Pay-to-play is alive and well at City Hall

Civil Grand Jury Complaint to Investigate Pay-to-Play

In News by Ileana Wachtel

We hereby request that the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury open an immediate investigation into practices and decisions made by City of Los Angeles elected and appointed officials and their staffs, involving possible “pay-to-play” and other forms of corruption in land-use, building development, infrastructure and environmental decisions and related areas that fit within your mission of probing public malfeasance and investigating the operation of city and county government to ensure that the county is being governed honestly and efficiently and that county monies are being handled appropriately.

Below, we detail large land development projects that are have come before City of Los Angeles decision-making entities, including but not limited to, the Office of the Mayor, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, Area Planning Commissions, the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM).

We list, in the next paragraph, 10 specific land-use developments (“projects”) that are merely a sampling of why we believe a full investigation by the Grand Jury of practices in Los Angeles City Hall is justified. They are:

  • Sea Breeze
  • Millennium
  • 800 S. Catalina, Koreatown
  • 333 La Cienega
  • The Reef
  • The Clarendon
  • Logistic REIT. Prologis
  • Columbia Square
  • Crossroads of the World
  • 2800 Casitas

We and many other civic leaders and groups from across Los Angeles are deeply concerned about the City of Los Angeles processes and practices, its lack of transparency, and the FBI probe into possible corruption among elected and/or appointed officials and staff, both current and former. We stand ready, as do many in our coalition, to provide whatever details, documents such as California Public Record Act Requests, and similar help that we can.

FBI Probe Background:

Los Angeles City council members, including key appointees to the Planning and Land Use Management Committee are currently part of a widening investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation which in November raided Council member Jose Huizar’s home and City Council office, taking boxes of documents.

According to the Los Angeles Times, on January 12, 2019 (See Attachment 1. L.A. Times, “FBI corruption probe goes beyond L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar to include other City Hall figures”) the FBI expanded its investigation to include Mayor Eric Garcetti’s former Deputy Mayor Ray Chan, Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price and City Council President Herb Wesson’s Chief of Staff, Deron Williams and several other city officials and business figures.(See Attachment 2: Search Warrant issued by United States District Court, Case No. 2:18-MJ-1881)

The expanded investigation includes: Council member Price, who sits on the City Council’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee and represents part of South L.A.; Deron Williams, chief of staff to LA City Council president Herb Wesson; Joel Jacinto, a Mayor Garcetti appointee who serves on the mayor’s paid five-member Board of Public Works; and other City Hall aides who had worked for Council member Huizar. On January 18, Jacinto submitted a resignation letter effect immediately.

A warrant was also served to Ray Chan, the recently departed Deputy Mayor of Economic Development who was also former head of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, both times appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti. (See Attachment 3. L.A. Times, “FBI corruption probe goes beyond L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar to include other City Hall figures”)

On January 18, Joel Jacinto quit his paid position as a board member of the Board of Public Works. This Garcetti appointee, according to the L.A. Times, was assigned to work with city’s Bureau of Engineering, which reviews permits for construction projects seeking to carve into public streets and sidewalks, destroy public street trees and other important impacts on public assets. The Timesreported that Jacinto stepped down voluntarily to avoid “becoming a distraction for his agency.” (See Attachment 4. L.A. Times,1/18/19, “Garcetti appointee named in FBI warrant quits his post.”)

In light of this investigation, and considering the mission of the Coalition to Preserve LA, which strongly advocates for open government and other key necessities of urban governance, it is within the scope of our mission to file a complaint asking the Los Angeles Civil Grand Jury to investigate — separate from the FBI — the transactions of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) and numerous other entities under the umbrella of Los Angeles City Hall.

 

How City Hall’s Land-Use Approvals System Works

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission

The Planning Commission made up entirely of political appointees of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who serve at his will and submit their pre-signed resignation letters upon appointment to the panel, is the first political hurdle in the project-approval process. It has the power to decide if discretionary changes proposed by private developers should be considered by the next rung of power, the City Council’s powerful PLUM Committee.

Developments that come before the Planning Commission are seeking and have been recommended by the City Planning Department for, “discretionary” approvals involving special exemptions, waivers and other exceptions from existing land-use rules such as requests for height increases, density increases, General Plan amendments, zoning changes, parking reductions.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Such exceptions to zoning laws have become commonplace across L.A., an L.A. Times analysis of nearly 1,000 cases found. About 90% of requests for general plan amendments, zoning or height district changes heard before the city’s Planning Commission and local planning commissions have been green-lighted since 2000, city documents show.” (See Attachment 5. L.A. Times, 2/10/17, “When developers want to build more than zoning allows, L.A. planning commissioners almost always say yes, Times analysis finds”).

The Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM)

The PLUM Committee is made up of five City Council members appointed by City Council President Herb Wesson, who serve at his complete discretion. PLUM is the second hurdle, in the private-approval process, and has the power to decide if land-use developments and building projects already approved by the Planning Commission should be approved by PLUM and sent on to the full Los Angeles City Council to approval.

The Los Angeles City Council

The City Council is made up of 15 elected officials who represent specific geographic areas of Los Angeles and make the vast majority of final decisions on whether a “discretionary” project seeking exemptions from the city’s rules and plans should be approved.

Mayor Eric Garcetti

The mayor has the power to intercede in the above process, overriding a denial of a project by his political appointees on the City Planning Commission, and asks the City Council to intervene to allow the “discretionary” development to be built. He used this unusual power, for example, to override the Planning Commission and successfully convinced the City Council to allow a controversial skyscraper to be built at 800 S. Catalina Street in Koreatown. (See Page 21 for discussion of Catalina Street project.)

Recent History of Pressure on City Hall Leaders to End Pay-to-Play

Coalition to Preserve of LA, for three years, has been seeking greater transparency in this process and has called for an end to campaign contributions made by land developers to the key players described in the above process. Prior to the formation of the Coalition to Preserve LA as a non-profit, the principals of the organization launched a 2016 ballot effort, Measure S, seeking to temporarily halt the most extreme of these developer exemptions, called “General Plan Amendments,” which allow the construction of inappropriate, outsized buildings detrimental to the community, the environment, the public infrastructure, the existing Community Plan, and long-term planning.

While Measure S lost on the ballot, our call for an end to “pay-to-play” inspired City Council member David Ryu and co-authors Paul Krekorian, Joe Buscaino and Paul Koretz, to submit a City Council motion on January 10, 2017 seeking to ban developers’ campaign contributions to elected City of Los Angeles officials. (See Attachment 6. Rules, Elections & Intergovernmental Relations Motion, January 10, 2017)

Ryu’s motion died in the Los Angeles City Council Rules Committee, controlled by Council President Herb Wesson, who repeatedly refused to place hearings on the matter on the calendar he controls. Pressed by the Los Angeles Timesafter Wesson went six months without scheduling a hearing, Wesson said he “was busy,” and that campaign reform was not “a priority,” and insisted when pressed, that “I don’t sit on anything.” (See Attachment 7. L.A. Times, July 30, 2017 “What happened to L.A.’s push to end its pay-to-play reputation? So far, not much”).

After the November 2018 FBI raid on Council member Jose Huizar’s home and office, followed by federal warrants issued to other key city leaders as mentioned above, Council member Ryu reintroduced a new version of his failed reform motion on January 15, 2019, co-authored by a larger group of City Council members than Ryu could rally in 2016, now including Paul Krekorian, Paul Koretz, Nury Martinez, Mike Bonin and Joe Buscaino. It is telling that only 6 Council members see the urgency.

 

The Coalition to Preserve LA has regularly held press conferences, issued press statements and published research to shine a spotlight on the potential for corruption at L.A. City Hall. We are deeply concerned about the widespread practice among elected officials and their staffs of holding closed-door, unpublished, private meetings with the same developers who shower those elected officials with campaign funds, “donations” to their favorite groups and causes, and often-lavish lobbying attention. They are targets for bribery, extortion and vote-selling. (See Attachment 8. Coalition to Preserve LA report on pay-to-play: “Pay to Play in the City of Los Angeles.”)

Key Factor: The Rule of 15

We have evidence that a disturbing practice by the City Council known as The Rule of 15 is fostering a non-democratic, easily corrupted system. Under the widely acknowledged Rule of 15, each City Council member holds unofficial, but very real, veto-or-approval power over all proposed “discretionary” development in his or her City Council district. Despite the elaborate system of public hearings by the City Planning Commission, PLUM Committee and full City Council, no project moves forward unless the sole City Council member in whose district the development is proposed, gives it their quiet thumbs up.

The Rule of 15 has led, in the past 15 years, to the City Council’s grotesque practice of 100% unanimous votes on many major issues – in particular on proposed projects that face serious questioning and/or opposition from social justice, non-profit, anti-gentrification, public safety and environmental groups; Neighborhood Councils; advocates for updating the city’s aging infrastructure; historic preservation groups and many others.

The 100% voting process, a disturbing brainchild of Garcetti’s, was first unveiled by in-depth research by the non-profit Center for Governmental Studies. The Center reported in 2010, that of more than 4,000 Los Angeles City Council votes it had studied, 99.3% were unanimous. That disturbing finding made headlines and was followed by an in-depth investigation by Los Angeles Weeklynewspaper, which found that of more than 7,000 City Council votes it studied, 97.5% were unanimous. (See Attachment 9. 5/19/13, Daily Beast, “L.A. Politics Needs More Women”)

 

Key Factor: City Hall’s Loose “Officeholder Accounts” and “Behest Payments”

Los Angeles elected officials get around contribution limits and other campaign finance laws by setting up special accounts with no oversight.One of the richest in U.S. history is the account controlled by Mayor Eric Garcetti, which he calls the “Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles” and has pulled in $35 million – controlled entirely by Garcetti.

According to the L.A. Times, “The rules around these accounts are loose and allow large donations with no limits. City law caps contributions by individuals or businesses at $1,300 per election for mayoral candidates. By contrast, the average donation to the Mayor’s Fund has been $111,000.” (And only donations in excess of $5,000 must be reported to the Ethics Commission.)

The Psomas Engineering firm, which has grown into a powerhouse thanks to government contracts, was barred from giving to Garcetti because of its extensive city contracts. How to get around this anti-corruption rule? Donate $10,000 to the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, (See Attachment 10. L.A. Times, 3/3/2015, “Eric Garcetti’s Mayor’s Fund lets companies give big”)

KCBS Investigative reporter David Goldstein unveiled a troubling nexus between disastrous mayoral policy and donations to the Mayor’s Fund by Turf Terminators. Garcetti praised the obscure firm in his April 2015 State of the City address. Goldstein found that Turf Terminators had made 13 contributions via company associates and family members to Garcetti’s campaign,totaling $25,650.

Goldstein reported that, the day of Garcetti’s State of City Speech, an L.A. City Council committee accepted $50,000 in free landscaping from Turf Terminators for the LAPD Topanga Police Station. Turf Terminators’ business was based on converting people’s lawns to drought-resistant landscaping for free — if they signed over special water-saving rebates offered by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and LADWP. Turf Terminators soared from unknown to awash in $23 million, but the love affair didn’t last. They were severely criticized in reports, including LA Weekly‘s, “Turf Terminators Has Gotten Rich Turning Yards into Gravel, but Is It Creating Blight?” for killing crucial shade trees, swamping poor areas with hot gravel yards, and perverting an important rebate intended for clear-cut, sustainable-environment results.

Garcetti even praised Turf Terminators for skyrocketing from three to more than 450 employees. But 6 months later, it laid off most workers. (See Attachment 11. CBS Los Angeles, 11/9/15, CBS2 Investigates “L.A. Mayor’s Campaign Donations Tied to Landscaping Company”)

Since Garcetti set up his fund in 2014, he has raised more than $35 million, including $125,000 from developer Rick Caruso — who has received lucrative zoning favors — and $1 million from 20thCentury Fox Film. According to KPCC, some donors “have won sizable contracts and crucial approvals from the city in recent years.”(See Attachment 12.Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2016 “Political donations flow as Rick Caruso seeks approval for a 20-story tower near the Beverly Center“)

Garcetti has verbally stood for campaign finance reform over the years. But as KPCC points out, “The payments seem to contradict some of his public statements against money in politics.” In his first run for mayor in 2013, Garcetti pledged not to accept campaign contributions from Walmart, criticizing it for paying workers low wages. The next year, records show, Walmart made a $100,000 contribution to the Mayor’s Fund, at Garcetti’s behest.
New York and Maryland, worried about corruption, have limited “behest payments” according to KPCC: “In New York State, public officials can’t direct these kinds of charitable gifts from an `interested source’ — a person or group with business before the state.” (See Attachment 13.KPCC, 8/23/2017, “A tricky area of philanthropy’: LA mayor solicits millions for his favored causes”)

Corrupting of the Democratic Process in Los Angeles City Hall

We are deeply concerned that malfeasance and a failure to follow a legal, democratic process has been created by pay-to-play — private deals in which developers seek unofficial “discretionary” approvals from all-powerful City Council members under the Rule of 15, which are then rubber-stamped by the mayor’s appointed Planning Commission and the City Council PLUM Committee.

This behavior comes at great cost, well beyond the cost of the undoing of democratic processes and public right to transparent government decision-making. Pay-to-play sends huge sums of money flowing into lobbying, campaign contributions and gifts, all of it unfolding as development deals are shaped behind closed doors, leading to poor decisions that have devastating public outcomes.

These outcomes include destruction of affordable housing, gentrification that creates a domino effect of rent hikes in affordable areas, record-high evictions of low-income people standing in the way of developers, and the related tragic upswing in homelessness, extreme congestion on roads zoned for far smaller buildings, destruction of open space and the urban tree canopy to build far larger than zoning allows, and the crushing of hard-fought neighborhood livability, particularly in low-income areas.

Corruption swept through Los Angeles City Hall in the 1960s, leading to major reform of land use rules that set high standards, requiring the City of Los Angeles to develop a General Plan and Community Plans whose rules meant something. During the vote-selling scandal of 1966 through 1970, a grand jury found that L.A.’s planning and zoning process was up for sale. Numerous major newspapers of the day covered the revelations — and the convictions for bribery and vote-selling that followed.

During the 1966 Los Angeles County Grand Jury probe of the Los Angeles City Council, the Grand Jury’s Criminal Complaints Committee investigated City Councilman Thomas D. Shepard over a Planning Department case in the San Fernando Valley that involved zoning variances and the possibility of building Jack Kent Cooke’s proposed Forum basketball arena in the agriculturally-zoned (and today cherished) open space of the Sepulveda Basin.

Residential groups in the West San Fernando Valley led the call for an investigation because they felt Councilman Shepard and the Recreation and Parks Commissioners were failing to protect parkland. Shepard eventually was convicted on bribery charges in Nov. 1969 and served a 15-month sentence in state prison. (See Attachment 14. LA Times, January 9, 1970, “Ex-Councilman Shepard Gets 1 to 14 Years on Bribery Count”).

At the prison sentencing of the corrupt Shepard, then-Superior Court Judge Pearce Young, himself a former state assemblyman, warned the City of Los Angeles and the public that the power to rezone individual parcels of land and ignore carefully crafted land-use plans was “the power to create great wealth.”

Today, the reforms instituted after the Sepulveda Basin corruption scandal have faded almost to the point of vanishing. The city’s Community Plans and General Plan are repeatedly overturned by city officials awash in developer contributions, developer gifts and developer lobbyist wining and dining. Vast wealth is being created for global-level developers through closed-door meetings and discussions with City Council members, City Planning Department staff and mayoral appointees at which developers seek the unofficial nod to “upzone” specific pieces of land.

The resulting “discretionary” decisions are voted upon in public, where the projects are often promoted by city officials as “sustainable” or said to provide needed “housing.” But they in fact often tax the city’s aging infrastructure in severe, unsustainable ways. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council have been warned by their own Los Angeles Housing & Community Investment Department, that these practices are creating a glut of unneeded luxury housing and failing to provide more than a fraction of the badly-needed affordable housing. The 2016 report to Mayor Garcetti warned: “A contributing factor to the acute housing affordability problem is a mismatch between what is being built and what needs to be built. In 2013, (the most recent year for which full data are available), of the 1,605 units needed for low-income households in the City of Los Angeles only 593 were built.” Meanwhile, the report warned, the mayor and City Council were approving far more market rate luxury apartments than needed, all of them unaffordable to below-median residents. (See Attachment 15. “Report Back Identifying Local, Permanent Funding Sources for The City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHFT) and Request to Fund a New Affordable Housing Benefit Fee Study).

Key Factor: A Very Weak City Ethics Commission

The demand for political reform in the 1980s led to the establishment of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission by Los Angeles voters in 1990, “to help preserve the public trust and foster public confidence in city government and elections,” according to the Ethics Commission’s website. (ethics.lacity.org)

The Ethics Commission processes and provides public access to disclosure statements filed by candidates, committees, officeholders, city officials, lobbying entities, bidders, contractors, and others.

Yet the Ethics Commission has never seriously challenged the growing pay-to-play culture. Its role is more akin to an educational service than a watchdog, providing a website that is largely unknown to Angelenos, where the public can review donations made to candidates and officeholders and the levels of lobbying activity. From time to time, it issues fines for illegal contributions or goes fater minor wrongdoing, shirking its far greater duties.

The Ethics Commission’s website allows the public to search for significant levels of lobbying activity. City law requires those who qualify as lobbying entities to register with the Ethics Commission. One can search to determine who has hired a given lobbyist, and in very broad terms one can track City Hall actions the lobbyists attempt to influence, city agencies involved, and the amount of money spent to influence decision-makers.

The Ethics Commission updated its widely-criticized contributions and lobbying search system in 2017, making it more user-friendly. But along with ease came even more non-transparency: The weak and timid Ethics Commission no longer provides the exact dates that a lobbyist wined and dined or met with a city official — the only way to link major pay-to-play meetings with influence-peddling.

Now, the Ethics Commission provides only the quarter in which the lobbying took place, a major win for those who benefit from a less transparent city governmentand may be involved in corruption and malfeasance.

(See image of Ethics Commission site on next page).

Key Factor: Broken Promises by Mayor Garcetti to Clean Up Pay-to-Play Practices

Under growing public pressure, Garcetti in 2016 promised to put forth an executive directive to halt the practice of ex parte (private) meetings between his personally appointed City Planning Commissioners and developers. “We need to bring transparency and accountability to a process that, for too many, doesn’t feel like there’s enough,” Garcetti said. The LA Times  reported that he “had faced criticism for not barring such ‘ex parte‘ meetings sooner.”

But the final directive was an empty gesture by Garcetti and the City Council. It applies only to developments once officially submitted — typically 2 years after the backroom meetings begin. Garcetti’s directive allows ex parte discussion for “scheduling, administrative or emergency purposes” if his commissioners claim nothing substantial was said and no one got a favor — impossible, on its face.

Jill Stewart, executive director of Coalition to Preserve LA told the L.A. Times, “the ban was too limited,” and “restrictions also should apply to the mayor and to members of the City Council.” She said, “private meetings should be banned before a developer formally files an application because `backroom meetings’ could happen earlier.” (See Attachment 16. Los Angeles Times, Mar 9, 2017 “Garcetti bans private meetings between developers and planning commissioners”)

And as our published 2016 report, “Pay-to-Play at Los Angeles City Hall,” shows (see attached below), the private meetings begin with City Council members, their staffs and city planning staff YEARS BEFORE a developer application to construct a major project is filed publicly— and finally become known to the public itself.

The FBI investigation has thrust this issue of developer money influencing votes and possible malfeasance and corruption back into the spotlight. Council member Ryu has revived his motion and is trying against great odds.

Key Factor: Why the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury Should Step In

We believe from the above evidence that corruption threatens our democratic system and our fundamental need for transparency and honesty in government.

The Coalition to Preserve LA’s “Pay-to-Play” report, below, demonstrates direct correlations between contributions from developers to elected city officials, as well as private meetings between these developers, elected officials and City of Los Angeles employees. But we have not exhausted these areas. We’ve only scratched the surface.

Our report lays the foundation for a broader and deeper official investigation by the Grand Jury, to determine if criminal acts have occurred, and to shine a far brighter light on Los Angeles City Hall.

We formally request that the Grand Jury investigate:

1) Campaign contributions to all City of Los Angeles elected officials or candidates made by developers, their relatives, friends, employees, lobbyists and contractors.

2) Private meetings between developers and their teams, with members of the City Council, the mayor, city department heads, city political appointees and City of L.A. employees.

3) All private communications, including email and cell phone calls, between developers, their teams and the above L.A. City officials and employees.

4) Whether influence-peddling in Los Angeles has entered the realm of criminal behavior.

Background on Land-Use Approvals: Some Specific Developments Proposed for Grand Jury Investigation

Below is a sampling of projects involving pay-to-play activity, allegations of corruption or impropriety, and/or extensive private meetings between City of L.A. officials and developers. In the Sea Breeze case, the developer was charged with conspiracy to commit campaign money laundering and bribing a legislative body member.

800 S. Catalina St., Koreatown

Colony Holdings LLC, a group of investors headed by Mike Hakim, originally proposed a larger-scale 35-story mixed-use project with 270 units, ground retail and 663 parking spaces at a site on South Catalina Street south of W. 8th Street.

In late 2009, the Los Angeles Planning Commission rejected zoning changes for the project because it was incompatible with the surrounding low- and mid-rise neighborhood of older homes and apartments and the narrow residential roadway.

The company re-submitted the project as a smaller 25-story, 227-unit tower, with 3,600 square feet of retail and 454 parking spaces, and a rooftop helipad, the city planning department. Colony Holdings officials then outlined the project at the city Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) meeting.

In April 2015, a 27-story version was pushed through by Mayor Garcetti himself. In a rare move he threw out the City Charter rules, overriding the decision of his political appointees on the City Planning Commission which had rejected the apartment project and had concluded that it was too big for the surrounding neighborhood. As the LA Timesreported:

“The mayor’s action is the latest example of city leaders helping to boost the value of a piece of property via generous zoning changes or other deviations from city planning rules. It also may signal how Garcetti, who hopes to add 100,000 housing units in the city by 2021, will approach other development projects enmeshed in controversy.”

The developer wanted a zone change and an amendment to the city’s General Plan.

The mayor’s action had the effect of reducing the number of City Council votes Hakim needed for approval, from 12 to 10. The City Council approved it on an 11-0 vote.

Then, when the City Council approved the project, Hakim agreed to contribute $1 million to the city’s affordable housing trust fund, which helps pay for construction of low-income housing. Hakim also committed $250,000 to a fund for community projectsin Wesson’s district.

Then, in November 2018, two community groups sued the City of Los Angeles over this backroom deal, and a judge agreed, overturning the approvals of the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti. The judge ordered a badly needed  Environmental Impact Report. Mayor Garcetti had long insisted that NO environmental study was needed to put a skyscraper on a quiet, narrow, two-story, residential street.

(See Attachment 17. L.A. Times,May 18, 2015 “Garcetti overrules his own appointees for Koreatown developer”)

333 La Cienega Blvd., The Caruso Building

The developer Rick Caruso, in the midst of getting approval for his luxury 17-story-high tower, the tallest ever allowed in the Beverly Grove community, held private, unpublicized meetings with the local City Council member and donated heavily to Mayor Garcetti’s Mayoral Fund.

On November 10, 2016 the Los Angeles Planning Commission unanimously backed this project, granting Caruso two dramatic exemptions from existing zoning and planning rules, a General Plan Amendment and Height District Change.

Then, weeks later on Dec. 28, 2016, the Los Angeles Timesreported a stream of donations had flowed to city officials from Rick Caruso, his family and associates:

“Real estate developer Rick Caruso has been a reliable benefactor at Los Angeles City Hall, giving donations big and small to the city’s politicians and their pet causes. …

Caruso, known for the Grove and other shopping destinations, has donated to all but one of the city’s 17 elected officials. His charitable foundation provided $125,000 to a nonprofit set up by Mayor Eric Garcetti … Add in money from his employees and his family members, and Caruso-affiliated donors have provided more than $476,000 to the city’s elected officials and their initiatives over the past five years.”

(See Attachment 18. Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2016 “Political donations flow as Rick Caruso seeks approval for a 20-story tower near the Beverly Center”)

Sea Breeze

The developer, Samuel Leung, gave more than $600,000 to support former mayor James Hahn, Mayor Eric Garcetti and other L.A. area politiciansbetween 2008 and 2015, as Leung sought city approval for a $72-million development in L.A.’s Harbor Gateway, specifically in a manufacturing area where he wanted to build a large residential project incompatible with the warehouse zoning and activities.

At one critical point during the approval process, Garcetti invoked a mayoral prerogative to reduce the number of City Council votes required to push through the project.

In several cases, Los Angeles elected officials received the money from Leung as they were poised to make key decisions about the development, known as Sea Breeze.

The Los Angeles Times broke a major story on Sea Breeze, reporting that tens of thousands of dollars had been donated to city officials making decisions on Sea Breeze — but the money came from working-class people interviewed by the Times who had no idea what Sea Breeze was, couldn’t afford to make contributions, and hadn’t actually written the checks.

Leaung was charged with felony conspiracy to commit campaign money-laundering and offering to bribe a legislative body member. He has pleaded not guilty to using  straw donors to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of more than a half-dozen L.A. politicians.

(See Attachment 19. Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2016: “A $72-million apartment project. Top politicians. Unlikely donors. Who wrote the checks to elected officials weighing approval?”)

Millennium

The Millennium project is disturbing example of L.A. City leaders trying to get a massive development approved despite formal warnings by the State of California of the project’s proximity to the Hollywood Earthquake Fault.
This “rupture fault” is capable of actually rupturing the surface of the land, splitting buildings into pieces.

In 2013, when the project was being considered by the City Council, a rare letter was sent to Council President Herb Wesson by the head of the state’s California Geological Survey, alerting Wesson that the project “may fall within an earthquake fault zone.”

State Geologist John Parrish said his agency launched a study of the Hollywood fault after several independent studies suggested it may be active. He warned that that if a deeper study, expected by 2014, found the Hollywood fault to be active, the City of L.A. would be required by state law to withhold permits for new development projects until testing could prove that there is no risk. (See Attachment 20. Letter from John Parrish, State Geologist, California Geological Survey).

LA Weekly reported: “State geologists released a long-awaited new map of the Hollywood fault, which confirmed that the Millennium twin skyscraper project, as activists claimed, sits directly atop a fault trace – an old rupture that marks the active fault – and thus is illegal to build.”

Caltrans also jumped in, warning that the massive proposed twin skyscrapers, of a precedent-setting height and size for Hollywood, would severely back up the 101 Freeway, creating hazards and environmental effects that could not be mitigated.

Community activist George Abrahams called for a Grand Jury investigation to review how the Millennium project won backing from the city geologist, Building & Safety, Planning Commission, City Council and the mayor. He told LA Weekly: “This whole matter stinks so badly that it’s time for a criminal investigation to get to the bottom of how City Hall colluded with the developer for so long to hide the truth.”(See Attachment 21. LA Weekly, March 6, 2014, “An Earthquake Could Topple Hundreds of Buildings, and L.A. Leaders Are Doing Nothing“)

City safety officials agreed with the developer and ignored the California State Geologist, using old maps pre-dating the new findings, and insisting that there was no active fault and the proposed twin skyscrapers were appropriate.

On July 24, 2013, in a 13-0 vote and backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the project was approved by City Council.

In 2015, a judge halted the project, ruling that the City of Los Angeles failed to fully assess how the $1-billion project would affect surrounding neighborhoods.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “In a 46-page decision, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant said Los Angeles inappropriately disregarded the concerns of Caltrans that traffic on the 101 Freeway might significantly worsen with the development and be unsafe.” (See Attachment 22. Los Angeles Times, “Judge halts Millennium Hollywood skyscraper project”)

It is chilling that today, the investor-developers still seeking to build the Millennium skyscrapers in Hollywood, are the same investment partners who built the disastrous sinking Millennium Tower in San Francisco. That building is sinking into the earth, and leaning over because of its failing foundation. Millennium Partners anchored the building in sand, not rock.

In 2015, residents of the luxury condo units, which range from $1.6 to $10 million, realized their building was sinking. By 2018, Millennium Tower had sunk 17 inches and tilted 14 inches. In September 2018, large cracks appeared in a thick window, prompting the City of San Francisco to issue a notice of violation. (See Attachment 23. NBC Bay News, September 4, 2018, “New Crack in San Francisco’s Tilting Millennium Tower

More than 50 lawsuits are underway in San Francisco by condominium owners living the tilting and sinking Tower. This rare disaster has been widely exposed by New York Times, The Wall Street Journaland “60 Minutes.”

Yet today, same Millennium Partners group of investor-developers are trying, a second time, to get their twin skyscrapers approved — and they have moved one of their proposed tower directly atop the Hollywood Quake Fault, in defiance of the California State Geologist.

The proposed Millennium twin skyscrapers also have a new name, “Hollywood Central,” to escape the Millennium Partners’ stained name from its sinking building in San Francisco. The name change has worked so far: there’s been no L.A. media coverage linking the sinking San Francisco skyscraper to the two men proposing twin skyscrapers next to and atop an L.A. quake fault.

However, the Los Angeles Timesdid report the following: “Most alarming is the fact that theproposed new project is sited astride the Hollywood Fault Zone and the 7.0 magnitude active Hollywood Earthquake Fault, as officially Alquist-Priolo mapped by the State of California.” Any construction of an occupied building across this fault is unsafe folly. (See Attachment 24. Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2018, “Controversial $1-billion Hollywood high-rise project relaunched by developer”).

In the fall of 2018, The New York Timesreported even worse news: Earthquake scientists gathering in Los Angeles unveiled a seminal new study that upwardly revises estimates of damage to West Coast skyscrapers from a quake. The Southern California Earthquake Center, a research organization of seismologists and engineers, has found that the severity of shaking in L.A. and West Coast cities has been significantly under-estimated. L.A.’s tall buildings are, as a result, dangerously under-designed.

Engineers found that buildings higher than 20 stories can suffer far more damage, with greater potential for collapse and widespread death, than believed by local engineers.

The mayor, City Council and city departments took no steps to respond, yet researchers at the Southern California Earthquake Center warned that municipal engineers would undoubtedly push back against the shocking findings. (See Attachment 25. New York Times, June 27, 2018,“A Seismic Change in Predicting How Earthquakes Will Shake Tall Buildings”).

The Reef:

A troubling example of gentrification and land-flipping directly fueled by favors granted to developers by the Los Angeles City Council is the proposed skyscraper originally called The Reef. This $1 billion South L.A. project was touted for its 1,400 residential units and 28,000 square feet of restaurants at Hill Street, Broadway, Washington Boulevard and 22nd Street.

The project, proposed in a very poor area, faced fierce opposition from affordable housing advocates and social justice groups who feared displacement of thousands of low-income residents. In Dec. 2016, Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance and SAJE filed a complaint claiming the City Council violated state environmental laws by approving the project. (See Attachment 26. Courthouse News Service, Dec. 30, 2016, “Groups Fight $1.2 Billion Development in Los Angeles”).

SAJE, a tenants-rights group, also claimed that L.A. City planners and city officials violated government code and the Community Plan by rushing through final approval — to beat the effective date of a new city law that imposes minimum affordable housing requirements on many large luxury developments.

The Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance said the city “approved a woefully inadequate EIR that … could push a sensitive community to and over the brink.”

In 2017 the “badly needed” project was approved by the City Council — but never built. The owner, who was rewarded great wealth when the City Council granted him a “zone change” and other lucrative exemptions to build far bigger than the zoning allowed, is trying to flip his asset or find a financing partner. The Reef land has been redubbed as Broadway Square, and the project could now change hands many times in the global market of buying and selling land assets turned into gold by politicians. (See Attachment 27. Los AngelesDowntown News, Oct. 17, 2017 “At the Reef Mega-Project, a Battle and Resolution”).

The Clarendon:

This project developed by AMCAL Equities sits a few yards from the 101 Freeway in Woodland Hills near Topanga Canyon and Ventura boulevards. The Clarendon is an example of the City Council approving housing dangerously close to freeways, buildings are known as a “Black Lung Lofts.” Such developments endanger the lifelong health of children who live in them.

USC’s seminal Children’s Health Study, released in 2004, found that freeway-adjacent developments cause high levels of lifelong lung damage among children. USC researchers have urged the City Council to end their practice of encouraging and granting favors that let developers erect family housing projects adjacent to freeways. Yet the Los Angeles City Council continues to approve these projects. (See Attachment 29. Summary of USC’s Children’s Health Study)

In July 2017, the Los Angeles Timesexposed more malfeasance by the City of Los Angeles regarding their willful exposing of children and others to devastating health problems caused by Black Lung Lofts. City leaders’ answer was to install air filters in all the buildings.

Researchers, however, say that even the highest-quality filters capture only some of the highly dangerous microscopic river of metal and rubber particulates that float next to freeways. Filters must be frequently replaced, and the building’s ventilation system must run virtually full time with all doors and windows closed, an impossibility.

Compounding the uselessness of filters is that the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety has no procedures for documenting whether the filters are installed. LADBS doesn’t conduct follow-up inspections, nor ensure that the filters are maintained and replaced.

Developers are harming thousands of children. The L.A. Timesreported that in 2015 alone, the City of L.A. issued building permits for 4,300 homes close enough to freeways to threaten occupants’ health — more Black Lung Lofts than in any year over the last decade.

The City of Los Angeles misleadingly insists residents are safe if they live at least just 60 feet from freeway traffic. This is untrue. The seminal USC study found residents must be a least 500 feet (two blocks) from freeway traffic for children to be safe. The City Council continues to grant exemptions to allow Black Lung Lofts.

In a similar case, the Il Villaggio Toscano was proposed directly abutting the 401 and 101 interchange but was sued by Valley residents in 2013. It was approved unanimously by the L.A. City Council over the very rare objections of the AQMD, and the city required only that developer M. David Paul install air filters — and that he permanently close certain windows facing the freewaysin his 325-unit luxury building. The hotly disputed project remains unbuilt.

(See Attachment 28. Los Angeles Times, July 9, 2017 “L.A. requires air filters to protect residents near freeways. Are they doing the job?”)

In the case of The Clarendon in Woodland Hills, the developers were deeply engaged in pay-to-play, donating to at least 7 city council members and holding private, unpublicized meetings with City Council member Bob Blumenfield’s key planning staff. (See Below, Coalition to Preserve LA’s report: Pay-to-Play report: Pay-to-Play in the City of Los Angeles: Who Do L.A. City Hall Leaders Work For?)

In 2016 the Planning Commission recommended granting lucrative waivers of the existing height, zoning and Community Plan rules, to allow the Clarendon to be built. On March 3, 2017, the City Council approved the project, whose construction is now well underway.

Logistic REIT, Prologis

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission approved a distribution center with diesel trucks coming and going 24 hours a day 7 days a week in a family neighborhood in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles. This project generated a rare response from the California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra.

A website post on the Coalition to Preserve LA’s site chronicled what happened at the City Planning Commission hearing.

The article notes that under Los Angeles City Planning Commission President David Ambrose (recently asked to step down from the presidency by Garcetti, but still on the Commission), the city has taken a distinct stance that negatively impacts working-class neighborhoods and environmental equity.

In February 2018, at the Los Angeles City Planning Commission hearing, residents voiced their opposition to the trucking and distribution center proposed for their residential community. Logistics REIT Prologis was seeking permission to build a 341,000 sq. ft. warehouse with 36 truck-loading positions and parking for up to 71 truck trailers that would operate 24/7. The site sits just across the street from apartments, houses, healthcare facility, a convalescent home and a public park.

According to the article, “At the hearing representatives from the company, union members and staff from Los Angeles City Council member Joe Buscaino’s office spoke in support of the project.”

Community members strongly opposed it, fearing impacts from diesel truck exhaust and noise from a trucking and distribution center that was going to operate 24/7. The community is considered disadvantaged by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) because of its proximity to the 110 Freeway. The freeway carries hundreds of diesel trucks through the area every day, causing CalEPA to rank it in the highest percentile for pollution burden.

According to State law, an EIR is required if “substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the project may result in significant adverse impacts.”

The Prologis Distribution Center will bring hundreds of diesel trucks in and out of this residential community, all through the day and all through the night. Prologis argued that they can mitigate air quality and noise impacts to the point where they’re not significant.

Instead of requiring a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the L.A. Department of City Planning wrongly allowed the applicant to slide through with a much less rigorous Mitigated Negative Declaration. The City Planning Commission then approved this tainted project by a vote of 6 to 2. (See Attachment 30. Coalition to Preserve LA 2preservela.org, July 17, 2018, “Los Angeles City Planning Commission Approves Diesel Truck Smog in an Angry Family Neighborhood”)

In a rare intervention, on September 5, 2018, the California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra stepped in.Becerra wrote a letter which stated in part: “The [Mitigated Negative Declaration] falls short of adequately analyzing, disclosing and mitigating to the extend feasible the significant environmental impact of the Project. While the Project will draw significant new air pollution into the Harbor Gateway North community, the City has failed to adequately characterize these impacts. In addition, the City has failed to apply enforceable mitigation measures as required by CEQA.”

The letter goes on: “A warehouse project of this scale and size, surrounded by a community that is already overburdened by pollution, necessitates a complete and transparent environmental impact report (EIR). While the City has laid the foundation of an adequate environmental analysis of the project through its preparation of initiation studies, CEQA requires that the City take the next step and prepare an EIR.” (See Attachment 31. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General 9/5/2018)

Individuals from the community filed an appeal objecting to the project. The lawsuit was filed byJean Talaro and Rosalie Preston, represented by the, Law Office of Gideon Kracov. It focuses on the Los Angeles City Planning Commission’s approval of: 1) a Conditional Use Permit for a development which creates 250,000 square feet or more of warehouse floor area, and to allow less than 50 percent glazing and 24-hour operation in lieu of the otherwise permitted 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.; 2) a Zoning Administrator’s Adjustment to allow a maximum building height of 54 feet in lieu of the otherwise permitted 45 feet; and 3) a Site Plan Review for a development which creates or results in an increase of more than 50,000 square feet of non-residential floor area, for the construction, use and maintenance of a one-story (with a 25,000 square-foot mezzanine), 54-foot tall, 341,402 square-foot warehouse/manufacturing/high-cube warehouse/distribution center with a total of 233 automobile parking spaces and 32 bicycle parking spaces, including 36 dock high truck loading positions and parking for up to 71 trailers, for the property located at 15116-15216 South Vermont Avenue and 747-761 West Redondo Beach Boulevard, subject to modified Conditions of Approval. (See Attachment 32. PLUM and City Council Hearing of Case #CPC-2017-104-CU-ZAA-SPR)

Reacting to the letter from Attorney General Becerra and the lawsuit by the community, Prologis withdrew their application AFTER the mayor’s appointees on the City Planning Commission had voted to approve it. Representatives from Prologis then asked the City Planning Department to withdraw the project from an upcoming Nov. 27, 2018 Planning and Land Use Management Committee hearing. The letter said Prologis was not able to reach an agreement with the appellants.

Prologis indicated in the letter that they intended to work with the City to prepare an EIR and process the new project for approval.

Elected and appointed city officials have looked the other way throughout, requiring that Attorney General Becerra step in to protect residents. The Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) will hear the project on February 8, 2019.

It should be noted that while the legal challenge by neighbors forced the developer to submit an EIR, in most cases the L.A. Department of City Planning lets the applicant run the environmental review process without providing meaningful oversight. Department of City Planning staff will offer suggestions, the City Planning Commission will set some conditions, but the result is widespread and disturbing rubber-stamping of exemptions from zoning and land-use rules for developers.

Columbia Square Tower in Hollywood:

This 40-story skyscraper would have been the first major skyscraper to dramatically alter the Hollywood skyline, create far more traffic and act as a domino, creating a precedent for skyscrapers in a community where they are banned by the Community Plan and area zoning.

According to the LA Weeklyin 2008, during the “due diligence” period, (when a developer researches a property before it makes a financial commitment.) Molasky Pacific took its plans for Columbia Square to then City Council president Eric Garcetti’s staff, claiming they only had a single meeting in May 2006. But public records showed the developer met with Garcetti’s aides four timesthat spring — three in a nine-day period in May, complete with a “site visit” at which Garcetti’s staff was present, on May 5 of 2006.

“The first thing you do [as a developer] is make sure your plan is in line with the council member’s vision,” says former Councilman Art Snyder, a defender of City Council’s closed-door, fiefdom–based culture, who represented the Eastside from 1967 to 1985.

Three months after the series of backroom, unpublicized meetings with Garcetti’s staff, Molasky Pacific closed the $66 million deal for Columbia Square.

Molasky Pacific then attended a private meeting with Garcetti himself on Valentine’s Day, 2007, according to the developer’s spokesman. Several days later, in March, the firm sent an application to the city’s Planning Department for the project’s approval.

In the application, it was noted that the height limit of 45 feet would be thrown out to allow a “no-limit” building,essentially allowing a building 922 percent taller than the permitted 45 feet.

Besides then-City Council President Garcetti’s February 2007 meeting, Garcetti met privately with the firm in October 2007, and again in February 2008. In addition to the private meetings and the pay-to-play activity that took place during the approval process of this project, was a much ignored “traffic-impact study,” prepared by Fehr & Peers/Kaku Associates. The study, which was reviewed by city transportation officials, said that eight of the 27 Hollywood-area intersections affected by the two proposed towers would “significantly impact” thousands of commuters — a rating that signals mass congestion.

At the time, Robert Nudelman of Hollywood Heritage, commented on the impact of more cars in Hollywood, “If you put up something as big as Columbia Square, it’s going to be catastrophic. And no one is going to use the subway. People who own condos don’t take public transit. They drive cars — and they probably own two of them.” (See Attachment 33. LA Weekly, April 30, 2008 “Doomscraper? Here comes Hollywood’s First-Ever Mega-Skyscraper).

The project was approved by the City Council on July 28, 2010. On April 10, 2011 the City Council approved a 15-year developer agreement for the project.

In October of 2014 the project was flipped without a single stick of construction, to Kilroy Realty Corp. for a whopping $65 million, most of that instant profit for the original developer, easy private wealth created by the City Council’s upzoning of the land.

A Hollywood activist wrote in a letter to the City Council: “Approving the CBS Columbia Square project only serves to enrich the current owners of the property by granting massive land use entitlements while severely impacting the surrounding residents and businesses with gridlocked traffic, increased pollution, and literally overshadowing the delicate Selma La Baig Historic District area.” (See Attachment 34. LA Weekly,“L.A. City Council Approves Hollywood’s Massive Columbia Square Project”).

Los Angeles River and 2800 Casitas

Pan Am Equities, the parent company of 2800 Casitas LLC, is owned by the Manocherian family, which owns 85 buildings in Manhattan. Their company, Pan Am, wants to build a large luxury housing project on next to the Los Angeles River, whose Master Plan is now underway. According to The Real Deal, this project is thought to be this extremely wealthy New York family’s first project outside of New York City.

The mayor promised the Los Angeles River will “be restored to its natural state,” but the Manocherians have pushed hard for an outsized luxury complex of 419 apartments, with just 35 of them, or less than 10%, designated as affordable. This gentrification plan, in a working-class riverside area, is against what the area wants or needs. The building would include roughly 40,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. The site at 2750 West Casitas Avenue and 2800 North Kerr Street is currently occupied by a 30,000-square-foot warehouse, built in 1999.

The Manocherians are seeking a General Plan Amendment — allowing them to get around existing rules, ignore local zoning and planning, and change the land from jobs-oriented heavy manufacturing to a limited industrial land-use designation that allows for luxury housing. The Manocherians also want a lucrative Density Bonus exemption to erect a building that is 35% bigger than what is allowed. Under the land’s current zoning, it is illegal to grant the Manocherians the Density Bonus.

But Community Plans and zoning make no difference in today’s Los Angeles. As the Coalition said in its website post about this project: “They probably heard that in Los Angeles, zoning means nothing these days. It’s for sale: Los Angeles City Hall politicians take money from developers, then the pols and the billionaires ignore our land-use rules.” (See Attachment 36. 2preservela.org, May 23, 2016, “Are L.A. Politicians Selling Off Our Neighborhoods for Campaign Contributions?”)

To achieve these goals, Pan Am held unpublicized backroom meetings with top city officials. Seeking community buy-in, Pan Am met with the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council’s Environmental and Land-use Committee. During that meeting, Pan Am lied to residents, claiming the project was merely in preliminary discussion stages. In fact, City Planning records show, they had already filed a formal application for their major land zoning change — a key indicator that the project was years along, using the backroom system of private meetings with key city officials.

Most significantly, in its filing with L.A. City Planning Department, the 2800 Casitas developers asked for a stripped-down environmental review called a “Mitigated Negative Declaration” which does not require an environmental study of impacts on traffic, air quality, the river or surrounding area, and can be completed in under 45 days. An “Environmental Impact Report” (EIR) requires extensive study and can take up to a year.

Amidst mounting opposition to the project, the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council was notified by two groups, Friends of the Los Angeles River and the arts organization Clockshop, that the luxury mixed-use mega-complex could “substantially impact surrounding residential communities, neighboring state park projects, and long-established river restoration efforts.”

According to Curbed LA, the City of Los Angeles planned to launch an extremely rare “eminent domain” — a taking of the land — to secure a piece of property in order to add a bright orange bridge across the river that would serve and enhance the luxury dwelling in the Manocherian project. A report to the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) from the L.A. City Attorney said the city was seeking eminent domain taking of the land because it has “reached an impasse in negotiations” with the property owner.

The city assessed the value of the 7,711-square-foot parcel at $2,500 — a scandalously lowball number. The owner “demanded payment in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” in line with values in the rare riverside area.

The Los Angeles City Attorney’s report said that construction of the bridge would proceed on time in April 2019. (See Attachment 37. Report, Aug. 28, 2018 to LA City Council PLUM Committee from LA City Attorney, “Draft Ordinance Finding that the Public Interest and Necessity Require the Acquisition Via Eminent Domain of Real Property Located at 2433 Birkdale Street, Los Angeles for the Construction of The Taylor Yard Bikeway/Pedestrian Bridge Over the LA River”).

 

A STANDOUT EXAMPLE OF PAY-TO-PLAY: Crossroads in Historic Hollywood: Developers Morton La Kretz & Harridge Development Group

This proposed triple skyscraper for luxury housing, which would include 21 liquor licenses, rooftop bars and nightclubs, would displace a historic, diverse and thriving community of 84 multi-generational Latino, black and white families near Sunset Boulevard and Highland.

This project began in earnest in 2013 when, behind closed doors, Harridge management and developer Morton La Kretz began their quest for lucrative, major exemptions from city zoning rules and development standards. They were also seeking to get an exemption from major state environmental impact protections.

Below is a timeline that outlines the money donated by Crossroads Management, Harridge Development Group and the principals of those companies. It also indicates the private closed-door meetings they had with Los Angeles City Council members and their staff. All information obtained was gathered either through the California Public Records Act, or from the Ethics Commission website.

 

BELOW IS A KEY EXAMPLE FOR THE GRAND JURY: A VERIFIED TIMELINE OF PAY-TO-PLAY IN LOS ANGELES, 50 YEARS AFTER THE 1970s REFORMS SET UP TO PREVENT CITY HALL CORRUPTION

 

March 21, 2013 Morton La Kretz, founder of Crossroads Management, donates $1,300 to Eric Garcetti’s campaign for mayor.

April 1,2013 David Schwartzman, CEO of Harridge

Development Group, donates $1,300 to Eric Garcetti’s campaign for mayor.

April 5, 2013 David Schwartzman, CEO of Harridge

Development Group, donates $700 to Mitch O’Farrell’s campaign for City Council.

April 8, 2013 Morton La Kretz, founder of Crossroads Management, donates $700 to Mitch O’Farrell’s campaign for City Council.

April 25, 2013 Bradley Woomer, the CFO at Harridge

Development Group, LLC, donates $250 to Mitch O’Farrell’s campaign for City Council.

September 20,2013 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Mitch O’Farrell’s campaign for City Council.

November 18, 2013 FIRST BACKROOM MEETING between Los Angeles City Council member Mitch O’Farrell, Morton La Kretz, and Linda Duttenhaver of Crossroads Management.

November 22, 2013 Bradley Woomer of Harridge Development Groups donates $250 to Mitch O’Farrell’s Officeholder Account.

November 22, 2013 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $500 to Mitch O’Farrell’s Officeholder Account.

September 30, 2014 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s campaign for City Council.

January 6, 2015 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Gloria Molina’s campaign for City Council.

January 27, 2015 Marc Annotti of Harridge Development Group donates $700 to Mitch Englander’s campaign for City Council.

February 12, 2015 Marc Annotti of Harridge Development Group donates $700 to Nury Martinez’s campaign for City Council.

March 26, 2015 Yuri Gurevich, a consultant at Harridge Development Group, donates $250 to Carolyn Ramsay’s campaign for City Council.

March 26, 2015 James D. Hearn, an attorney at Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Carolyn Ramsay’s campaign for City Council.

March 26, 2015 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Carolyn Ramsay’s campaign for City Council.

March 26, 2015 Bradley Woomer of Harridge Development Groups donates $700 to Carolyn Ramsay’s campaign for City Council.

April 20, 2015 SECOND BACKROOM MEETING with Council member Mitch O’Farrell, O’Farrell deputy Christine Peters, O’Farrell deputy Gary Benjamin and Crossroads attorney Jerry Neuman and Crossroads executive Linda Duttenhaver.

May 20, 2015 David Schwartzman, CEO of Harridge Development Group, donates $500 to Gil Cedillo’s campaign for City Council.

May 29, 2015, more than two years AFTER cash donations began flowing from Harridge and La Kretz to O’Farrell and others, THE MEDIA LEARNS that a triple skyscraper is being proposed by Harridge Development Group and Mort La Kretz. Curbed LA breaks the “news” of this secret project that has been sailing along for two years in BACKROOM MEETINGS with City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell:

Curbed LA: “As these preliminary renderings show, the Crossroads complex—which is both a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and on the National Register of Historic Places—will be completely ‘restored to its glory,’ says Glenn Gritzner, a rep for developer Harridge Development Group.” (Crossroads owner Mort La Kretz will continue to control the land the project sits on.) …

“In addition to the reintroduction of retail at the Crossroads, the project will create eight new mixed-use buildings rising on parts of the two blocks between the complex and Highland Avenue to the west, and the block immediately to the north of the complex on Selma: a 308-room, 31-story hotel, a 32-story apartment tower, and a 30-story condo tower with 950 units total (including 70 units of designated affordable housing), 95,000 square feet of office space, and a total of 185,000 square feet of retail/commercial uses (including the 60,000 square feet at Crossroads). The shorter buildings range from two to six stories tall. (See Attachment 35. Curbed Los Angeles, May 29, 2015 Exclusive: Huge Redevelopment Planned for Hollywood’s Famous Crossroads of the World)

The money flowing from developers Harridge and La Kretz to City Hall elected leaders, and the BACKROOM MEETINGS with Council member Mitch O’Farrell, ratchet up.

June 30, 2015: Marc Annotti of Harridge Development Group donates $700 to Jose Huizar’s Officeholder Account.

October 2015: Initial Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is released.

BACKROOM MEETING, November 2, 2015: Private meeting with O’Farrell Staff Christine Peters, O’Farrell deputy Chris Robertson, O’Farrell deputy Dan Halden with attorney Jerry Neuman.

BACKROOM MEETING November 10, 2015: Private meeting with O’Farrell Staff Chris Robertson, O’Farrell deputy Christine Peters, O’Farrell deputy Dan Halden with attorney Jerry Neuman.

November 12, 2015 David Schwartzman, CEO of Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Bob Blumenfield’s campaign for City Council.

November 14, 2015 Public scoping meeting held, finally ALLOWING THE PUBLIC to see the skyscraper multi-tower plan.

December 23, 2015 James Hearn, an attorney at Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Mike Bonin’s campaign for City Council.

December 23, 2015 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Mike Bonin’s campaign for City Council.

December 30, 2015 James Hearn, an attorney at Harridge Development Group, donates $250 to Herb Wesson’s Officeholder Account.

December 30, 2015 Bradley Woomer of Harridge Development Groups donates $700 to Curren Price’s campaign for City Council.

December 30, 2015 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Curren Price’s campaign for City Council.

December 31, 2015 James D. Hearn, general counsel at Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Gil Cedillo’s campaign for City Council.

December 31, 2015 Bradley Woomer of Harridge Development Groups donates $700 to Gil Cedillo’s campaign for City Council.

December 31, 2015 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Gil Cedillo’s campaign for City Council.

August 5, 2016 James Hearn, an attorney at Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Mike Bonin’s campaign for City Council.

August 5, 2016 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Herb Wesson’s campaign for City Council.

August 5, 2016 Bradley Woomer of Harridge Development Groups donates $250 to Herb Wesson’s campaign for City Council.

August 16, 2016 Harridge applies for “CEQA streamlining” to avoid complying with California Environmental Quality Act. Harridge also seeks Zone Change and Height District Change exemptions from the City Council to override the Community Plan and zoning in Hollywood.

August 26, 2016 David Schwartzman, CEO of Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Joe Buscaino’s campaign for City Council.

August 26, 2016 Bradley Woomer of Harridge Development Groups donates $500 to Joe Buscaino’s campaign for City Council.

BACKROOM MEETING September 26, 2016 between Council member O’Farrell, O’Farrell’s deputy Amy Ablakat, O’Farrell’s deputy Christine Peters, O’Farrell’s deputy Dan Halden with Friends of Hollywood Central Park president Laurie Goldman, Harridge executive David Schwartzman, developer lobbyist Kyndra Casper

September 28, 2016 Marc Annotti of Harridge Development Group donates $100 to Karo Torossian’s campaign for City Council.

December 1, 2016 David Schwartzman, CEO of

Harridge Development Group, donates $700 to Gil Cedillo’s campaign for City Council.

December 31, 2016 Gil Cedillo’s campaign returns $700 donation to David Schwartzman.

What Did the Crossroads Developers Get?

UPDATED, JAN. 2019: Harridge seeks — and L.A. elected and appointed officials agree — that the project should be rewarded a fast-track waiver around California’s CEQA environmental standards by calling the project an “Environmental Development Leadership Project.”

In 2018, in comments tinged with racial overtones, Mayor Garcetti’s appointees on the Planning Commission slam the mostly Latino community standing in the way of the skyscrapers. Garcetti Planning Commission appointee David Ambrose outrageously describes the beloved garden apartments as “rough,” and “not worth preserving,” and Garcetti appointee Marc Mitchell dismisses this vibrant community as “dormant.” The Planning Commission approves razing the community for three skyscrapers.

On Tuesday Jan. 15, 2019 the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee — missing two members now under investigation by the FBI – votes unanimously to waive the many rules and standards Harridge sought to get around. PLUM Committee member Gil Cedillo, who repeatedly took campaign cash from the developers, slams a room jammed with opponents of the project as “hysteria.”

The developer is awarded 22 liquor licenses, to turn a quiet community of working families and two schools into a Vegas-like scene of super-graphics, penthouses and bars. The project will destroy a community of 84 rent-protected homes, razing a core neighborhood of diversity and history in Hollywood.

The project was approved by the Los Angeles City Council on January 22, 2018 which is awash in donations from Harridge and La Kretz.

 

CONCLUSION:

For the members of this Civil Grand Jury to gain a deeper understanding of the pay-to-play culture in City Hall, we have included in this request for a Grand Jury investigation the Coalition to Preserve LA’s four-month investigation, Pay-to-Play in Los Angeles City Hall. It unearthed numerous closed-door, non-transparent meetings between developers, city council members, and their staff, and even City Planning Department staffers called in to help cut private deals. Our report provides a window into donations City Council members received from developers during the very time periods the developer was seeking — and getting — private meetings with the same City Council members. (See Attachment 38. Coalition to Preserve LA, “Pay-to-Play in the City of Los Angeles. Who Do L.A. City Hall Leaders Work For?’”)

Please contact us at Coalition to Preserve LA as soon as possible at (916) 595 9033, as we can provide witness testimony, documents and further help. Thank you for your public service.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jill Stewart

Executive Director

Coalition to Preserve LA

6500 Sunset Blvd.

Los Angeles CA 90028

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Case You Missed It