The Latest "Development" in City Politics: Blame the Victims!

ALPERN AT LARGE - One of the government's most effective methods to those fighting for adherence to the law is to dream up false arguments, epithets and untrue narratives...and proceed to make those fighters look like the problem-causers, and not the problem-solvers.  And for those pushing for appropriate development in the City of Los Angeles, blaming these fighters--who have been illegitimately victimized--by smearing them appears to have been a pretty effective tool, to date. 


This is particularly effective when the local media outlet joins in the smearing campaign.  One of the most silly, uninformed and reality-spinning op-eds the Times could have ever printed on the Casden Sepulveda Project in West LA was that written by Bel-Air economist Christopher Thornberg, who labeled those opposing the project as "NIMBY's"

Clearly, the Times did not vet the op-ed for veracity, and the timing of this op-ed is quite suspect, being so close to the date coming up in 1-2 weeks when the City Council will have to vote a second time on the Casden Sepulveda Project.  

And with the initial letters to the editor coming from Ventura and Santa Clarita--despite the flurry of Angelenos' letters to the Times, some of which were cc'ed to me--that failed to challenge Thornberg on his charges, it's evident that the Times is taking sides on this issue as well. 

All without the facts--and having seen the frightening way in which Casden buys out people, arranges all the right talking points from the right "testimonial gunslingers" at the right time, I have to confront the possibility that Thornberg isn't just a naïve academic who wrote a sophomoric piece about an issue without knowing all the facts.  Having seen all of Casden's behind-the-scenes lobbying and testimonial warfare, I have to wonder what Thornberg expects to get out of this op-ed. 

But I do know that Bel-Air, Ventura and Santa Clarita don't have the zoning issues that so much of LA has, where projects with variance requests are treated as if they were "by-right". 

So let's review the facts, since the Times (at the time of this writing) appears to have no interest in representing the neighborhood leaders (many of whom are the same leaders who fought--against all odds--for the Expo Line in the first place): 

1) Neighborhood councils, neighborhood associations, the Sierra Club, transit advocacy groups and affordable housing advocates pleaded with Casden and his developers for years--not only to come up with a project that would have favored transit more and with less reliability on car access, but which also would have created more affordable housing, and would have had housing away from the freeway, and would have create a jobs center to enhance the benefits of the Expo Line.  

We got nothing. 

2) We begged and pleaded for concrete transit mitigations that would ensure Expo Line commuters not be virtually shut out of his project, and that would encourage bicyclist and bus and pedestrian mobility links between the Expo Line station and the Casden Sepulveda project. 

We got nothing.  Metro got nothing.  The LADOT got nothing. 

We ran to numerous City and County electeds for help, and (without naming names) got the silent treatment more than we could have ever anticipated.  And the City PLUM Committee passed this on to the full City Council with only one favorable vote.  

So when an eleventh hour deal came to reduce this project to a virtual transit-less residential project, with very little commercial development and with approximately 30% of the car trips as originally projected, we had to stick with the densest residential project in the Westside in order to minimize the pain to the region. 

It was the deal that Casden probably wanted all along, despite the assertions of Thornberg to the contrary, and we now have Exhibit A of why the Westside might not be too willing to vote to tax itself again for new mass transit initiative--which is a pity, because the Westside really DOES want honest mass transit. 

And the Westside truly DOES want mass transit free of the shenanigans that allowed a very secret sweetheart deal by giving him the right to increase his development size by including Metro-owned land in his FAR calculations.  The Exposition/Sepulveda/Pico site WOULD have been a great place for a transit-oriented development, but Metro and the City of LA were suckered and/or bought off on this deal. 

With Pam O'Connor and Mike Bonin now in charge of the Expo Line Construction Authority Board, it's hoped we can have a couple of honest pols who will demand Casden pay up for betterments to the Expo Line...and perhaps pay up for weaseling out of a transit-oriented project and hurting the credibility of the Authority. 

The Westside, to say nothing of homeowners throughout the City, also recognizes the need for more housing--in addition to the "complete streets" and greater transit-amenities along major thoroughfares (nothing like affordable transportation makes for affordable housing!), there is an increasing emphasis on small-lot subdivisions to create smaller, skinnier but more new single-family residences. 

Furthermore, tall towers and big projects on certain corridor and regions--Downtown, the Wilshire Blvd. Corridor and the Century Blvd. Corridor--do make a lot of sense with respect to planning laws, transportation/infrastructure resources and zoning codes. 

The developers who create projects that will hurt the neighborhood with respect to transportation, parking and infrastructure are as evident to neighborhood councils and other grassroots organizations as are those who have no intention of causing such pain and law-breaking.  The word "developer" need not be a pejorative one in the City of LA, so long as they respect duly-elected neighborhood councils and demands developers and (along with an increasingly rule-skirting City Planning!) follow established law. 

And let's not forget the need for developers who demand variances to put their money where their mouths are by paying up mitigation funds and transportation betterments to establish a community benefit in return for building projects that are not within established legal guidelines.  The appointment of Kevin James as head of the Department of Public Works is a timely and important development for Los Angeles at a time when street services are going down and costs appear to be going up. 

Holding developers' feet to the fire by paying their fair share is as important as holding residents' feet to the fire by paying their fair share in both taxes and volunteerism to support their community and City. 

Which ultimately brings us full circle to the "blaming the victims" approach that the City (and, apparently, the Times) does so effectively to get legitimate opponents to law-breaking and bad policy to shut up and then get shut down. 

The combined opposition of the Expo Line grassroots advocates, environmental advocates, affordable housing advocates, and elected neighborhood council and neighborhood groups from Brentwood to Del Rey should have convinced City Planning staff and City Councilmembers that this Casden Sepulveda project was ANYTHING but transit-oriented and appropriate--and the City proceeded then to victimize those community volunteers and put them through hell.  

Blaming the victims whose neighborhoods are becoming, or who have been, the victims of environmental rape can never be justified under any circumstances. 

And when CPC Chair Roschen in Mount Washington, and economist Thornberg in Bel-Air, start having these environmentally-unsustainable and unsuitable megadevelopments in their neighborhoods, then and only then will they will be well-suited to be dismiss as NIMBY's those community leaders who voted to tax themselves for mass transit in Measure R, and will undoubtedly be asked to do so again for roads, rail projects, sewage, alternative energy and other critical endeavors Angelenos face in the 21st Century.


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)




Vol 11 Issue 57

Pub: July 16, 2913