SHOW UP AND SPEAK UP (AGAIN)-Mayor Garcetti's Interim CAO, Richard Llewellyn, is trying to raise land use appeal fees to discourage the average Joe from filing an appeal. This may happen at the City’s PLUM Committee meeting this coming Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. Under our Constitution, the people have a basic right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, their government, without fear of punishment or reprisals.
Elected officials in Los Angeles are attempting to punish those without a great deal of wealth or influence imposing a draconian financial roadblock by increasing the appeal fees for those challenging decisions made by the City concerning land use entitlements.
In several appeals by community groups, City leaders ignored written and oral warnings that their decisions did not follow the law. Instead, they followed the directions set by their pay-to-play masters, wealthy developers who know how to grease the wheels to get things done.
When they prevailed, community groups were proven right and the City Attorney and elected officials should have taken notice.
However, instead of learning from those losses, elected officials continued to ignore community groups and in some cases snubbed past decisions of the Court, repeating the same illegal land use approvals.
Contrary to Councilmember Englander’s insinuation at the August 8, 2017 PLUM meeting, community groups or individuals did not file appeals to make money. Rather, individuals and community groups took on the risk of pursuing their complaints in court and won. That is, the Court agreed that the City failed to follow the law. People who filed appeals didn’t do so to enrich themselves, but rather to protect the public’s interest.
It is utter nonsense and completely false for Mr. Englander to state at an open public meeting that “... you’ll see this number [of appeals] drop dramatically, because often times it’s the same people that file over and over. And they do so not because they are against the City of LA, not because they want to disrupt the system or the process, they do so to try to make money. Often they’ll try to make money off of filing these appeals because they gather neighbors, they’ll try to get their law firms retained. There’s a few of them -- some even attorneys that do it pro-bono when we know it’s not. And the system has turned, for a lack of a better word, for those outside this system that continuously abuse this, corrupt.”
Englander’s comments show that the intent of the City is not cost recovery, but rather to stop appeals from members of the public and only allow the pay-to-play developer/applicants any voice in final land use decisions.
Now the City’s solution is to sneak through a massive increase in the appeals fee filing cost that regular members of the public will need to pay to challenge the City for their failure to follow the law.
And, oh boy, were they sneaky! During the August 8 PLUM Committee meeting, Planning Staff admitted that they did not reach out to any community groups; instead they only reached out to a small number of Business Groups (VICA and Central City Association were mentioned). To top this, Councilmember Huizar’s only concern was that Staff failed to reach out to another business interest, the Chamber of Commerce. He and his cohorts never asked about Neighborhood Councils, Homeowner Groups, small businesses, or any other grassroots organizations.
In short, when LA is desperate enough, the City’s Leaders will do anything to discourage regular members of the public from speaking up against any out-of-character development, or worse, filing an appeal.
Some of you may remember that back in 2009 the City tried to up the fees for those who dared to challenge the decisions of the City Council and the Mayor. The alarm bell was rung when members of the public found, buried in a cost recovery memo, a City of Los Angeles proposal to raise land use appeal fees for non-applicants (read affected homeowners, associations, and community activists) to achieve the goal of "full cost recovery."
At that time, the City was poised to raise appeal fees to tens of thousands of dollars. Such an action would foreclose the ability of average people to protect the value of their homes or communities from the harmful effects of ill-conceived projects.
Such an astronomical increase in fees called to the fore the constitutional right of property owners, tenants, and small business owners to defend themselves against City overreach.
The response then was huge and swift. Homeowner groups, activists, and attorneys swamped the City Council with emails, calls, and letters expressing alarm that the real purpose of the fee hikes was to suppress the constitutional right to petition the government for redress.
Los Angeles City Council members quickly agreed that if any City Planning "service" should be borne by the General Fund, it is land use appeals by non-applicants.
Fast forward to August 2017 and the ghost of the appeals fees’ past has returned. It has come right at the time when most families are out of town taking August vacations. (Can one be assured that this is just a coincidence?)
The City has returned to the old 2009 fee cost recovery (Council File 09-0969) and, at least on Tuesday, August 8, 2017, used an agenda item description that failed to give notice to anyone in the land use, CEQA, or historic preservation world that the Council was considering once again the raising of these fees to the sky.
This newest proposal is being carried out by Richard Llewellyn, Eric Garcetti's Mayoral Office attorney, who is currently serving as "Interim CAO.” Thus, responsibility for this fee increase can be traced right back to the Mayor himself.
The CAO's report claims it costs roughly $13,000 to respond to a land use appeal. Hold on a second…and let’s question for a moment the legitimacy of how this cost was compiled.
We all know that staff frequently does not even prepare a written response and Councilmembers only give land use appellants an insulting five minutes to try to communicate complex land use objections to them while they are looking at their phones or eating a late lunch. To prove the point, here is video from March 22, 2016, when community members, as well as staff from Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office, addressed the PLUM Committee with comments regarding the yet to be completed Target store on Sunset. Notice how Mr. Cedillo leisurely snacks on a banana.
Going back to the current issue at hand, how many people can afford $13,000 to protect their property or tenant interests? This is a very serious issue and it should not be taken lightly.
Once again, we face efforts from extremely monied interests who are rigging the system to squelch anyone from asking the City to comply with its own laws or with such concepts as constitutional due process.
At the August 8, 2017 PLUM hearing, Councilmember Mitch Englander spent most of his time essentially saying the fees should be raised to silence the City's critics. Fortunately, Englander asked the City staff to come back next week with suggested criteria for "hardship" applications, so certain persons would be able to come and beg on their knees for a reduced appeal fee.
Those of you who are outraged by the way the City is conducting this pay-to-play type of business may want to mark your calendars and rally as many people as possible to the PLUM Committee on August 15.
Let’s not forget that Councilmember Englander needs help from homeowners and activists in his own district to understand the issues -- since he clearly appears headed toward taking the City in an unlawful direction.
Also, if the City is too "poor" to subsidize the cost of processing a land use appeal, why didn’t it consider imposing development fees on developers who trigger the need to appeal, and then cross-subsidize the cost of appeal processing?
Richard Llewellyn and Mayor Garcetti have not suggested or even considered this concept.
Again, those of you out there who are able, mobile and willing to stand up again (as you did back in 2009) and tell your elected officials to stop twisting your wallets and start following the law, please make yourselves available on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. and join the Councilmembers during their PLUM meeting in Room 350 at Los Angeles City Hall.
For your convenience, here is the link to the 08-15-2017 PLUM Agenda. The item in question is Item 3 (CF: 09-0969).
Here is the link to the “Council Directory Page” showing all the contact info for your LA City Council representative. Please don’t hesitate to call, tweet, email, or fax them with any concern you might have regarding this issue before the Committee Meeting.
Good luck to all of us!
(Ziggy Kruse is an activist and reporter for www.HNN-TV.com, where this article was first published. She is also a former Board Member of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council. Ziggy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ms. Kruse views are her own and do not reflect opinions of either the staff or management of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.