Koreatown overdevelopment

Developer of Absurd Koreatown Skyscraper Ran for Office as ‘Anti-Development’

In Archive by Patrick Range McDonald

Real estate developer and life-long Beverly Hills resident Michael Hakim detests overdevelopment in his posh, leafy city. As a Beverly Hills City Council candidate in 2009, Hakim even went so far as to make overdevelopment one of his top campaign issues.

But that’s not how Hakim felt when he looked across the Beverly Hills border to Los Angeles. In a low-slung, residential Koreatown neighborhood, he wants to build a massive skyscraper on South Catalina Street aimed at people earning perhaps $100,000 to $150,000 a year. His plan goes against all zoning protections, and residents realize it will destroy the character of the community.

Thanks to existing zoning, neighborhoods are protected from this sort of indiscriminate building, the permanent skyscraper shadows they create and the unfixable traffic they bring. That is, until money changes hands. Money goes into L.A. City Hall, and big favors come out.

Hakim apparently forgot his campaign platform from 2009, when he ran unsuccessfully for Beverly Hills City Council. “For years,” Hakim wrote in an election guide, “people of our city have endured traffic gridlock and parking nightmares. This must change!” He strongly urged for better public transit and “controlling overdevelopment.”

Since nobody is allowed to build skyscrapers on South Catalina Street just south of 8th Street, a few doors away from a school, the L.A. Planning Commission rejected Hakim’s plan. The L.A. Times quoted planning commissioner Maria Cadildo as calling it “wildly inappropriate.”

But, ho ho, Hakim paid $41,400 for a lobbyist to chat up L.A. Planning Department officials so he could demolish what exists there now: three apartments providing housing to 14 families. He also needs a big gift from the City Council: a special “General Plan amendment” and a “height district” change.

If he gets those things, with the swipe of a pen from City Hall, his land will skyrocket in value and he will become millions of dollars richer.

Hakim spread some other money around. He gave a $1,000 campaign contribution to L.A. Mayor James Hahn in 2005; $2,200 to L.A. City Council Member Herb Wesson between 2006 and 2014; and $700 to  Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who was running for and won the Council District 8 race in 2014. That’s $3,900, according L.A. City Ethics Commission filings.

But the really huge money poured in recently, aimed at Mayor Eric Garcetti and Herb Wesson.

In April 2015, Hakim agreed to contribute $1 million to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and place $250,000 into Herb Wesson’s Council District 10 “Community Benefits Trust Fund.” Sounds like a lot, right? Not really. It’s only enough to build two or three affordable housing units, which each cost $450,000 and up. And don’t forget, Hakim will destroy 14 inexpensive housing units.

Garrcetti liked the looks of that $1 million. He overrode his own Planning Commission and pushed through approval of Hakim’s “General Plan amendment” and zoning changes. Garrett is eager to bring a skyscraper to a congested residential neighborhood that is among the most dense in the Western United States.

Garcetti, the L.A. Times noted, “rejected a decision by a panel of his own appointees.”

Money goes in, then the favors come out. The residents of Los Angeles lose. Today, Hakim’s skyscraper is moving through a City Hall approval process. Distressed Koreatown residents say it’s a done deal.

Why do we need the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, aiming for the March 2017 ballot?

Because the people of L.A. have a fundamental right to shape what their communities become. Not rich, faceless developers with millions in profits to grab.

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