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Why Won’t the Millennium Project Die, And What Does It Mean?

EASTSIDER-It is just possible that the snail trail on this one will lead back to someone other than Jose Huizar. How about our very own Mayor Eric Garcetti? 

Recently, I was reading John Schwada and Jack Humphreville’s CityWatch articles about the never-ending battle over the Hollywood Millennium Project and had one of those Eureka! moments. 

Now 

In Schwada’s CityWatch piece, we find that the earthquake risks are even greater than we thought back in 2013: 

“‘Now we have two independent agencies, the California Geological Survey [CGS] with its report last week, and the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] with its report two months ago, that say the seismic studies prepared for the Millennium developer and sold to the public and city officials as gospel, paint a completely false picture of the dangers of building two high-rises on this property,’ said attorney Robert P. Silverstein.” 

In Jack’s CityWatch piece  from May, he notes that not much has changed to warrant the building of this “crash and burn” monstrosity, which is again being pushed hard for approval: 

“While the Millennium has reconfigured the project, not much has changed. The proposed 1.2 million square foot development is still on an active earthquake fault. The twin towers (46 and 35 stories) will dwarf all the other buildings in the area. Congestion will only be worse now that numerous luxury high rise developments have been erected in Hollywood. Caltrans will still have major objections. And Millennium will still reap hundreds of millions of dollars in additional profits.”  

Then 

Since LA is a City without any real institutional memory, let’s go back to the time in 2013 when Eric Garcetti was ready to make his big bold move from CD13 into the Mayor’s Mansion. 

First off, it was the time of 2012 Redistricting process, which was a provable and litigated piece of slime. As the LA Times noted: 

“The Redistricting Commission is charged with recommending changes to council boundaries based on shifts in the population Census figures from 2010 that show that Los Angeles is now 48.5% Latino, 28.6% white, 11.3% Asian and 9.2% black. Part of the panel’s job is to ensure representation for a specific number of minority districts. 

The draft maps were drawn by commissioners in a series of closed-door meetings by subcommittees who did not have to comply with the state’s open meeting law.” 

And proof that the Mayor and the Council knew that the behind-the-scenes deals changing the map of Council Districts was raw, they got the City Council to hire outside lawyers in anticipation of being sued! Here’s the actual Council Motion that passed. 

Garcetti and Mitch O’Farrell 

Remember that Garcetti had been the Councilmember for CD13 ever since 2001. And from 2006 to 2012, he was also the President of the City Council. Then, after Villaraigosa was termed out, Garcetti announced his candidacy in late 2011, ultimately winning a runoff against Wendy Gruel in May of 2013. 

The timeline is important because Garcetti was pushing hard for the built-on earthquake faults, monster two towers even when he was Council President.   

So his failure to endorse Mitch O’Farrell, a key Garcetti staff person, was puzzling. It was a wild wild west experience with 13 candidates! As I wrote at the time:

“The prize? A newly reshaped Council District 13 that is the product of back door deals between former Council President Eric Garcetti and current Council President Herb Wesson. And what makes it interesting is that the redistricting was really to help Garcetti's mayoral hopes rather than the usual body-swapping to guarantee some termed-out incumbent politician a 'safe' seat. 

As of mid-January, a poll released on Mayor Sam's Sister City indicated that there was no clear leader for the seat, although Villaraigosa Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo had the name recognition lead, besting Garcetti's key staffer Mitch O'Farrell by a significant margin. Of course, that poll (done by a paid consulting firm) may be flawed, since I find it personally hard to believe that “Mayor Villaraigosa, who has endorsed Szabo in this race, is very popular -- with a 69% favorable rating overall and 79% favorable among voters undecided in the council race." He wishes. So take this poll with some big-time reservations.” 

Mitch ultimately won, and I thought he was the best candidate, writing in CityWatch

“Mitch O'Farrell, the other candidate for the position, actually managed to obtain about a 2% lead over Mr. Choi in the primary, even though he was seriously outspent by his opponent. A look at the Ethics Commission filings shows about $266,000 raised by Mr. Choi, and about $87,000 raised by Mr. O'Farrell. Advantage Choi by a factor of over 3 to 1.

Mr. O'Farrell represents a quite different vision for the District. He started out as a community activist in Glassell Park, which was a part of CD13 until last year's debacle of redistricting. He was prominent in the local homeowners association, and was a moving force in the creation of the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council.  Going to work for Councilman Garcetti in 2002, he remained on staff until he decided to run for office in the District. 

During his staff tenure, Mr. O'Farrell branched out from representing Glassell Park, and became more active in other parts of the District including Echo Park, Atwater Village & Hollywood,. At the time he left to run for office, held the position of Senior Advisor to Councilmember Garcetti.

My personal impression was that Mitch O'Farrell was always willing to return a telephone call or email, even when folks were unhappy with the Councilmember's position. He was also willing to show up at meeting and facilitate dialogue between competing interests, and do his best to narrow the disputes even where there was no hope of an agreement.” 
 

And After 

Like a lot of things political, chronology is important. While the Federal indictment of Jose Huizar really starts rolling from 2013-2018, it would appear that Eric Garcetti was playing with the Millennium Project folks sometime between 2011-13, no doubt to get some quid pro quo for his Mayoral bid. So there is reason to believe that this project may have been a Hiz Honor special. 

My personal guess is that the cost paid by Garcetti for support may have been following through on his development deals like the Old Spaghetti Factory and, of course, the Millennium. It would certainly explain his support for the project in 2014, as reported by George Abrahams in a CityWatch article: 

“Despite these glaring omissions, Councilman O’Farrell spins fabrications to the community and does Millennium’s bidding. What gives? If Millennium had exculpatory data, it would be plastered on every billboard in Hollywood. But instead, all data that has been provided, both past and present, shows the fault cuts through the heart of the Millennium site.”

And a final thread of “who’s who” in the pay to play gang, one Raymond Chang is a serious candidate with links to the Mayor. In a recent LA Times article,  Emily Alpert Reyes and Joel Rubin wrote: 

“When Chan stepped down from city service, Mayor Eric Garcetti credited him with helping to usher in L.A.'s development boom and lauded him as a ‘true public servant.’ 

Now court records in an ongoing federal probe into corruption at City Hall tell a different story. Prosecutors have alleged that a deputy mayor was paid by a real estate consultant to help shepherd a major project through City Hall — and leveraged his power as a city official to aid the development.” 

And most telling: 

“Opponents of the Millennium Hollywood skyscraper project, which was thwarted by legal challenges brought by Silverstein, argued that Chan had a conflict of interest because his son was a paid intern at a law firm that represented the Millennium developer. Silverstein complained that “instead of cleaning house, Garcetti promoted Chan to deputy mayor” in 2016.” 

It do make one wonder. . .

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.