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LA Councilman O’Farrell: ‘Beware of NIMBYism, Antigrowth’

EDITOR’S PICK--In his third State of Hollywood address, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, described his vision for the expanding neighborhood and made clear his views about future growth and development.

“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground,” O’Farrell said, quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt. “There is no better metaphor for Hollywood.”

At a packed reception hall at the Taglyan Cultural Center, O’Farrell echoed past State of Hollywood addresses by saying, “Hollywood is back” as film production returns and tourism continues to thrive.

But he warned that progress could be reversed by a proposed initiative that would put a two-year moratorium on developments that require General Plan amendments – often for height, density and parking conditions – and it would force the city council to update the city’s zoning framework. As the neighborhood continues to grow and populate, the framework will determine how and where the influx will go.

“Bouncing back to one of the premier neighborhoods of the nation didn’t happen on its own,” O’Farrell explained. “Nor is our current investment of billions of dollars for construction of high-quality developments random. To that end, we will be facing a test of our resolve.”

O’Farrell said the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, proposed by the Coalition to Preserve L.A., is a “direct threat” to Los Angeles’ economy and could hinder the ability to produce affordable housing, as housing availability is “the number one crisis facing the city of Los Angeles.”

“A small group of individuals who seem likely unaware of what was once the down spiral of Hollywood, and now Hollywood’s amazing comeback, have drawn water from the same poison well of narrow-minded NIMBYism and are pushing a ballot initiative that threatens not only this community and everyone in it, but the entire city of Los Angeles,” O’Farrell said.

The coalition, initiated by AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s President Michael Weinstein, claims it is “spot zoning” that destroys affordable housing, and that overdevelopment will damage quality of life. Separately, AHF’s “Stop Manhattanwood!” three-month campaign launched in January and has posted billboards around Hollywood to raise awareness about the city’s development plans and to expose the downside of density. Community activists, neighborhood councils and former Mayor Richard Riordan, among others, have supported the movement.

“The control of zoning by these single city council members should be illegal,” Riordan said in a statement last month. “That person is being lobbied by the developers and getting campaign money or campaign promises, and this just has to end.”

The former mayor noted that traffic and congestion around “elegant density” developments near L.A. bus, rail and subway lines has worsened considerably.

“You’re going to have more and more traffic around these over-developments,” Riordan said. “You cannot put in expensive condos and rental units and hope to attract people who will use public transportation. You will have two cars for each family.”

O’Farrell explained that he believes projects proposed for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Kaiser Permanente, Hollywood Presbyterian, Paramount Pictures and hundreds of affordable units that were already approved would be in jeopardy. He said the city’s efforts to host the 2024 Olympics would be in question if the moratorium passes, and he added that it could have a “devastating impact” on the city’s goals to bring investment to struggling neighborhoods.

“There could be a profound hit to city revenues resulting in cutbacks for basic services such as fire, police, street resurfacing, trash collection, graffiti removal, street quieting, building and safety inspectors, the list goes on and on and on,” he said.

A moratorium into 2019 could produce a backlog into the 2020s of projects and environmental impact reviews that the city might not have resources to complete because of the predicted decline in revenue, according to the councilman.

“We have to look ahead, folks. This is very, very serious,” O’Farrell said.

Another coalition is forming in opposition to the moratorium. Members of Communities United for Jobs and Housing (CUJH) believes the moratorium will encourage sprawl and traffic and that the solution to housing affordability is increasing housing stock. The group is in the process of finalizing a supporter and member list.

“If this initiative passes, construction of affordable housing in the city of Los Angeles would grind to a halt,” said Robin Hughes, president and CEO of Abode Communities, and supporter of CUJH. “This measure strips away essential and established processes and procedures for the approval of vital affordable housing developments, and would significantly contribute to the ongoing affordable housing deficit here in Los Angeles. We all have a moral imperative to reject this measure to protect homeless veterans, families with small children and aging seniors who will be left to the streets or living in poor housing conditions.”

Another supporter of CUJH, Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, said the initiative will “condemn Los Angeles to a future of multi-hour commutes.”

“If this passes, the transportation network Angelenos have spent tens of billions of dollars on will be left incomplete,” he said.

O’Farrell moved to Hollywood 34 years ago. He said in 1982, it seemed as if Hollywood had been left behind.

“It felt as though danger lurked around every corner,” he said. “There was virtually no growth, and very few quality experiences to be had. Today’s Hollywood is vastly improved, but we all know it has much to go.”

Now, O’Farrell envisions a “built environment.” He pointed to “arduous” projects such as the Target store on Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue, CIM’s Sunset Gordon project and the Palladium Residences towers.

O’Farrell said getting the Hollywood Community Plan readopted in 2017 is his top priority in planning.

The councilman summed up his vision for Hollywood moving forward as a historic neighborhood with increasing significance; a mixed-income community with a thriving entertainment industry; a growing live theatre district; a place where new projects are built with inspired high-quality architecture; and a tourist destination that compels visitors from all over the world.

“Our feet are on the ground, our eyes are on the stars, we will never look away,” he said.

(Gregory Cornfield writes for Park La Brea-Beverly Press News … where this report originated.)