UPDATE for December 18, 2008:
I was informed last weekend by Councilman Bill Rosendahl's staff that the developer of the proposed 24 story condo tower and 3 other buildings at the
Instead, they are reacting to being informed by the city's Building and Safety department that their 24 story tower would exceed the allowed amount of development for that parcel. Basically, they were seeking to build a tower that was 8 times the size of the lot it would sit upon, rather than 3 times the lot area (known as a 3 to 1 floor area ratio to the lot area), a limit that is contained within the development agreement. What they had previously sought is 270,000 square feet instead of the 104,000 square feet that the "3 to 1" building limit allows.
The development agreement was a special deal originally approved by the L.A. City Council in 1986 to guarantee this developer their high-rises despite the approval by voters mere days later of an initiative known as Proposition U which would have cut the size of the Hughes Center in half, along with many other commercial and industrial-zoned properties throughout the city. This deal to exempt the
What the Hughes Center's newest owner, Equity Office, is proposing to do is prepare a new "mitigated negative declaration" document to allow them to average the 4 lot areas together, in order to claim that the 24 story tower will be able to use up unused building area from the other 3 lots, which they intend to cover with a seven story apartment tower and two 5-story office buildings. Because none of these proposals contains any open space, and therefore the buildings will cover the entire lots, I don't see how it is possible that land in which any buildings are limited to 3 times the lot area could then be developed with 5, 7 and 24 story buildings covering all of the land. We'll see what creative mathematics are employed by this developer.
The creative math that they were caught using last month was attempting to count the street in front of their building as their own land. The city building and safety department put a stop to that. The developer was also trying to count unbuildable areas such as the required side yards, also known as the "setback", a fire lane and a storm drain easement in their lot areas, thereby increasing the theoretical area of land they can count. The city's codes do not allow this, so we must watch their future creative math very carefully.
What this admission by the developer shows is that they are accepting that 1 of the 3 legal challenges we have raised to this project is insurmountable.
But their change in legal strategy opens up a stronger legal argument for us to use.
Let me restate our three arguments:
1. the 24 story tower exceeds the city's 3 to 1 zoning limit.
2. the 7 and 24 story towers are taller than were allowed in the originally approved 1986 development. Thjese two parcels were shown with no development for one lot and a maximum of 4 stories for the other. Because this huge increase in height will invade the privacy of and block views from nearby homes, this is a new "significant" visual impact that mandates preparation of an extensive "environmental impact report" instead of the extremely short and dismissive "mitigated negative declaration".
3. the site of the 7 and 24 story towers was limited in the 1986 City approval specifically to leave a view corridor for the existing neighborhoods as compensation for the impacts of the new wall of high-rises. It is illegal to eliminate this view corridor as it was provided as legally mandated "mitigation" for the developer's impacts on our community. This is like breaking a contract with us, pure and simple.
Therefore, Equity Office has conceded that they can't win argument #1. Argument's # 2 and 3 remain very strong for our side.
But what has changed is that previously, Equity Office has claimed that using the adjacent street's area to make their lot seem bigger, to justify allowing a 24 story tower, was always contained within the original 1986 development agreement. That argument is gone. Now they are seeking to utilize a city law passed in the late 1980's or early 1990's that allowed this "averaging" of the areas of multiple lots separated by streets in order to permit some of the lots to be built bigger, taller and denser than the law would normally allow. However, this new law only allows this "averaging" by a special Conditional Use Permit that is considered a "discretionary" permit. What that phrase means is that the developer is not allowed it "by right" but only if the City Council chooses to give it to them.
What this all means is that up to now, the developer and the planning department have contended that the 7 and 24 story towers were authorized in 1986 and so they claimed no new review of the impacts on our community was necessary. What has changed is that we now know absolutely that neither tower was allowed by the 1986 approval. Because these two towers are very likely to cause a significant visual impact on our community, by closing off the last view corridor through this project, this will require a completely new review by the City Planning department via an environmental impact report, as this is completely new, never previously considered development.
With an EIR, we get local hearings, not just in downtown
That's the update.
THE LATEST NEWS COVERAGE: http://argonautnewspaper.com/articles/2008/12/04/news_-_features/top_stories/1h.txt
Here is the Developer's rendition of what the 4 new buildings will look like, with my added captions. The 6040 building is to be 7 stories of apartments, while the 5900 and 5901 buildings are proposed to be 5 story office buildings.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE HUGHES HIGH-RISE HEARING ON NOVEMBER 19TH:
So far, all good news at the hearing yesterday at downtown L.A. City hall on the proposed 24 story condo tower and three others at the Hughes Center next to the gridlocked 405 freeway.
While attendance at the hearing from our neighborhood was small, just 4 of us and Bill Rosendahl’s planning deputy Whitney Blumenfeld, we obviously carried a lot more weight than the room full of three-piece suits seated behind us.
Speaking for the
After the public was done making our case, the members of the city’s Subdivision Committee began questioning Mr. Abshez. The rest of our local contingent had to leave early so they missed the most interesting drama of the morning. The developer’s belief of a right to erect a 24-story tower rests upon their ownership of an “airspace” underneath the road known as
But in fact, Abshez intends to use the under-street airspace for above-ground building mass instead. By his reasoning, his client deserves 24 stories instead of 4 stories. By counting the area of the street, or actually, the area underneath the street, about 1 ½ acres, Abshez is adding that to his buildable lot, which is a little less than an acre. Since the City’s zoning allows a building of no more than three times the area of the lot (known as a Floor-Area-Ratio of 3 to 1), Abshez interprets this to allow him a 273,000 square foot tower, instead of a 104,000 square foot shorter building. (An acre of land equals 43,560 square feet)
By this little mathematical trick, the developer is seeking to build 8 times as much building area as the size of the piece of dirt that his tower is going to sit upon. By then reducing the size of the footprint of his building to 1/3rd of the land, he is then able to claim the right to build 24 stories.
The problem is this: the committee members from the city’s Engineering and Building and Safety departments, Ken Alson and John Pourhassen, asked Abshez what document or action by the City allows the developer to convert this underground “airspace” beneath a public street into above-ground building area on their adjacent lot.
Pourhassen was very blunt: “Your belief that that’s the current City practice is not true…Only area horizontally under the building can be used in the Floor-Area-Ratio calculation.”
Abshez replied that in 2002, the City Council approved an amendment to the development plans that expressly allowed the use of the under-street garage “right” to inflate the development rights above the adjacent lot.
I read this 2002 action by the City Council, which was titled “First Amendment to the Hughes Center Development Agreement”. There is nothing mentioning the under-street garage “airspaces”. In fact, this 2002 amendment dealt with an entirely different matter. It was written to exempt the developer of the Promenade shopping center at the
In summary, in order to build the 24-story condo tower, it is now likely that the developer will need to apply for a “variance”. Because we pretty well established that the 24-story tower exceeds the limits in the project approved in 1985, this “variance” would allow new development never before analyzed for the environmental impacts. Therefore, I feel that only with an Environmental Impact Report can the city consider this new tower. Along with an EIR comes local public hearings, a requirement to consider and adopt feasible mitigation measures for the added visual and other impacts, and a requirement to consider less-impacting alternatives. These are all things we were not getting with the short-form city-approval document released last month entitled a “mitigated negative declaration”, which in English means “this project has no impacts—you can’t stop us.”
If you haven’t sent your comments or opposition to the city, the comment period for the public has been extended to December 10th. To save paper, they can be emailed to city planner firstname.lastname@example.org
After the 10th, the City planning department will issue their decision, which can be appealed to both the City Planning Commission and the West L.A. Planning Commission.
As usual, more information is at our website, http://nomorehugheshighrises.blogspot.com
WHAT IS PROPOSED: on the 4 remaining un-built lots, which are zoned for low-rise buildings, developers want to build two 5-story office buildings, plus a 7-story apartment building and a 24-story condominium tower.
The City Planning department proposes to approve the 7 and 24-story high-rises with a short-form document called a “mitigated negative declaration”. In plain English, this means the city planners want to declare this is a mere technicality and not a significant change to the huge project that was forced upon our community in 1985 by Councilwoman Pat Russell. The city planners believe the developers are entitled to build these high-rises based on Ms. Russell’s deal and the city has no choice but to approve them.
THIS IS NOT TRUE!
These 2 high-rises were never considered in the 1985 project, in fact these 2 lots were slated to be low-rise parking structures. This change to high-rises is significantly impacting our neighborhoods and needs to be given a full review of the environmental impacts of this change in land use.
CASE NUMBERS: VTT-70318, ENV-2008-3887-MND, ZA-2008-2700-VCU
I oppose the approval of more high-rises at the
To build more high-rises violates the mitigating conditions that were placed on the original
THEREFORE: in order to even consider a project like this, the City must prepare a new environmental impact report to analyze the expected additional impacts. The EIR must also analyze new mitigation measures for these two new residential towers and alternatives that could lessen the negative environmental impact.
HERE IS MY FULL LENGTH RESPONSE LETTER DATED 11/14/2008:MITIGATED NEGATIVE DELARATION
CASE NUMBERS: VTT-70318, ENV-2008-3887-MND, ZA-2008-2700-VCU
To: Sarah Molina,
The Hughes Center through the years has received numerous and excessive gifts from the City, from zoning and plan changes that tripled the value of their land and the size of what they could build, to a special 25 year exemption from voter attempts to undo these gifts. The community that has been severely impacted by this massive wall of high-rises has received nothing in return.
Now they seek more high-rises at the expense of our neighborhood. It is time the City’s officials stood up to them and said “Enough is Enough!” Hasn’t the
MY COMMENTS ON THE CEQA DOCUMENT:
An EIR is the appropriate CEQA document, not an MND, for this project
It is claimed that the current action doesn’t increase the entitlements and impacts and so no new EIR is required. Not so.
The previous 1984 EIR did not analyze or authorize buildings taller than 115 feet on the two proposed residential parcels. In fact, for the location of the proposed 326 foot condominium tower, the Draft EIR map shows a road and open space. Therefore this new project is an increase in entitlements. With the increase in entitlements and building heights comes an increase in impacts, This increase in impacts mandates an EIR.
SEE EXHIBIT 1
An entire neighborhood faces the wall of high-rises already constructed at the
SEE EXHIBIT 2
1. VISUAL IMPACTS ARE BEING INCREASED:
Development of two new 135 and 326-foot tall towers will have significant visual impact as the development of the other high-rises in the
Calif. Public Resources code section 21080 (d) states: “ If there is substantial evidence, in light of the whole record before the lead agency, that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, an environmental impact report shall be prepared.”
View corridors were left as mitigation measures in the 1984 EIR and ratified in the City Council’s approval of the tract map. Mitigation measures cannot now be eliminated without a finding that they are infeasible. This finding must be supported by substantial evidence and not just because the land owner wants to eliminate them for his own profit. (
These mitigation measures were described this way in the Final EIR dated June 1985: “The siting and placement of structure (sic) should allow for viewing channels through the project development”. (page F-xiii). SEE EXHIBIT 3
The tract map approval letter dated 11/4/1985 stated “The tract approval limits the height of buildings to allow for viewing channels through the project development.” The Council required on 1/24/1986 that the project would include “project-imposed height restrictions” and “viewing channels”.
SEE EXHIBIT 5
The elimination of the view corridors by the addition of 2 new towers will also be cumulatively significant, as the existing towers severely constrained the views and invaded the privacy of the thousands of homes in the bowl-like neighborhood that is to the south and west of the
While the applicant claims a right to build to 326 feet and the original 1984 EIR shows that the Airport Hazard Elevation Limit puts a maximum height on these 4 parcels of 326 feet, the original EIR limited the heights further to 115 and 140 feet. This limitation was put in by the applicant as mitigation for their huge increase in zoning entitlement that was approved at the same time as the project. (SEE SECTION 4 OF THIS LETTER FOR MORE ON THIS SUBJECT)
When the 1984 EIR was certified and the development agreement was approved based on this EIR, the applicant and City Councilwoman at the time told the City Council that there would be no occupied floors taller than 16 stories.
SEE EXHIBIT’s 4 AND 6
All evidence clearly shows that the two proposed residential parcels are limited by all city approvals to much less height than the applicant is currently seeking.
2. THE 1999 CLARIFICATION LETTER HAS NO LEGAL FORCE AND CANNOT INCREASE IMPACTS WITHOUT CEQA REVIEW
The applicant today relies upon a 1999 “clarification” letter written by a city planner to justify this added height. Since the clarification letter added significant buildable height to the parcels at issue, there should have been CEQA review of this added impact, since it was already found by the City that the existing towers caused significant view impacts. There was in fact no CEQA review of this letter, and no public hearings or action of the City Council to approve the height increases. Moreover, a mitigation measure for a significant impact cannot be merely waived away by a private letter between city planning and a landowner.
Whether or not anyone challenged the 1999 clarification letter is irrelevant because no public notice was sent out. Therefore, there is no statute of limitations on a challenge to the granting of increased entitlements and impacts without CEQA review. When the public notice is defective, the statute of limitations is waived.
The development agreement was approved in 1986. It can only authorize entitlements that were analyzed in the EIR. Neither the Development Agreement nor a clarification letter can authorize more impacts without additional CEQA review of the significance of the impact. The legal maximum height that can be built on the two proposed residential lots is 115 feet or less.
As the Development agreement states on page 7 : “The maximum height of the project’s proposed buildings is shown on the table attached as Exhibit E hereto and is subject to the limitations set forth in the project approvals.” (emphasis added)
The project approvals and EIR show no tall buildings on the two proposed residential sites.
The applicant claims the Development Agreement gives them the right to this excessive height. In fact, as page 18 of the Agreement states:
“Any subsequent discretionary Action initiated by Company which changes the density, phasing, building heights or proportion of office, hotel and retail space shall be subject to the rules, regulations and official policies of the city then in effect…”
This means that the Development Agreement acknowledges that any height increases are OUTSIDE the scope of the original Agreement and may be rejected or modified by the City without breaking the original agreement.
3. THE ADDED HEIGHT OF RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS IS NOT AUTHORIZED BY THE ORIGINAL PROJECT APPROVALS:
Floor-Area-Ratio averaging was originally allowed in the 1984-1966 project approvals, but was invalidated by the Superior Court as the proper findings for the granting of the necessary zoning variance could not be made. This averaging was approved originally in order to allow some of the towers at the
The Court’s invalidation of the height transfer variance means that the existing development agreement does not authorize the averaging of F.A.R.’s between separate lots divided by a public street.
As the original approved project as modified by the court order does not allow buildings to exceed 3 to 1 F.A.R, the applicant’s requested averaging of F.A.R.’s for the purpose of transferring extra height to the apartment tower to build to a 4.35 F.A.R.on the apartment parcel, which is a 40% increase in size and height over the current limits, has not been previously reviewed nor analyzed nor mitigated. This F.A.R. limit and height increase is going to cause additional significant view impacts, and so an EIR is required.
The conversion of 600 hotel rooms into 600 housing units is absolutely an increase in the size of the buildings. The average size of hotel rooms is a fraction of the size of most apartment or condominium units. Therefore, this conversion from hotel to residential is an increase in impacts.
This attempt to approve increased entitlements by claiming that they were granted long ago is very similar to the recent court overturning of Playa Vista Phase 2, which was “sold” to the public as a downzoning when in truth it was a huge upzoning, or increase in impacts compared to the actual zoning.
By understating the impacts of the actions required to authorize a development, namely a rezoning, the true effects and political choices involved in the approval of the project are distorted. The public is cheated of their right to know the true impacts of the development.
The actual zoning and entitlements on the 2 proposed residential parcels are for, at most, 115 foot tall buildings, not for anything taller.
THE CONDOMINIUM PROJECT WOULD SEVERELY EXCEED THE 3 TO 1 F.A.R. MAXIMUM IN THE DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENT:
The applicant seeks an F.A. R. on the condominium site of 8 to 1, much higher than the 3 to 1 limits allow. The landowner seeks to accomplish this by counting their ownership of land underneath a city street. Normally, a landowner can count land under a “future street” as part of their lot for the purposes of determining the buildable area. However, this is not a future street, but an existing street for the past 8 years. Based on the actual buildable area of this lot, which is 34,807 square feet, minus an existing fire lane, the allowable building size should be 104,421 square feet instead of the proposed 273,030 square feet.
The applicant claims that they kept ownership of the street in front of their condo lot because they always intended to keep ownership of “airspace” under or over the streets.
In fact, the 1984 Draft EIR shows the purpose of these airspace easements as for locating parking structures below grade. This had the effect of putting some of the massive density of the
SEE EXHIBIT 7:
It is a cynical misconstruing of the municipal code and the original project approvals to attempt to justify this massive exceedance of the allowable Floor Area Ratio.
It is telling that the applicant can point to nowhere in the Development Agreement that would allow this mis-use of an airspace easement, precisely because these airspace easements are not mentioned in the Agreement.
4. A HISTORY OF THE DECEPTIVE PROCESS OF THE AWARDING OF ENTITLEMENTS TO THE HUGHES CENTER:
This is the second time the
In authorizing a 3.1 million square foot high-rise project at the
In fact, a plan amendment was required as part of the tract map approval because the then-current Westchester District Plan only allowed a maximum of 1.1 million square feet of limited industrial type development on the site.
This huge upzoning was repeatedly denied by City officials and the
HOW THIS DECEPTION OCCURRED:
In 1984 and 1985, the project entitlements for the
The 12/1984 Hughes Center EIR analyzed the subdivision of the land and required mitigation for the impacts of the project that was described as being ½ as dense as the zoning allowed. This EIR authorized a project totaling 3.1 million square feet instead of the 6.2 million square feet that it was claimed was allowed. This EIR did not consider nor authorize the Plan changes that increased the allowable size of the Center. SEE EXHIBIT 9
The March 1985 EIR for the Coastal Transportation Specific Plan contained a Plan Amendment that increased the zoning entitlements at the
The CTCSP EIR never explained that this plan amendment, from Limited Industry to Community Commercial, would actually increase the entitlements of the
Before these two EIRS were released, the adopted 1974 Westchester/Playa del Rey District plan showed this site that was zoned as M1-1 was “planned” for Limited Industry. The planning department staff’s review of the Hughes Center EIR determined that any development greater than 1.1 million square feet would have to ratified by the City Council and the Plan would have to be amended to allow this high density. The staff insisted that this plan amendment be a condition of the City’s approval of the project. So, why wasn’t this fact plugged into the Final EIR for the
Instead, the planning department chose to put the plan amendment into the CTCSP EIR, which was a project entirely about widening roads in this area and assessing developers for the cost of the road widenings. A reader of the summary section of the CTCSP EIR would find no notice that there was a Plan Amendment proposed for the
The net effect of splitting the project approval and the necessary zoning increase into 2 separate EIR’s.
was to avoid alerting the public that the
The existing 1.1 million square feet entitlement was based on the fact that areas with a plan designation of Limited Industry were supposed to be built with 1-story manufacturing and light office uses covering half the land, with the rest being parking. This lead to the F.A.R. of 0.5 to 1, or a square footage entitlement equal to half of the available 48 acres of M1 zoned land. This lower F.A.R. in district plan designations as compared to the zoning F.A.R. of 3 to 1 was not unusual at the time, since for as much as 15 years after creation of the district plans in the mid-1970’s much of the city was zoned for much higher entitlements than the applicable district plan allowed. This confusion and non-enforcement of community-designed Plans led the state legislature to pass Assembly Bill 283 to require cities to conform their zoning and general plans.
SEE EXHIBIT 12
This action by the Council was actually counter to planning department policy. As staff wrote in the June 1985 Hughes Center Final EIR, page F-ivx: “industrially zoned land acreages are being depleted and utilized for office/commercial uses and not as recommended by the respective plans.” (emphasis added). SEE EXHIBIT 13
Therefore, it took a tortured interpretation of the planning department which wrote in the January 24, 1986 Council hearing staff report that building at the existing industrial zoning was infeasible:
“Further, it would be unreasonable to deprive the applicant of the value of the commercial development in light of the historic expectation of such development based upon existing zoning and previous and current District Plan designations and the City’s inability to provide compensation for such loss.”
It is laughable that staff described a right that had existed for a year and a half as “historic expectation”.
SEE EXHIBIT 15
Of course, the zoning entitlement was being increased at the
“She stated that there would be no density changes through adoption of the plan amendments.”
SEE EXHIBIT 14
The action of the Council was legally described as a “clarification”, as opposed to what it really was, a massive zoning increase and gift.
After the City Council approved the
Two members of the city council begin on February 26, 1986 to circulate an initiative measure to cut the allowed density by half in all areas of the city located in height district one.
SEE EXHIBIT 16
This would affect the
SEE EXHIBIT 17
In fact, while voters approved Proposition U by a 2 to 1 margin on November 4th 1986, the
Meanwhile, the City Council member representing this district ran for re-election in 1987. Her campaign manager was the chief lobbyist for the
Thank you for reviewing and responding to our neighborhood’s concerns.