DEEGAN ON LA-What had seemed to be a done deal, subject to City Council approval, is now being treated by Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) like some speculative notion that could be up for review and possible re-litigation. (Photo above: Councilman David Ryu.)
The creation of a Miracle Mile Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) has already been endorsed by former CD4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge as well as by David Ryu himself, and approved by a vote of the Cultural Heritage Commission and a vote (with alterations) by the Central Planning Commission (CPC). However, Ryu just sent his Miracle Mile constituents a letter requesting a yes or no answer to his question asking if “you support or oppose the HPOZ for your community?” This is his second attempt to “learn” what the community wants. Right after the CPC vote, he met with representatives of the pro and anti HPOZ groups, but reached no consensus with them on boundaries.
With his new survey of residents, Ryu seems to be asserting that the very idea of a Miracle Mile HPOZ could be open to review by him, as he faces strong pressure from the Say No HPOZ group. He may not be alone in this reconsideration. The Mayor could want him to limit the HPOZ boundaries so that strips of housing between 8th Street and Wilshire that hold hundreds of affordable housing units, and renters protected by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, are excluded from the HPOZ – making that space available to developers. Then renters could lose their protection and be evicted.
This sudden community outreach and polling conducted by Ryu feels a little bit late. A more appropriate time to ask the community to weigh in on a survey about how it feels about a HPOZ would have been way before the matter was sent to the Cultural Heritage Commission and the Central Planning Commission. This could have given the councilmember a benchmark to use as defense against latecomers who are now stealing the narrative -- as well as a means to pushback against City Hall, the Mayor and the Central Planning Commission. Instead, Ryu waited to test the waters by polling the community until after he was bombarded by community unrest over the Central Planning Commission’s slaughter of the original HPOZ plans and the appearance of organized protesters telling Ryu they do not want a HPOZ.
It’s a mess and Ryu (speaking to MMRA meeting photo left) is right in the middle of it. The ground has suddenly shifted from the original dispute about HPOZ boundaries -- that were reset in December by David Ambroz and the Central Planning Commission -- to Ryu now asking the very basic question, “who wants a Miracle Mile HPOZ?” Results of Ryu’s poll will be revealed at a community meeting he has called for February 22, at 7p.m. in the auditorium of John Burroughs Middle School. Both the Miracle Mile Residential Association and Say No HPOZ are mobilizing for what could be a showdown with Ryu, who is now in a tough position.
The President of the Central Planning Commission, Mayoral appointee and proxy David Ambroz, is the one who threw a monkey wrench into the CPC boundaries debate, causing an uproar until Ryu brought the HPOZ question back to square one. Ambroz played a divisive role in the looming removal of several hundred affordable housing units in the Miracle Mile when he called for two CPC votes on the issue. The first vote, that would have protected affordable housing, was a tie, while the second, after a quick huddle, broke against the affordable housing renters to insure that the Miracle Mile HPOZ boundaries approved by the Cultural Heritage Commission (and previously supported by Ryu) were denied. With that came the abandonment of protection for the renters of affordable housing.
This is happening at a time when Mayor Garcetti says he is working hard to create more affordable housing. It’s as if the Mayor’s City Hall colleagues Ambroz and Ryu are working against him by not emphatically protecting affordable housing in the Miracle Mile and opening the way for developers of market rate and luxury housing. That is…unless they are working in collusion with him. Ambroz cast his CPC vote against HOPZ protection for those affordable housing renters, and then organized the second vote to seal its fate. It’s hard to imagine that a political appointee -- Ambroz is not elected but serves at the pleasure of the Mayor -- would vote contrary to his patron’s wishes.
Ambroz, a Disney executive when not at City Hall, appears to be a Garcetti favorite who is now enjoying his second Mayoral appointment. He has just been named as a Commissioner on the citizen review board overseeing Prop H funds should this ballot measure to help the homeless be approved by voters on March 7.
The affordable housing issue is center-stage for Ryu now that he threw his own monkey wrench into the Miracle Mile HPOZ debate last week, questioning constituents about having a historic preservation overlay zone (HPOZ) for the neighborhood.
Residents are circulating a petition demanding “that the areas excluded by the City Planning
Commission from the original boundaries of the Miracle Mile Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) as approved by the Cultural Heritage Commission and endorsed by Mid City West Community Council be reinstated into the HPOZ.” This would require Ryu to unequivocally state that he is for the Miracle Mile HPOZ in its original incarnation, with restoration of the sections eliminated by the CPC. He’ll need to stick his neck out to get some support from council colleagues to overturn the CPC vote. By reaching backwards now to poll the community, Ryu has created a vacuum into which developers have rushed. They sense that the wedge he’s created will enable them to get what they want: less restriction and more freedom to control land use for their own benefit.
“Is David Ryu, barring some possible compromise by him, really ready to back a residential homeowners and tenants group that, I believe, has lost such credibility and has morphed into utilizing the HPOZ status for tenant's advocacy, not neighborhood protection?" asked Henry van Moyland, a Miracle Mile homeowner for the past two years and one of the most vocal leaders of the Say No HPOZ group.
"They have abused the process by using a HPOZ as a device to promote affordable housing through the Rent Stabilization Ordinance. There is no justification for HPOZ status, either politically by Ryu or from a preservation standpoint for the community. It’s better to switch all houses in the zone to one of the new R-1 variations. That designation does everything necessary to stop McMansions, which was the original intent of creating the HPOZ."
Miracle Mile resident and real estate businessman Jay Evan Schoenfeldt, founder of Say No HPOZ, adds to his partner’s theme, stating, “Rent stabilization is not the same as affordable housing. There is no income qualification to occupy a rent stabilized apartment. Residents can stay in a rent-restricted rent stabilized unit for decades even though their household income may have grown, while affordable housing uses a household’s gross income as a qualifying factor to live in the unit. Rent stabilization is a public policy issue and should not have anything to do with whether a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) exists or does not exist. In fact, including that in the equation undermines the entire principle of a historic zone.”
Ryu has his work cut out for him in clarifying his position on the HPOZ and gaining credibility among the warring factions -- the Miracle Mile Residential Association that wants the HPOZ and the Say No HPOZ group that does not.
No side seems to be happy, not the pro-HPOZ, not the anti-HPOZ groups, not the renters who may lose affordable housing, and not David Ryu, who may have been thrust into the middle of this mess by the Mayor. It looks like nobody is going to come out of this in one piece. And all parties, except the Mayor and the developers, may come out losers.
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.