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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,, 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:

for the PLUM committee file on the project

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

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

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

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