GUEST COMMENTARY - In yet another shocking abuse of the City Council’s veto power over decisions of Area Planning Commissions, Councilmember -
and desperate candidate for City Controller - Paul Koretz recently introduced a motion under City Charter Sec. 245 (the “245 Motion”) to assert jurisdiction over (and potentially veto) the decision of the West L.A. Area Planning Commission (APC) to deny a zone variance to Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Boys High School (YULA).
Opponents of the zone variance didn’t receive any notice of the 245 Motion or of the City Council meeting at which such motion was approved - - so there was no opportunity to oppose it - - and the 245 Motion is set for review at the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee meeting on May 17, 2022. Moreover, Koretz has submitted to the PLUM Committee, for it to rubber-stamp, a list of Conditions of Approval and Findings which were clearly written by YULA’s attorney and contain many false and/or unsubstantiated statements which contradict the Findings made by the Zoning Administrator (ZA) and which could be cited by YULA in future requests for zone variances and be used to erode the protections afforded to YULA’s residential neighbors by L.A.’s zoning laws.
The requested zone variance has been the subject of FOUR very long and comprehensive hearings, two held by the ZA and two held by the APC. Hundreds of pages of documents were submitted by both sides to, and carefully reviewed by, the ZA and APC, concluding in the APC’s unanimous vote to DENY the zone variance. YULA needs the variance to install nine large exterior signs - - which YULA representatives have acknowledged are primarily “donor recognition signs” - - on campus structures, because the signs don’t comply with the size limitations and design requirements of the City’s zoning and signage regulations.
But the BIG problem is that approximately two-thirds of the YULA campus is on land zoned R1 for residential use, and the grant of a variance would create a terrible precedent regarding signs in the R1 zone - - and there is simply no legal basis for the grant. The City Charter (Sec. 562) and LAMC (Sec. 12.27) require that an applicant for a zone variance satisfy all five of the requirements for the grant of a variance. The ZA concluded that YULA’s application failed to meet ANY of the five requirements, and the APC upheld the ZA’s determination. In particular, the President of the APC noted that the requirements for a zone variance “set a very high bar” to meet, and she quoted from a letter sent by Marcia Selz, President of the Coalition of CD5 Homeowner Associations, that “The zone variance process is not intended to accommodate an applicant’s design preferences.” The Commissioners all noted that YULA could have all the signs it needs, without a variance, if it modifies the sign design to reduce the size, moves the 275 square foot “donor wall” sign indoors (or instead displays donors’ names in decorative floor tiles) and makes other minor changes. In short, all the Commissioners recognized that YULA’s insistence on a particular sign size and design/style and its refusal to comply with the City’s sign regulations (of which they were or should have been aware) created a self-imposed hardship - - exactly the situation for which City Charter Sec. 562 and LAMC Sec. 12.27.D. expressly authorize the Zoning Administrator to deny a variance.
Koretz claims that the signs in the R-1 zone shouldn’t be a concern because only one of the signs will be visible from the street (the other 5 signs in the R-1 zone are visible only from the interior courtyard). But this completely misses the point that the requirements for a variance have not been met, the need for a variance arises from a self-imposed hardship, and the grant of the variance will establish a bad precedent which can be used in the future not only by YULA but also by other institutions and businesses located on R-1 or multiple-zoned property. Moreover, in a 2013 L.A. Superior Court case (Donna Chazanov et al vs. City of Los Angeles et al), Judge Luis Lavan ordered the City Council to set aside its decision to veto the Area Planning Commission’s denial of a zone variance (likewise pursuant to a 245 Motion made by Paul Koretz); with respect to that strikingly similar case, Koretz also stated that the disputed project shouldn’t matter because “it wasn’t visible from the street” (see: Taller Bel-Air home opposed; residents say hillside rules being eroded - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)), but clearly Judge Lavan didn’t agree.
So WHY is Paul Koretz so determined to reverse the unanimous decision of both the ZA and the APC, by taking the extreme measure of making a 245 Motion?
The answer is simple and two-fold: first, he (mistakenly) thinks that his support for YULA will garner support in the Orthodox Jewish community in the race for City Controller; and second is the classic “pay-to-play” scheme that remains rampant in L.A. City Hall. Koretz has (according to records kept by the L.A. Ethics Commission) received at least $22,750 in campaign contributions from people affiliated with YULA, including 24 separate contributions from people whose names or surnames would be on the disputed donor recognition signs - - and that amount is probably a conservative estimate, because it’s very difficult to spot contributions made by people related to such “YULA affiliates” but who have a different surname. Moreover, if Koretz is successful in overturning the APC’s action and the variance is granted, no doubt Koretz expects to receive a bounty of much-needed campaign contributions so he can clutter our mailboxes and airspace with political ads. Indeed, neighborhood residents who oppose the variance are asking the F.B.I. (whose investigations led to the indictment of Jose Huizar for his “alleged” pay-to-play dealings) and L.A. Ethics Commission to look into Councilmember Koretz’s actions in the YULA case.
But the ultimate question is - - do we really want someone like this, who subverts the rule of law for his own gain, to be the City’s next Controller???
(Susan Gans is an attorney and longtime community activist, Acting President of the Roxbury-Beverwil Homeowners Alliance, and an active member of the Coalition of CD5 Homeowner Associations. She is also very proud of her Jewish heritage and agrees that YULA is a fine educational institution (but that doesn’t give it the right to a zone variance to accommodate its design preferences). Please send questions and comments to [email protected]. The opinions expressed by Susan Gans are solely hers and not the opinions of CityWatch.)