CORRUPTION WATCH-In the April 27, 2017 issue of CityWatch, Dave Bell wrote an article, “Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?” Judge Richard Fruin has answered that question in his seventeen page explanation again rejecting the Hollywood Target Store. The reason that partially-finished monster is still looming over Sunset-Western can be summed up in one word -- Garcetti. Since Judge Fruin must use “legalese,” he cannot come out and act like a Biblical prophet pointing at King David proclaiming, “Thou art the man!”
By the way, Petitioners did not sue after the store was partially built. Target started building after the case was already in court, knowing that a 74-foot store was illegal. It was a cynical ploy to tell Judge Fruin that it would be an economic waste not to allow the Target Store to continue constructing the illegal store. And Judge Fruin was not favorably impressed.
Judge Fruin’s legal reasoning in again rejecting the Target Store made it clear that the problem rests with the City and not with the Petitioners. And when the judge refers to the City, he clearly means Garcetti. Garcetti was then the councilman who insisted that Target violate the law back in 2008-2009. After the court rejected the first Target Store, Garcetti insisted on appealing. The case has been all the way to the California Supreme Court and back down, but the City, i.e. Garcetti, does not listen.
The City Persists in Violating the Law
In 2016 the City tried to do another end-run around Judge Fruin and the law, the same way Garcetti and his love-child project at 5929 Sunset had tried to do by demolishing the facade of the Spaghetti Factory. As a result of those Garcetti machinations, that huge residential project sits vacant. Nonetheless Garcetti had the City give his buddies at CIM Group $17.4 Million.
Then in 2015, the courts rejected The Millennium (Earthquake) Towers in Hollywood as a violation of the law. These last two cases were before Judge James Chalfant.
Garcetti also subverted the law with his 2012 Update to the Hollywood Community Plan. In January 2014, Judge Allan Goodman rejected the Hollywood Community Plan Update as based on “fatally flawed data and wishful thinking that subverted the law (CEQA).”
These legal loses are not the fault of the City Attorney’s Office which has to follow the directions of its client, the City. That means when the City Attorney tells Eric Garcetti that a project is illegal and he should follow the law, the City Attorney still has to show up in court and put on the best face possible. If Garcetti would heed the wise advice of the City Attorney’s Office, the City could operate more smoothly and would not be spending millions on attorney fees to lose cases. There was also the $1.3 billion sidewalk case that came with $15 million in attorney fees.
The Issue in Target II
The fundamental issue in this recent Target case is whether the City could make a major change in the zoning law, i.e. the Specific Plan “SNAP,” without conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIR). Think of an EIR as like a final exam: if you skip the final, you fail the course. Duh! Maybe, trust fund babies who went to Harvard-Westlake are allowed to buy their way out of final exams. Who knows?
Thus, Garcetti decided that there was no need to have the final exam for the recent change in SNAP. Garcetti has yet to learn that just because he says something, does not make it so. He may be able to fool the voters, but he cannot fool the professionals. If he had listened to the City Attorney back in 2009, Hollywood would have probably had a Target by 2010. If he had listened to the legal professionals in early 2016, he would not have insisted on adding a Subarea F to SNAP without conducting an EIR.
A Brief History of SNAP
The citizens and professionals who drafted SNAP took years to classify every single parcel of property within its area as belonging to one of five Subareas A through E. SNAP rejected the idea of a Subarea F as it did not want mega-stores. SNAP is a new zoning law that became effective in March 2001. When Garcetti decided to ignore it in 2008, SNAP was less than a decade old – not some ancient zoning code which had become out dated.
Adding a New Subarea F Was a Huge Change in SNAP
Adding a Subarea F which would allow mega big box stores in Hollywood was a significant change to SNAP. It required the City to conduct a new EIR to assess the impacts on Hollywood if the streets were filled with these warehouse type mega-stores.
Starting back in 2008, Garcetti could have cooperated and allowed Target to build a legal store with its parking underground. If then-Councilmember Garcetti had permitted Target to construct the type of facility the law allowed, the store could have been operating by 2010. Instead, there has been close to a decade of lawsuits; we may very well face another decade of them.
The decision is up to Garcetti. Does he want to guarantee that Hollywood has no Target Store while he spends millions on attorneys to take the same matter to the appellate court, then on to the Supreme Court, only to be told, “You cannot graduate from high school without taking the final exam?”
In the end, what are Hollywoodians going to get? Endless Garcetti litigation? Or will Mayor Garcetti allow Target to construct a legal store? Don’t expect a resolution to this fight or construction on the Target store … any time soon.
(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: [email protected]. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.