Tuesday, December 1, 2015

No Hollywood Ending Yet


Rendering of proposed Hollywood Palladium Project
Hollywood, California
Hello Everyone:

The City of Los Angeles is in desperate need of more residential units.  Right now, there is a proposal before the City Council that would give elected officials what they want.  The proposal, Palladium Residences, are two-30-story residential towers that would be built a block from one of the Hollywood Boulevard subway stations.  The towers would add 731 new units and entirely constructed on parking lots, making sure that the developers will not have to demolish a single rent-controlled apartment.  Sounds like a great idea, right?  David Zahniser recently reported in his Los Angeles Times article, "Hollywood debate is a trial run for city growth fight," this seemingly great idea has pushback from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which claims the project is too big for the site.  Mr. Zahniser writes, "Now, the foundation's bid to torpedo the project is becoming Round 1 in what's expected to be a bruising citywide debate over growth, development and the city's willingness to stick with the zoning that's on its books."

Sunset Gordon apartment tower
Hollywood, Californiala.curbed.com

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is collaborated with a group of activists-the Coalition to Preserve L.A.- to shock the city's business community.  In mid-November, they announced a proposed ballot initiative that would place new restrictions on "mega projects-" the type that generally require changes to planning and zoning ordinances.  Quoting a high-level executive at AHF, Mr. Zahniser writes, "...the City Council too frequently rewrites those laws on a project-by-project basis at the request of favored developers."

In this case, the organization has retained the legal service of Robert P. Silverstein, who was successful in overturning the city's approval of a Target shopping center, a 22-story apartment tower at Sunset and Gordon, and other developments in the Hollywood area.  The AHF attended a recent Planning Commission meeting on the Palladium project with about three dozen supporters in tow.  Jack Humphreville, a member of the newly established ballot coalition described the project as an out-of-context luxury development that will create (even more) traffic congestion.  Should this project be green lighted, Mr. Humphreville said, it's going to be the poster child for the ballot initiative.

The nine-member commission is scheduled to vote on the project this months.  However,, a majority of the commission has already indicated they would support the development, citing "...the Palladium site is exactly where high-density residential projects should be allowed.  Commissioner Robert Ahn told Mr. Zahniser,

We want to preserve out neighborhoods, but we have to figure our where we're going to put that density.  And...in this particular location, it's wholly appropriate."

Some of the people's vision for Los Angeles and development frightens me.
Tommy Dorsey at the Hollywood Palladium
Commission President David Ambroz took it a step further at the hearing, admonishing "...that development dos could bring L.A.'s 'economic progress' to a halt."  Dire warning, indeed.  Sounding a little on the alarmist side, Mr. Ambroz, a Hollywood resident, continues,

Critics of the proposal counter that "...the city is rewriting its planning rules for the Palladium's developer, giving it lucrative increases in heigh and density."  Thus giving credence to a statement made earlier about City Council rewriting planning and zoning ordinances to suit favored developers.  Critics also contend that the apartment project-slated to built next to the venerable Hollywood auditorium-will mostly cater to wealthier Angelenos and do little to remedy the city's dire housing needs.

On the other side of the argument, supporters of the Palladium project have been entangled in the development battles, fought (in a metaphoric sense) on the Hollywood battlefield for years.  David Zahniser reports, "In 2012, the council approved a sweeping update of the Hollywood Community Plan, the rule book for new construction in that neighborhood, allowing taller and denser buildings near public transit stops."  The Los Angeles City Council's vote to change zoning and land-use regulation for part of the Palladium site, made it possible for higher-density structures not only face the front of the property near Sunset Boulevard, but also face the back of it.

Black Flag and The Ramones at the Palladium
According to project developer spokesperson Jamarah Harris, "Relying on those new rules, developer Crescent Heights began the lengthy process of obtaining approval for two towers on the site."  In response, neighborhood groups sued over the Hollywood plan, convincing a judge to strike down the measure.  Thus, land-use designations for the Palladium property  reverted back to the 1988 restrictions.  This forced Crescent Heights to ask for a zoning change and other special approvals for the proposed residential towers.  Precisely the kinds of rule changes that are now being criticized by the Coalition to Preserve L.A.

Lucralia Ibarra, the planner who reviewed the Palladium project told Mr. Zahniser, "If the city rejects the developer's request, Crescent Height would be allowed to build only 670 units on the site."  Further, the great majority of said units would need to be built at the front of the property, where there is no height limit.  Ms. Ibarra clarified, "Under the current rules, building in the back of the Palladium site cannot be taller than 45 feet."  Attorneys for the AHF dispute these numbers, arguing that planning officials are allowing the developers more than double the amount of housing units allowed on site.  If this is the case, why is allowing a taller building with more than double the number of residential units such an issue?

FatWreck 25
Hollywood Palladium
Despite these arguments, the Palladium project is supported by Hollywood area City Council member Mitch O'Farrell, construction unions and business leaders.  Mr. Zahniser writes, "Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said he is baffled by the complaints about the project's height."  After all, a 20-story apartment tower already stands on the corner of Sunset and Vine.  Next door is the Columbia Square project, currently under construction, and will also stand 20 stories.  In the interest of full disclosure, the building that houses the AHF si 22-stories tall, according to Mr. Gubler.  Essentially, You've got tall buildings in the area already, he said.  Sure, what is wrong with one or two more?

What is so wrong about another tall building in the area is, according to opponents of the project, "Hollywood is suffering from the cumulative effects of having so many high-density projects go up in the neighborhood.  Parking has become scarce, they argue, and travel by car for even short distances can be interminable."  AIDS Healthcare Foundation staff attorney and Hollywood resident Liza Brereton testified at the hearing, My two-mile drive sometimes takes 25 minutes because of all the construction that' going up around Vine and Sunset.  Supporters of the project dismiss these complaints saying that local residents will just have to find other way to travel.  The "let'em cake" approach, nice.

Brian White, another Hollywood resident, lauded Crescent Heights for promising to place bike stalls at the Palladium project.  Mr. White uses bicycle and public transport to get around.  Mr. White told the commission, I keep hearing that it takes people 20 minutes to go a mile in Hollywood...And I just think, Take a bike.  Walk.

Blogger does not doubt that the debate over the proposed Palladium project will go one for some time to come.  However, this illustrates the place Los Angeles finds itself in: balancing the needs of more housing with the needs of commuters.  Of course, people can walk, take a bus or subway, or bike but sometimes this is not feasible.  Ongoing construction makes even the simplest commute difficult.  Thus, in order for the Palladium Project to win final approval and begin construction, some sort of balance will need to be struck between the needs of commuters and the need for new residential units.


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