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ACTION ALERT-The future of land use and development in our city gets down to a choice: do we want a horizontal city, mimicking what we know -- the low slung buildings and sometimes NIMBY attitude toward development. Or do we want a vertical landscape, where towers triumph? Strong cases can be made for both, each with its pros and cons.  

There’s no end to the number of people who want to live in LA and enjoy our perfect climate and laid back lifestyle. Against that demand is a significant housing shortage -- a finite and dwindling supply of affordable housing. It seems that every time a rent-stabilized pre-1978 building is torn down, often unscrupulously by invoking the Ellis Act, it’s replaced with a bigger building with smaller units and higher rents, forcing the relocation of previous tenants who cannot afford to stay. 

Neighborhood groups are flexing some muscle by joining the conversation. Developers and politicos are becoming accustomed to strident pushback, as evidenced by the recent epidemic of litigation against development. Much of that is centered in Hollywood -- ground zero for development and densification. Rules once created by legislation are being replaced by rules based on litigation. 

Imaginative messaging has become one successful weapon in the arsenals of both developers and communities. Developers are using Hollywood storytelling skillsto gain acceptance for their projects. More and more, communities are successfully mobilizing at the grassroots level. 

Redevelopment of a block at Sunset and Crescent Heights provoked a neighborhood crisis when it was announced. However, this has become a textbook example of how to win hearts and minds. The project’s original, controversial design was changed once Frank Gehry was brought in. The message to the community was that what Gehry was planning would be different -- as evidenced by the installation of two models of the 8150 Sunset project in his massive survey show on view now at LACMA. (Model photo above.) 

The models show a group of three buildings isolated on a plinth. Nearby, a second, more dramatic and storytelling display incorporates the model within the context of the whole hillside, so that perspective can be presented. Lots of visitors are spending time studying these displays at this very popular exhibition. 

This is a smooth presentation, located in a subtle, hushed museum gallery context. It comes across as interesting and effective “advocacy” instead of a hardcore sales job. As a bonus, it didn’t hurt that this pitch to skeptical hillside neighbors who objected to the architect’s first version, were reminded that they would now have a Frank Gehry work of art to look at. Most works of art are memorialized in a museum setting after they have been created and gained an audience. This flips the sequence: the project’s three buildings are displayed as a significant work of art even before being built. 

What other living architect has taken over most of a massive exhibition pavilion at one of the country’s most visible museums? Talk about reinforcement and Hollywood image-making! 

Contemporary artist Takashi Murakami sold his “Multicolore Monogram for Louis Vuitton” handbags during his MOCA exhibition. So it’s no wonder LACMA is now allowing Gehry’s exhibition floor to be an exchange of sorts. For the developers, it’s much more imaginative than fighting with neighbors who are protesting or even litigating against them. This is an example that other developers may want to think about: how to be a storyteller – presenting their projects in a venue where they can tell their story -- a location that goes beyond the traditional community meeting. Hollywood, as one of the image-making capitals of the world, presents lots of opportunity for development conversations to come. 

But then how do you fight against development when you don't have the powers of persuasion on a grand scale such as this? Answer: you have to be a guerrilla and use grassroots techniques that require hustle, imagination and drive. Until last week, when the LA City Council approved Historic Cultural Monument status for 118-124 N. Flores St. in Beverly Grove, (popularly known as theMendel Meyer house,) it was uncertain that a grassroots campaign to achieve that goal would succeed. 

During the summer, tenants at the Los Flores property were evicted by the landlord who used, (and many say unfairly,) the Ellis Act to evict them. The goal was to tear down this building that would eventually be ruled a historic-cultural structure; the landlord wanted to build a bigger building with increased rental potential. All but two tenants, a couple, took the money and moved. Steve Luftman, however, got to work, waging guerrilla warfare (almost like Abbie Hoffman,) against the development establishment. 

What Luftman did should inspire anyone facing eviction under suspicious circumstances: say no and fight back using every means possible that substitutes for money. Namely, engage the neighbors and the community, make a case at the land use committee of the neighborhood council and solicit the support of your councilmember. Use the media by repeatedly sending out stories and updates to the press; open an email address and use other digital resources like social media. 

In addition, you can hold a demonstration at the subject building, file for historic cultural monument status, go to every hearing that has anything to do with your project and make public comment, and most of all, don’t give up! 

Steve Luftman didn’t give up and now the Mendel Meyer house has been granted historic cultural landmark status. The building will not be demolished. 

The Edinburgh Bungalow Court, (photo) not far from Luftman’s building, now awaits a hearing by PLUM (LA City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee,) and a vote for preservation by the full City Council. “This has been an incredible fight, and it’s not over yet,” says tenant Heather Fox, co-organizer with Brian Harris of the efforts to protect Edinburgh Bungalow Court. A developer wants to replace it with a small lot sub-division. 

The Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously in support of Edinburgh Bungalow Court’s Historic Cultural Monument status on November 19, with lots of community backing and strong supportive remarks to the committee by Councilmember Paul Koretz. 

Fox and Harris also enlisted the support of the LA Conservancy, once it was clear that Survey LA http://preservation.lacity.org/survey had flagged Edinburgh Bungalow Court as an excellent example of a Hollywood bungalow court. 

In the last two months, other guerrilla techniques used to gather community support for Edinburgh Bungalows included a demonstration outside the Bungalows, a canvassing of the neighborhood, handing out flyers, knocking on doors, and stopping to chat with people in the community at every chance. Advocates even set up a lemonade stand on the corner outside the Bungalows; they made yard signs and started a Facebook page. 

Their neighborhood council, Mid City West, supported the preservation with a board motion. By the November 19 Historic Cultural status hearing date, they had 200 petition signatures and 91 letters from people who live and work in the community. Over 30 people showed up at the hearing to speak, including the councilmember, LA Conservancy, Hollywood Heritage, and the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance. 

“We have met so many wonderful people who really care what happens to their neighborhood, and are so grateful for the enthusiasm of the community and especially for the concern and active part of our city councilman Paul Koretz,” says Fox, describing the grassroots, community-led fight for preservation of this structure from demolition. 

Moving to a grander scale is the proposal by The Coalition to Preserve LA to launch a Neighborhood Integrity Initiative ballot measure in an attempt to better manage the spread of new developments in Los Angeles. 

Key elements of their plan include a proposal for a construction moratorium for 24 months for city-approved projects that aim to increase some types of density. During this period, review and updates of community plans would be conducted. 

City employees, rather than developers’ staff, would be in charge of preparing an environmental review of major development projects. 

The city’s community plans would be reviewed and become consistent with the city’s General Plan. 

The General Plan will not be allowed to be amended by what is popularly known as “spot zoning” --where developers are able to get separate variances for a single project. 

The Coalition is ironing out the final language. Then the matter will either be considered by the full City Council – or sent to the voters as ballot measure. Which alternative will be used is yet to be determined. 

Leaders of the Coalition to Preserve LA include Michael Weinstein, Ballot Measure Proponent and President of AHF(Aids Healthcare Foundation); Jacqui Shabel, Hollywood Neighborhood Alliance; Jack Humphreville, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and UN4LA (United Neighborhoods 4 L.A.); Helen Berman, UN4LA (United Neighborhoods 4 L.A.); John Campbell, Save Residential Hollywood; and Miki Jackson, Ballot Measure Proponent. 

No matter which side of the “horizontal versus vertical” development debate you are on, you can expect lots more noise from each side. This kind of public dialogue is both healthy and an affordable, so add your voice!

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Video courtesy of Miracle Mile Residential Association.  Edited for City Watch by Linda Abrams.

-cw                

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

MILLENNIAL PERSPECTIVE--Watching condos overrun my hometown, I began to ponder my own gentrifying impact as a temporary resident of South Los Angeles. Each year, tens of thousands of students flood into the poor, gang-ridden area of South LA to attend the University of Southern California (USC). 

It’s an awkward image, an eighteen year-old jumping into his Maserati while mothers and their children dig through trash bins at the campus center. 

Years from now, USC will have displaced most of the latter demographic. Returning alumni, including myself, will hardly recognize the setting of their college memories. 

Recently, USC has taken huge steps in terms of altering South LA, undertaking what is arguably the most impactful development project in the area’s history. Officially breaking ground in September 2014, the USC Village Project will replace an inexpensive, unadorned shopping center with a $650 million hub of posh stores, restaurants, and student housing. Of course, the project means something very different to the USC student body than it does to permanent residents of South LA, most unable to afford groceries at the incoming Trader Joe’s.   

Thomas Sayles, the USC administrator appointed to handle community relations regarding the Village, has fervently contended that the project will serve the community, including perks such as local hiring, street lighting improvements, and the construction of a new fire station. Throughout the approval process, USC emphasized that the project will increase low-rent housing availability for local residents by providing more on-campus student housing. 

In reality, USC’s claim that this project will increase low-rent housing vacancy in the area lacks substance. For the 2015-2016 academic year, sample costs for living in USC residence halls, including parking, were quoted at $17,007.  Living in an apartment several blocks from campus, my total rent, parking, and utility costs will come out to less than $10,000 for the same school year. Certainly the USC administration realizes that students are unlikely to choose to remain in expensive university housing beyond the typical freshman year experience, rather than save thousands of dollars. While the university boasts the support of the local residents, this is clearly more of a public relations perk than a priority. 

The first rumblings I heard about the USC Village Project came in the middle of my freshman year, once I’d spent just enough time at this university to grow fond of the old “UV.” Here, a charismatic albeit rundown food court held dining options from an impressive variety of cultures. Sandwich Island, a personal favorite, was run by a Chinese couple who’d have your sandwich made before you could say “sprouts.” Sure enough, the USC Village will replace the only dining options near campus for less than five dollars, not to mention the only space that was truly shared between USC and non-USC-affiliated community members.   

As a student at a large, inner-city public high school in a neighborhood not so unlike South LA, I was exposed to the sort of homelessness, poverty, and crime that USC fears will deter potential students from enrolling. Being exposed to such harsh realities early in my life greatly influenced my perception of the world, marking my plans for the future with a sense of social responsibility. Unfortunately, I’ve found that USC students are much more divided from their neighbors than my classmates were from the people who lived around our high school. Remarks from my peers about the “dirty hobos” lining Figueroa are frequent. USC, as an institution committed to training future world leaders, should be focused on battling such fear and ignorance by building bridges between students and South LA residents, not tearing them down. 

Certainly, the USC Village will alleviate a few of the greatest challenges to the institution in its competition for academic status. The Village will make complaints about the lack of quality shopping and dining options around campus obsolete. The new “UV” will create a buffer between USC and the sort of senseless violence that took the life of a student who was on his way home from a study session in the summer of 2014.  It will, however, only increase the divide between USC students and the low-income residents of South Los Angeles. 

Here is a lost learning opportunity for young people to truly build a community with people from different walks of life. All in all, the USC Village Project is inconsistent with the university’s mission to teach students “to acquire wisdom and insight, love of truth and beauty, moral discernment, understanding of self, and respect and appreciation for others.”

 

(The author of this piece is a white undergraduate at the University of Southern California. She requested her name be withheld out of concern for retaliation.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

 -cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

ANIMAL WATCH-An elephant walking up Weidlake Drive to a late-night party on Saturday, November 15, at a house in Hollywood Dell, caused concerned residents to call LA Animal Services, LAPD and the Fourth District Council Office. As a result, Councilman David Ryu is asking for a report from LAAS on closing a “loophole” in the City’s exotic-animal permitting process. 

One neighbor reported being  “concerned that the elephant was agitated,” the Councilman said in a letter to the department that was read into the record by his Director of Policy and Legislation, Nicholas Greif, at the November 24 Animal Services Commission meeting. (Photo: Elephant at party example is from a Blake Edwards Hollywood party in 1968.) 

Representatives of the Hollywood Dell community were also present to testify. The first, Mary Ledding, described how perplexed she was by being unable to find a listing of issued permits on the LA Animal Services website. However, according to the Councilman’s letter, “…organizers of the party at 6447 Weidlake Drive said that they had a permit for the elephant. And they did.” 

Councilman Ryu wrote, “I find it hard to believe that our permit system for exotic animals is meant to be allowed for late-night parties in the City of Los Angeles. I do not believe that bringing an elephant up the rutted roads of this hillside street to a loud party is humane treatment …” 

Skip Haynes told the Commission he has lived in the area for over 15 years. He said he attended the meeting to support the LAPD Senior Lead Officers who responded regularly to “party house” incidents. He voiced concern for the animals and what will happen as a result of proposed development and the increasing number of “party houses” in residential communities -- houses that are not used as homes, but merely rented out for events such as this. 

Haynes, co-founder of Citizens for LA Wildlife (CLAW), said that on June 6 a similar party was held at the same house and a full-grown lion was clearly visible to neighboring properties. An earlier event involved a giraffe; and reportedly no proof of a permit was produced  He also voiced concern about the damage that can be done by large transport vehicles or, as in this case, walking an elephant on aging, narrow canyon streets. 

George Skarpelos, who serves on the Board of Directors of Hollywood United Neighborhood Councils, stated, “Using animals as 'props' in this manner is not the type of thing we want to see.”  He also expressed great concern over alcohol consumed at these events and how that may impact the treatment of the animals. He stated that Councilman Ryu’s office had promptly contacted LA Animal Services and asked that this item be placed on the Commission agenda. 

In a subsequent e-mail to Councilman Ryu, George Skarpelos wrote, “I believe the letter…sent to the commissioners was a forceful indictment of this ridiculous craze and certainly gave weight to the community's concerns.”  He also noted that Councilman Ryu’s policy director Nick Greif, “… gave very clear and valid reasons for restricting the permitting of these animals.” 

Senior Lead Officers Ralph Sanchez and Tracy Fields of the Hollywood Division voiced apprehension over how public safety is compromised when wildlife is used in a private party setting. They explained that, if any emergency arose in the area which required a helicopter and/or other emergency equipment to be brought in, there is a very real risk of the animal becoming frightened and out of control. 

Captain Martin Wall of California Fish and Wildlife advised me by phone that, while a company may have the proper permit(s) to provide wildlife for events, the animals and public safety are always the first concern. He agreed with the LAPD officers that an emergency could cause a chaotic scene in which the elephant could become alarmed and “stampede,” injuring itself and humans and also damaging emergency-response vehicles and equipment. He stated that the local jurisdiction can develop an ordinance to establish restrictions on how wildlife permits are used. 

I am withholding the name of the company (obtained from the Council office) which provided the elephant at the party, in order to avoid giving them free advertising. However, the services listed on their website include “Exotic Animal Rentals” and are vividly described on Google as the,“Cutting edge of extreme party themes and over-the-top events. Party, prop and exotic animal rentals…” 

LA Animal Services did not provide a written report at the Commission meeting. General Manager Brenda Barnette was present and confirmed that a permit had been granted, but she seemed uncertain as to the process or details. According to an attendee at the meeting, when they called Animal Services to report the incident that night, they were told by the dispatcher that only one officer was on duty and there would be nothing that could be done about an elephant at 11:30 p.m. 

Animal Services Commission President David Zaft issued the following statement in response to my request for the Board’s position on the concerns expressed by Councilman Ryu and residents about the City’s permitting regulations: 

"I and the other Commissioners were extremely concerned to learn that some individuals are bringing elephants, giraffes, lions and other exotic animals into our residential communities to use as party props. Such behavior manifests an outright disregard both for the well-being of these magnificent animals and the safety of our communities. 

“The Board has asked the Department of Animal Services and the City Attorney's Office to take swift action and propose changes to the Municipal Code to make sure this sort of reckless activity is stopped, while the humane and safe use of such animals for legitimate and limited purposes may continue when properly permitted." 

Councilman Ryu affirmed in his letter that, “It is important that our City maintain a clear and easy to use exotic animal permit system for legitimate filming purposes.” However, he added, if the purpose for which animals are permitted is “disrupting the quality of life of residents and the animals, then this is a loophole that must be closed.” 

For more information contact:  Phyllis M. Daugherty at [email protected].

 

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com.  She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

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