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Thursday, December 24, 2009

JANUARY 6TH IS THE BIG HEARING ON THE HIGH-RISES!

As you may know, the L.A. City Council will vote on the Hughes Center's proposed conversion of 600 apartments into 600 condominiums this Wednesday, December 10th at 10AM at L.A. City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street, in the third floor city council chambers. Unless you want to get wet and gouged for high parking fees, you don't need to attend. I can handle giving the developers and their high-priced attorneys fits by myself. (UPDATE: the council on December 10th voted to extract 10 affordable units out of the project--not much out of 550 units--but the real battle is the local hearing on January 6th). READ ON:

These two new towers, 7 and 18 stories, are part of the remaining 4 lots in the project located in the triangle between the 405 freeway, Sepulveda blvd. and Howard Hughes Parkway.What I really do need your help in is coming to the second hearing, which is for the up-zoning of the Hughes Center. This is a permit to let the developer nearly double the size of what they are currently allowed there, in order to build an 18-story condo tower. They are seeking to increase the rights on another parcel from 4 stories to seven stories, all without an EIR or even admitting that these towers are an "upzoning". If this reminds you of our victory a few years ago over Playa Vista Phase 2, it's because it's the same issue: falsely stating the starting point/environmental baseline to make it appear that what the developer is seeking has no environmental impact.

This hearing is in West L.A., by the West L.A. Planning Commission,on Wednesday, January 6, 2010, after 4:30 PM at the Henry Medina city building at Sepulveda and Exposition Blvds., 11214 W. Exposition, second floor Roll Call Room.

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A LEGAL UPDATE:
I spent the weekend reading all the crucial documents (in between my law school studies, of course!) and I found a killer paragraph in the project's "development agreement" that's going to make our lawsuit, if this project is approved, a slam-dunk victory against the forces of greed and over-development.

The problem for the Hughes Center is that the clock is ticking. They have 4 lots left, which total around 7 acres, out of the 69 acre project. While they are tangling with the neighbors, in two years their rights to develop the project will be cut in half. This is due to the fact that their development rights are part of a "development agreement" which they essentially bought from the City Council in 1986, and which was OK'd only days before voters passed Proposition U by a 2-1 margin. Proposition U cut the zoning for most commercial properties in the city by 50%. What the development agrement did was insulate the Hughes Center's zoning from the voter-initiative. But when the development agreement expires in November of 2011, the 1 million square feet that the Hughes folks want to build drops to 500,000 square feet, as they will now be affected by Proposition U.

This confirms my feeling that something was "up", which I got after meeting with the owners of the project and their attorneys and Bill Rosendahl's staff on November 9th. After I explained to them how we were going to beat them in court, with two lawsuits in a row we are planning, their attorney Allan Abshez said they were willing to talk about cutting the building heights as part of a bid for an "extension" of the expiring development agreement. Abshez explained that if they could have "flexibility" in the types of uses on the remaining parcels, which are currently limited to office and residential space, and they were instead also allowed retail and medical office space, they would "consider" keeping the buildings to 4 stories.

After reading the development agreement, I can understand why Abshez floated this trial balloon. Due to the speedy way this project was rammed through the city's bureacracy in 1986, the development agreement left a big opening for us to attack their plans even for 4 stories there. I won't go into our latest discovery now, but rest assured, this developer has big problems!

You can read about the long history of developer-deception and political-payoffs (er-campaign contributions) that led to how the Hughes Center was changed from a low-rise, 1 million square foot office park into a 3 million square foot Century City-like project, while at the same time the city folks and developer swore to us that they were actually cutting the size of their project rights, not increasing them. This is all posted in gory detail at http://nomorehughes highrises. blogspot. com

In legal terms, what this means is that a windfall gift to a developer was falsely described as a gift to the community. This really pissed off the Appeals court when Playa Vista tried it, as State law is really clear that when developers lie to the public, the developers will lose.I hope to see everyone at the hearing on January 6th!

Rex Frankel

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

an update for Devember 2, 2009


(Here is where the 1984 EIR showed this tower to be. It was designed originally to be hidden behind the other three towers, leaving a "view corridor" of shorter buildings or no buildings to the left of the three towers. This was changed secretly by the developer and the city planning department in 1999, and now the developer is trying to take advantage of this secret project change to build a 7 and and 18 story tower here. For comparison, the towers on the left are 10 and 11 stories.)

L.A. City Councilmembers Question Conversion of Open Space to an 18 story Tower at the Hughes Center


L.A. Council Committee Refuses to Endorse Hughes Center High-rises in historic Centinela Creek wetland

For immediate release, 12/2/2009 :

Contact: Rex Frankel, 310-738-0861

On December 1st, an expected slam-dunk approval of two high-rises in the community of Westchester did not turn out the way the developer expected. The L.A. City Council’s committee that reviews real estate development projects gave instead a hostile reaction to Equity Office Company’s proposal to add two more towers, an 18 and a 7 story, all-luxury “market rate” 550 unit condominiums to the project that already contains four 10 to 16 story towers on a former wetland along Centinela Creek and the congested 405 freeway. The committee eventually voted to pass the project up to the full city council with no recommendation.

The site of the two towers, which is now guarded by native red-tailed hawks, is part of 7 acres that were planned for open space and a 4 story parking garage in the office development project originally designed by the heirs of billionaire Howard Hughes and approved using an environmental impact report (EIR) in 1984. The original 69 acre development site has been sold several times, and the 7 acres are the only lots that have yet to be built upon.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s deputy Whitney Blumenfeld told the committee, “The Councilman does not want to support this project”.

The latest two high-rises were approved by the city planning department, rubber-stamped by the new city attorney, and given the OK by Mayor Villaraigosa’s city planning commission.

The project was then appealed to the Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee by local environmental activist Rex Frankel. The appeal of the project is detailed at the website, http://nomorehugheshighrises.blogspot.com, and specifically documents the way the plans for the site of the new towers was changed illegally and in secret from open space and a 4 story garage into accommodating the 7 and 18 story towers.

The appeal was heard both yesterday and November 17th by the council’s committee, and that’s where the city council’s members Ed Reyes and Dennis Zine proceeded to hammer the developer’s attorney Allan Abshez over their own concerns and those in the appeal.

Reyes’ took Abshez to task for his refusal to include any “workforce” housing in the project, meaning housing affordable to average folks, not just for rich people. Abshez refused, saying that his firm did not have to do anything more, and that if the city did not give him what he wanted, he would sue the city.

Zine was also critical of using 25 year old environmental impact documents as a review of the project today. “Congestion has significantly changed in the area”, since the project was approved in 1986.

Councilmember Ed Reyes’ peppered the planning department and city attorney’s staff with his objections and his agreement with our appeal, saying “I would support the appeal for a full set of reasons, the affordable housing aside”, (11/17 audio at 3:03). The city staff’s main response was that the change in plans from open space and a shorter building to high-rises occurred 10 years ago under Councilwoman Ruth Galanter’s watch and that the time to protest expired many years ago.

However, state public notification law is clear that when an approved development plan is altered to create significantly greater environmental impacts in secret without notice to the public, the normal short statute of limitations does not apply. Also, the fact that the city has been asked to approve the conversion from apartments to condominiums means the city has the power and the discretion to say no.

The project continues on to the City Council on Wednesday December 9th.

Here are links to documents and audios of the hearings:

http://cityclerk.lacity.org/lacityclerkconnect/index.cfm?fa=ccfi.viewrecord&cfnumber=09-2506

for the PLUM committee file on the project

http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2009/09-2506_rpt_cpc_10-7-09.pdf

to read a summary of my appeal, see page 4 of this PDF file, and pages 74 to 122 for the full appeal letter with supporting documents

http://lacity.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=103&clip_id=7184

For the December 1st hearing audio, which starts 30 minutes into the meeting, ending at 1:17

http://lacity.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=103&clip_id=7105

for the November 17th hearing audio, which runs from 2:35 to 3:09