the link below to the on-line version, but I urge you to also read the print version, which is more coherent and gives a broader picture of the situation. Reporter Gracie Zheng does a good job of sorting out the details of this depressing story, which clearly shows that campaign cash from developers is way more important to the City Council than the safety of LA’s residents.

Was Fault Hushed Up?


I can’t describe how angry I am over the LA City Council’s vote to approve the Millennium Hollywood project. After Caltrans contacted the city to ask why none of its concerns over traffic were addressed in the Final EIR. After the California Geological Survey wrote to say they believe an active fault line runs beneath the project area. After months of pleas from angry residents who do not want these towers. The City Council and the Mayor choose to ignore all of that and forge ahead.

It’s obvious they don’t care about the safety of Hollywood’s residents. It’s obvious they don’t care how much time LA’s citizens spend sitting in traffic. And it’s obvious they don’t care that state agencies have expressed serious reservations about this project. But their lack of concern shouldn’t surprise us, since they’ve demonstrated over and over again that their primary concern is representing the interests of developers and unions.

I think it’s time we asked the state to step in. Caltrans has said the project will seriously impact the Hollywood Freeway, making a bad situation even worse. The California Geological Survey has expressed concern about an active fault line. I think we need to contact our representatives on the State Legislature and ask them to get involved. The city has shown a total disregard for the state’s input on this project. We need to ask the State of California to take action.

TOD? Really?

A few words about “transit oriented development” [TOD]. This is a phrase I hear a lot these days, especially from developers and city officials who want to build massive projects in congested urban areas. The other mantra they love to chant is “new urbanism”. They use these phrases like magic incantations, hoping to ward off opposition to their plans. If you question their sweeping vision for a new LA, you’re living in the past, you’re thinking small, you’re afraid to embrace the future. In reality they show little interest in the kind of careful, nuanced planning that would actually make the city a better place to live.

First, I should tell you that I don’t own a car, and I’m a great believer in public transit. Second, I can totally get behind TOD strategies when they are based on real data and a careful analysis of the local context. Often, though, developers don’t really give a damn about the facts. Often they’re only thinking about the massive amounts of money to be made if they can push their project through. And often the politicians, rather than protecting the interests of the people who elected them, are happy to fall in line because they know they’ll be richly rewarded for doing so.

The new Hollywood Community Plan is based on the premise that Los Angeles will continue to grow rapidly and that Transit Oriented Development is the only way to effectively manage the expected growth. But the truth is that this plan is based on fantasy rather than hard facts. US Census data shows that the population in the Hollywood area has not increased but has actually decreased over the last ten years. The Central Hollywood and East Hollywood areas have lost over 12,000 residents since 2000. The City Council argues that the population will rebound, but they have no data to support their assertion, and in fact they are ignoring the following facts:

Population Growth in LA Is Slowing

Population growth in Los Angeles has slowed dramatically. While the city grew by leaps and bounds during the 20th century, census data shows that LA’s population has only increased by 2.65% percent since 2000. This is part of larger trend throughout California, which is expected to grow by only 1% annually in the foreseeable future. Current data seems to indicate that after a century of huge gains, California’s population growth is now levelling out.

Dwindling Migration from Mexico

Immigrants are no longer coming to Los Angeles in the numbers they used to. The Mexican economy has been growing steadily for the past three years, which means many people who used to come to LA looking for work are now able to find jobs in their own country. It is a fact that immigration from Mexico to the US has slowed to almost nothing, and there is no reason to believe that this trend will be reversed in the near future. We can no longer expect a steady stream of immigrants coming from Mexico to Los Angeles.

Rising Housing Costs

Higher prices for housing are driving out lower income residents. It used to be that low rents in Hollywood attracted families without a lot of money to spend. In recent years, as developers, property owners and real estate agents have pushed for gentrification, rents have skyrocketed and these families can no longer afford to live in the area. The units they used to occupy are increasingly taken over by singles and couples who make higher wages. The new Hollywood Community Plan in general, and the Millennium Hollywood project in particular, will accelerate this trend toward gentrification, ultimately causing lower population density in the Hollywood area.

Fewer People, But More Traffic

The City Council has been arguing that TOD is necessary to reduce traffic, but higher density development in Hollywood hasn’t helped so far. In the past several years we’ve seen the construction of Sunset + Vine, the Redbury, the W Hotel and the Jefferson, all within easy walking distance of subway stations. But while the number of people living in Hollywood has dropped substantially, traffic has continued to get worse. I think this is because all these developments offer only high-end housing. The people who can afford to live in these buildings are also the people most likely to own cars. The people at the lower end of the economic spectrum who can’t afford cars and have to rely on public transportation are being squeezed out. Politicians and developers talk about TOD, but really their plans are causing more traffic and longer commutes.

Like I said before, I believe in TOD. I’d like to see more of it in LA. But what we’re getting now is not transit oriented development. What we’re really getting is a lot of empty hype designed to put money in developers’ pockets. The new Hollywood Community Plan and the Millennium Hollywood project were not designed to make our lives better. They were designed to make developers rich.

You Can Fight City Hall

DSC01449Okay. I’m in shock right now. I just read that the City Planning Commission approved the Millennium Hollywood project. I attended the meeting on Thursday, listened to the developers, the attorneys, union reps and residents talk about the project for hours. I left some time after two, feeling certain that the Commission would not approve the plan in its current form.

That shows you how naive I am. I just read the LA Times article stating that the Commission voted unanimously to approve this insane assault on the Hollywood landscape. At the meeting on Thursday I was thrilled to hear a representative from Eric Garcetti’s office say that the councilman had decided he couldn’t back the development in its current form. Now I’m thinking this was just political posturing, since Garcetti’s running for mayor and he knows how angry people are about the project.

I came up with the title for this post after I left the meeting, thinking the Commission was going to withhold approval. After reading the Times article, I debated changing it, since my initial reaction was that the city does what it wants no matter how many people show up to protest. But I believe we can still win this fight. The project has many problems, the biggest of which is that Millennium’s proposal does not actually outline what it is they’re going to build. They can’t even say how many residential units, how much office space, what kind of retail they’re proposing. They just want the city to grant them carte blanche to build whatever they want to. As many people pointed out at Thursday’s meeting, this clearly does not meet the California Environmental Quality Act’s requirements.

We’ve lost the battle, but we can still win the war. The link to the Times article is below. If you have the stomach to read it.,0,363474.story

Rush Hour on Cahuenga

Let’s talk traffic.

The streets directly adjacent to the proposed Millennium Hollywood project are actually fairly quiet.  Traffic impacts on Vine, Ivar and Argyle will probably not be too severe.  It’s the major corridors that serve this area that will have difficulty accommodating the increased traffic.  Take Cahuenga Blvd. for instance….

Anybody who’s driven north on Cahuenga at rush hour knows the traffic can get pretty heavy.  If you haven’t made the trip yourself, here are a few photos that will give you an idea of what it’s like.

The photo above was taken on the 1500 block of Cahuenga, east side facing south.

This photo was taken on the 1700 block of Cahuenga, east side facing south.

Now we’re on the 1800 block, just above Yucca, again east side facing south.

The 2100 block, again east side facing south.

Same location as the last photo, but now facing north.

These pictures may make it seem worse than it actually was on the days I was shooting.  I want to make clear that even though it was stop and go, traffic was moving.  In most cases the line of cars at an intersection were able to make it through on the green.  But as you can see, rush hour on Cahuenga is no picnic.

Keep in mind that these pictures were taken in March.  You should see what it looks like after the Hollywood Bowl season begins in June.  That’s when things really get scary.    On Bowl nights the traffic can start slowing as early as four, and rush hour can last til around seven.  When shows are sold out, Cahuenga, Highland and the freeway tend to look like parking lots.  And don’t forget there are additional performances scheduled outside the regular Bowl season.  Coming up in the next few months we have Fleetwood Mac, Andrea Bocelli and the Playboy Jazz Festival.

Now, in theory, the people who live in the Millennium Hollywood towers would have no reason to be involved in this rush hour morass.  So let’s assume that none of them will ever have any reason to be travelling through the Cahuenga Pass between four and six pm.  Still, the people who work at the complex will need to get home at the end of the day.  And many of them will wind up on Cahuenga at rush hour.

The Capitol Records Tower

Capitol Records Tower

Capitol Records Tower

The CapitolRecordsTower is a Hollywood landmark.  It is totally unique, and helped set the stage for the era of space age design.  But it’s not just the look of the structure that makes it significant.  It’s one of a number of buildings designed by Welton Becket and Associates within the city of LA.  Becket was involved in creating some of the city’s most distinctive buildings, including the Pan-Pacific Auditorium [destroyed by fire] and the MusicCenter.  His work helped to define the look of mid-century LA.

Capitol Records is one of two Becket buildings that have become Hollywood icons.  The other is the Cinerama Dome, located just a few blocks away.  In light of the threat that the Millennium Hollywood project poses to the status of the former, it might be useful to review the recent history of the latter.

Cinerama Dome

Cinerama Dome

In the late nineties, Pacific Theaters presented a plan for redeveloping the Dome.  There was a huge public outcry, because in its initial form the plan would have meant ruining the Dome and building a nondescript mall around it.  To Pacific’s credit, they listened to the community, went back to the drawing board and came up with a far better design.  Not only did they refurbish the Dome and restore it to its place as a Hollywood landmark, they also added a beautiful state-of-the-art multiplex which includes a restaurant, bar and patio.  The completed complex was a welcome addition to the community, and it offers the best experience you can have in a commercial movie theatre.

It’s doubtful that the developers behind the Millennium Hollywood project will reconsider their plans, which would erase Capitol Records’ presence on the Hollywood skyline.  I like to think that the LA City Council might actually listen to the community and reconsider their support for the project.  But maybe that’s too much to hope for.

Millennium Hollywood Project

One of the things that motivated me to start this blog is the proposed Millennium Hollywood Project.  As a resident of Hollywood, I’m really concerned about this for a number of reasons.  While I support responsible, sustainable development, neither one of those adjectives can be applied to the project in its current form.  My main gripe is that two huge, high-rise towers will be erected next to the Capitol Records building.  My objections are based in part on aesthetics, since if the project is built these towers would completely overwhelm this Hollywood icon.  But the biggest problem with this project is that it will make traffic much worse.

The City of LA has been pursuing a policy of building high-density residential projects near transit centers.  In theory this sounds like good planning, and I used to support the idea.  But there have been a number of large residential projects built in Hollywood over the past several years, most of them less than a block away from subway stations, and traffic has only gotten worse.  The concept of having people live next to a subway so they won’t need to use their car sounds good, but the reality is that most Angelenos still take their cars most of the time.  The Millennium Hollywood Project will only make traffic worse, and the proposed mitigations are not sufficient.

I’ll write more later, but if you’re interested in finding out more about the project, here’s a link to an article that includes renderings of the finished development.