LA, You’re Getting Played: City Hall Gives Westside Developer Sweetheart Deal

LOS ANGELES

The City Council’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee quietly approved a 34-story luxury housing tower for the Westside on Tuesday — and City Hall politicians are again giving a developer the kind of sweetheart deal that doesn’t seriously address LA’s affordable housing crisis.

 

At 11750 Wilshire Boulevard, two blocks west of San Vicente Boulevard, developer Douglas Emmett Management plans to demolish a vacant supermarket and construct a 34-story luxury housing high-rise with 376 units known as Landmark Apartments. With a prime location and such amenities as a lounge, fitness center and pool, the developer will seek top rental prices.

Landmark Apartments is proposed for City Council District 11, which is represented by Mike Bonin. Westside community activists recently took Bonin to task for supporting Martin Expo Town Center, a luxury housing mega-project that’s located at the gridlocked intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Bundy Drive. Despite wide community opposition, the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti approved the project last year.

Bonin, the City Council and Garcetti routinely talk about solving LA’s homeless and affordable housing crises. But when an opportunity presents itself, their words rarely match up with their actions. Landmark Apartments is another troubling example.

As a recent Coalition to Preserve L.A. special report shows, City Council members work closely with developers on major projects in their districts that need city approval. 

Behind closed doors, a council member and developer hammer out such important details as the height of a proposed building and the number of affordable units. The two sides often create what’s known as a “developer’s agreement.”

During that backroom process, the developer almost always spreads around campaign cash to City Hall politicians. Between 2013 and 2016, Douglas Emmett Management shelled out $12,375 in campaign money to, among others, Council member Mike Bonin and City Attorney Mike Feuer — Feuer’s office worked on the deal between Douglas Emmett Management and the city.

In the case of Landmark Apartments, Douglas Emmett Management landed a sweetheart package that raises questions about Bonin’s priorities and City Hall’s sincerity to solve L.A.’s affordable housing crisis.

To build the luxury mega-project, Douglas Emmett Management asked the city for a number of approvals, including a vesting zone change and a design overlay plan approval. The developer stands to make millions in profits. In return, the city asked for a meager $625,000 contribution to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund

It’s widely known that, on average, it costs $450,000 to build an affordable unit in L.A.. Anyone can do the quick math to see that $625,000 won’t even build two affordable units.

In addition, the city did not press the developer to set aside more affordable housing units in the luxury high-rise. Right now, only 16 out of 376 units are earmarked for affordable housing for very low income residents. That’s a measly 4.2 percent of the entire luxury mega-project.

To make matters worse, the developer’s environmental impact report states that low ratio comes out to 5 percent, but the math is wrong — 19 affordable units would make for 5 percent of the project, not 16. Bonin, Feuer and PLUM didn’t correct it, and Los Angeles needs every affordable unit it can get.

The luxury mega-project now goes to the City Council for approval.

One may think Bonin and city officials were bamboozled by Douglas Emmett Management. That’s not the case.

When it comes to luxury housing mega-projects, City Council members and Mayor Eric Garcetti have a long track record of asking for a minimal number of affordable housing units — and asking for low contributions to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, if they ask at all.

That happened most recently for the proposed luxury redevelopment of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in South LA, where Chicago-based developer Capri Capital Partners plans to build 961 condos and apartments surrounded by upscale stores and restaurants. The city is only asking the developer to set aside 96 units for affordable housing — and community activists are mightily concerned that the luxury mega-project will gentrify the area.  

Giving sweetheart deals to developers is not a matter of incompetency at City Hall — it’s a matter of policy. In the meantime, LA’s affordable housing and homeless crises only get worse.

(Patrick Range McDonald is website editor and senior researcher at Coalition to Preserve LA.) Above photo from Landmark Apartments EIR.

-cw

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