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The 8150 Sunset Project: Rotten to the Core

GUEST WORDS--I am often asked by exasperated residents: “How can the city approve this (8150 Sunset) project?” My answers have changed over the years because the attitude of our elected officials has changed. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I first became involved in neighborhood work, I think city politicians like John Ferraro actually cared about residents.

Today the only thing most politicians care about is their next election – and who will fund it. And to get that funding from the deep pockets of the developer class they will approve almost any project and break every promise they make to their constituents.

The negative impacts on communities from rubber-stamping any and everything developers’ desire doesn’t concern city politicians, because they will be long gone before “it” hits the fan. Politicians are masters of musical chairs. They dance to the tune of term limits and – before the music stops – routinely shuffle on to Sacramento, Congress, the County Board of Supervisors, or maybe even run for Governor.

Sometimes they even run for mayor and pretend they had nothing to do with anything bad that happened while they were on the City Council.

If I sound angry, it’s for good reason: I am.

I finally had a chance to look at the 8150 Sunset Project and I cannot believe what I saw – and what the Planning Department recommends that the Planning Commission (and eventually the full city council) approve.

For starters, this project has been mysteriously designated as an “environmental leadership development project” – which mandates that any actions or judicial proceedings, including potential appeals, brought to challenge the approval under CEQA must be resolved within 270 days after certification of the record of proceedings supporting the approval.

This is what city hall was going to use to streamline approval for the downtown stadium if it had gone forward. How the 8150 Sunset project received such status is a complete puzzle. But, obviously, somebody must have known somebody ­– because the fix is in. This special status makes it very difficult for any person or group to challenge this project – no matter how neighborhood crushing it will be or how many rules the city manipulates or ignores to approve it.

Make no mistake about it: 8150 Sunset is a really, really bad project.

It will overwhelm the surrounding neighborhood and create problems for the City of West Hollywood, too. In a May 23, 2016 letter to the Hearing Officer the City of West Hollywood dumped a bucket of cold water on the project. 

West Hollywood is objecting to the proposed traffic light LA says it needs to mitigate the project. The problem is that where LA wants to put the new traffic light is in the City of West Hollywood at Fountain and Havenhurst Drive – and, of course, the City of Los Angeles can’t enforce a mitigation on an intersection outside their boundaries.

West Hollywood also objects to the exits from the project onto Havenhurst because the cut-through traffic will overwhelm the street. Likewise, they also object to the project connecting into their sewer line and the maintenance that would require.

There is also the matter of the City of Los Angeles granting a public easement to the developer which clearly constitutes an illegal gift of publically owned land. And to make matters worse, the city kicked in a surplus property at 8118 Sunset Boulevard to sweeten the deal.

Those of you who have been in L.A. for a long time will remember that address as the location of “Pandora’s Box.” Records show that the city tore it down in the late 1960s and turned the property into a traffic island in the middle of Crescent Heights that contains a bus stop. The public easement is the sweeping right hand turn from eastbound Sunset to southbound Crescent Heights.

The city is proposing to cement over the turn lane and unite the traffic island/bus stop with the northeast corner of 8150 Sunset. So, one day you will be able to use the right turn lane (that people have been using for generations) and the next day it will be gone. 

There will be no pesky, time consuming street vacation process to determine if the turn lane/traffic island/bus stop is needed. The city will just call in a few cement trucks to cover it over. But don’t worry, the city says it will still own the land beneath the cement – but the developer will maintain it (while using it for the benefit of their project).

What?

The wheeling and dealing between city hall and real estate speculators, the rule bending, the giveaways, the false promises to residents – this is the sort of crap that has millions of people rebelling against the political establishment all over the United States.

The 8150 Sunset project is rotten to the core and the politicians who made it possible should be ashamed of themselves. But, thanks to the game of musical chairs, politicians bet that they can move on to another office and put enough distance between themselves and the consequences of their decisions – distance that enables plausible denial and makes shame a moot point.

This project is the last straw for me.

I am finally at the place where many of my community activist friends have been for some time now. We have no confidence that city hall cares about anyone outside of what they call the “city family” – those that work for and promote the vested interests of city hall. The motto of the City of Los Angeles might as well be: “The people be damned.”

It is time for a new groundswell of opposition to business as usual in L.A. Maybe that will take another secession movement or maybe a new city charter that gives power directly to the people. But beyond ballot measures to remedy this sorry situation, I believe we need to develop a Federation of Neighborhoods with representatives from every neighborhood and community organization in the city.  We must stand as one against the corrupt power structure of city hall – otherwise, one project at a time, we will lose one neighborhood after another.  

This is a united we stand or divided we fall moment. 

As for the 8150 Sunset project, this is Councilman David Ryu’s moment. He has written that he knows the project is too tall and too dense, but he has to go beyond writing letters to the Planning Department.

Frankly, Ryu’s letter was disappointing. It was not what I expected of him – or the kind of letter John Ferraro used to write. Ryu must say no to removing the right turn lane and surrendering 8118 Sunset traffic island to this project. He must say no to the destruction of the historic Lytton Bank building just as his colleague Mike Bonin did with the Barry Building.  He must demand real mitigations and be prepared to stand up in council, vote no, and urge his colleagues to support him in opposing the project as presented. 

The city council has a long history of not opposing the vote of a councilmember on a project in their district. Ryu needs to remind his colleagues of that.

If any councilmember votes to approve the 8150 Sunset project over the wishes of Councilmember Ryu we must not forget their vote. 

If the Mayor Garcetti supports this project we must not forget his vote. 

The game of musical chair depends on the constant shuffling of offices on the part of politicians and the poor memory of the electorate. 

We must remember the votes on the 8150 Sunset project. 

A mindful and energized electorate can win against all the developer money thrown against them. Councilmember Ryu proved that when he was elected. Now he must deliver on his promises that put him in office. 

 

(James O’Sullivan is President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and co-founder of Fix the City … a non-profit, citizen association whose stated goal is its name … to Fix the City. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)