Miracle Mile Spotlight: Candela Taco Bar & Lounge (AKA Leonardo’s Nightclub)

 

Thirty-seven years ago two brothers from Northern Mexico, Armando and Leonardo Lopez, opened their first nightclub in a former dance studio at 831 South La Brea Avenue. They named their establishment Leonardo’s and built a large clientele of working-class Mexican and Latin Americans seeking the live music, dancing, and food of their homeland.

The Lopez brothers answered a demand that led them to expand to 12 Leonardo’s nightclubs from Downtown L.A. to Oxnard to Lancaster. Several years ago the brothers went their seperate ways and Armando took ownership of the flagship La Brea Avenue club while Leonardo took possession of property across the street to develop a retail center. And this is where Armando’s daughter, Maria Lopez, enters the picture.

A graduate of Cal State Northridge with a major in International Business, Maria had a plan to realize the full potential of the popular nightspot. She wanted to preserve its existing customer base while expanding its appeal to the residents of the Miracle Mile. But first she had a major obstacle to overcome. “We’ve always been a family business,” she explained. “All of my brothers and cousins grew up working here, but the girls not so much. It was a very Mexican business; the men ran it. I was the first to challenge that.”

Her father’s traditional ways were no match for Maria’s intelligence, charm, and energy. Seven years ago she became actively involved in the business. When asked if her father is easy to work with, Maria replied: “It’s a hard balance between the old school and the new school. But I think he trusts me now. I’ve proven myself.”

Maria’s first innovation was the creation of Candela Taco Bar & Lounge, “The intention behind Candela was to build a bridge between our Miracle Mile neighborhood and our traditional Mexican-American nightclub business.” The restaurant’s success launched an expansion into catering and hosting a wide array of functions for local businesses and organizations.

What used to be a predominantly Mexican-American nightclub that was only open on weekend evenings is now a dynamic, seven-days-a-week enterprise that has attracted a broad range of customers. This reinvention of the business inspired the name change from Leonardo’s to Candela – although the weekend nightclub is still commonly referred to as Leonardo’s or the La Brea nightclub.

Candela Taco Bar & Lounge has earned high marks for the quality of the food, full liquor service, and its home-like feel. The popularity of $1 taco Wednesdays compelled Maria to open the restaurant at 11:30 AM on Wednesdays; the rest of the week the restaurant operates from 4 PM to midnight.

“I was raised to appreciate that customer loyalty is the most important thing in this business,” she emphasized. “It’s such a fine line between growing a business and honoring our long-time patrons.” This continuing customer loyalty is very evident given the popularity of “Tango Tuesdays” and the many hundreds of nightclub patrons dancing every weekend to the live music of popular Mexican and Latin American performers.

Maria grew up in Encino – a regular commute that her father still makes – but the daily demands of managing the restaurant inspired Maria to move to the Miracle Mile a year ago. “It’s changed my life in so many aspects,” she states. “I relate to my customers better because I’m a local now. I frequent other restaurants. It’s very much a neighborhood vibe around here.”

In turns out that Maria was a trailblazer for another woman in her family: her mother, Consuelo Lopez. “We were very fortunate to have a stay-at-home mom when we were growing up. About four years ago, she was suffering from empty nest syndrome and she came to me and said, ‘Please, let me have a job with you.’ The kitchen is her thing. She’s been an incredible help. We develop new dishes together and she helps a lot with our catering business.”

So, now Armando Lopez finds himself working side-by-side with both his daughter and his wife. But it is a wise man who can change with the times – and a lucky man to have a daughter like Maria, who knows what needs to be changed.

Maria Lopez (center) with her parents, Armando and Consuelo Lopez.

Candela Taco Bar & Lounge
831 S. La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Telephone: 323-936-0533
Website: CandelaTacoBar.com

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Q & A: Are Burglaries Up or Down in the Miracle Mile?

Interview with L.A.P.D Senior Lead Officer Perry Jones
and the Wilshire Division Cyber Support Unit

The MMRA annual surveys reveal that burglary tops the list of crime concerns for Miracle Mile residents. Lately, there have been rumblings that burglaries seem to be on the increase. We decided to get the facts from the L.A.P.D. Senior Lead Officer for the area covering the Miracle Mile. Perry Jones is known for his professionalism and his strong relationships with the community. As an example of this, to accommodate the deadline of this newsletter Officer Jones came into the station on his day off for this interview and insisted on putting on his uniform for the photo that accompanies this article [below]. We met at the L.A.P.D Wilshire Division.

Officer Jones, what is a Senior Lead Officer?

A Senior Lead Officer is basically a person that is assigned to a certain geographic area in the City of Los Angeles, we’re responsible for the good and bad and indifferent. We take care of all the problems in the community and we are the liaison between the community and the police department. So, we are the ones that bridge the gap. We get the resources to fix a problem or we fix them ourselves.

How long have you been the Senior Lead Officer for the Miracle Mile area?

I’ve been at the Wilshire Division for twenty-three years and a Senior Lead Officer for the past twenty years. They re-did the geographic area about six or seven years ago and that’s when I inherited the Miracle Mile area. The Wilshire Division is divided up into nine Basic Car Areas and the Miracle Mile is in Basic Car Area 7A33 [see map below].

Is it fair to say that sometimes the perception of the crime rate seems to be in the eye of the beholder, regardless of what the actual statistics might be?

If I’m the victim of a crime, crime is at an all-time high and if I live three blocks over – and it doesn’t effect me – crime is at an all-time low. I can give you the numbers in my area, but numbers don’t mean anything to me. If I have one crime victim in my area I have a problem. I prefer to have zero crimes. So, for me to say that crime in my area is down 24% over last year is only mildly interesting if I have a crime victim on South Ridgeley. I’m not numbers driven. Having been a victim of crime myself, of burglary and car theft, I know personally what I want when someone steals from me: I want that person caught, I want them arrested, and I want my stuff back. And I want to feel safe – and that’s what we’re striving to do at Wilshire Division.

What is the truth about the crime rate in the Miracle Mile?

Overall, in Basic Car Area 7A33, we’re down 23.4% from last year. I’ve had 92 total burglaries this year, last year at this time I had 127. We’ve had a dramatic reduction in burglaries.

What do you attribute this reduction in burglaries to?

Community involvement and education. We’ve passed out close to 20,000 flyers this year about burglary prevention. We’ve been walking foot beats. We’ve been dedicating our resources to what we call our ‘dots on the map’ and when we get a cluster of dots in a particular area that’s where we devote our resources.

Do you find that burglars concentrate on a particular area where they’ve had success? Do they return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, to commit more burglaries?

The easier it is to get into a home, the more visible valuables inside the home are, the more concealed it is by shrubbery, the more poorly illuminated, no alarms, no dogs, with high fences – anything that would buy more time for a burglar to break in and give them cover to get out – those are the homes that burglars target. It takes a burglar a few seconds to get inside and they’re out of your house in two-to-three minutes. That’s a lot faster than we can ever respond.

Click map to enlarge.

We always hear that the best defense is neighbors looking out for neighbors.

The way we catch bad guys is a combination of burglar alarms and the eyes of the neighbors. The eyes of the community have allowed us to catch a lot of bad guys this year.

How do alarm companies interface with the police department?

When your alarm goes off the alarm company contacts our dispatchers, they try to get as much information as they can, and then we get the call. It takes about three-to-four minutes. But by the time we get the call and get the helicopter overhead, the bad guy is usually gone. But when we have a neighbor that sees them going in, we get that call quicker than we get a call from an alarm company. The neighbor can give us a description of the suspect. That’s the kind of call we look for. We have a much better chance of getting that guy.

So, residents shouldn’t hesitate calling the police, even if they’re not certain if a crime is being committed?

Anytime you sense something is suspicious or out of the ordinary it never hurts to call us. If we show up and catch a bad guy, wonderful. If we show up and nothing bad is going on, that’s wonderful, too. It gets people in the habit of communicating with the police department and that deters a lot of crime. And knowing your neighbors and looking out for each other is the best determent against crime.

Would it be useful if residents included surveillance cameras in their security systems?

Cameras are very, very helpful for us – particularly if they’re placed in the right positions on the exterior and interior of the property. The first thing we do in an investigation is look for video footage.

How important is having an inventory of your possessions if you are burglarized?

Keep it all: serial numbers, photographs, receipts – anything that helps to identify your personal property. We recover a lot of things, but we need documentation to link it back to you. We recover an enormous number of bikes, but we don’t know who they belong to, because the owners didn’t know the serial numbers. I’ll stop a guy with seven iPads in his backpack and I know they’re stolen, I’ll run the serial numbers, but they come back clean because the folks they were stolen from didn’t have the serial numbers when the reports were made.

What should people do if they come home and they see that their residence has been broken into? 

Call 911. Don’t go inside or you could become a victim of more than just a burglary. Call us. Let us do our job. Our number one priority is protecting life. Let us come and clear the property and make sure the bad guy is gone and that you’re safe. If you go in and check it out yourself and then call us, well, then it’s just a reporting call for us and it might take us some time to get there depending on how busy we are. We protect people first and property second. Don’t clear your home yourself; let us do it.

From what I understand, vehicle burglaries seem to be, by and large, crimes of opportunity. People tempt smash-and-grab thefts by leaving smartphones or laptops in plain view.

Numerous times walking through the Miracle Mile I have seen people who have left their smartphones inside their cars plugged into their chargers with the cord leading to the console or under the seat. The thief sees that cord and thinks: ‘I’ll take a chance breaking into this car.’

[Accompanying Officer Jones to the interview were Officers Robert Davenport and Joe Armstrong with the Wilshire Division Cyber Support Unit; the interview continues:]

Officer Davenport and Officer Armstrong, what are your assignments with the L.A.P.D?

Armstrong: We are the Cyber Support Unit for the Wilshire Division. The unit has been around for about two years. We are tasked with monitoring social media. Each L.A.P.D. division has their own social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We disperse important information to the public

Davenport: We try to get the pulse of the community and to support the community and the businesses. We don’t just do crime prevention tips, we also want to let everyone know that Officer Jones is out there meeting with the community, that he’s available to the community. That we’re not just guys in uniforms who only care about placing people under arrest. We live in this community. Social media gives us a chance to demonstrate that we are human and that we’re just trying to help people navigate through their day.

It seems that what the Cyber Support Unit is doing is extending the principles of community based policing into the 21st Century.

Davenport: Yes, our problem was that the police department was slightly behind the times because the digital revolution came on so fast. When Captain Leslie first came onboard he promised that Wilshire Division would have a larger footprint in the social media world and when Officer Armstrong joined us he challenged us to do that. He created a website for the Wilshire Division and we’re the first division in L.A.P.D to have our own website. He also created a phone app for Android and iPhones. We’re the first to do that as well.

Armstrong: We have about 7,000 followers on our Twitter account. We have an Instagram account – people like to have photos. We have a Facebook account and we’ve started creating videos for our Vimeo account.

Davenport: If you repeat the same message over and over it becomes dull. The unique thing we do is to try to keep it fun as well as informative. We keep it interactive with maps and a community events calendar. It provides the community with a digital forum where they can talk to us.

Armstrong: Wilshire Division has a smartphone application available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Search for “LAPD Wilshire” on either store and you can download it for free.

•••

Los Angeles Police Department, Wilshire Division
4861 West Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019
213-473-0476
Emergencies: 911

Website: www.lapdwilshire.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/lapd.wilshire.5

Twitter: https://twitter.com/lapdwilshire

Instagram: http://websta.me/n/lapdwilshire

Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/lapdwilshire

L.A.P.D. Burglary Prevention

L.A.P.D. Holiday Crime Advisory

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The Council District 4 Players Guide

The Council District 4 Players Guide

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

  • Abbott: Strange as it may seem, ballplayers nowadays have very peculiar names.
  • Costello: Funny names?
  • Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the St. Louis team we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third.
  • Costello: That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the St. Louis team.
  • Abbott: I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third…

Don’t look now but we are less than two months away from electing a new Councilmember for Council District 4, which includes the Miracle Mile. Do you have any idea who you will vote for? How many of you reading this right now can name more than a couple of the 14 certified candidates? To be honest with you, having followed this stuff closely, even I am challenged to name more than a handful. That should change soon as yard signs start popping up and our mailboxes are stuffed with campaign flyers.

Conventional wisdom has it that none of these candidates for CD 4 will win a majority of votes in the March 3rd primary – resetting the clock for a May 19th runoff between the top two contenders, but I’m not sure about that. Several candidates have already raised some serious money and more will be collected before the primary ends. City matching funds will add $50,000 to $100,000 to each candidate that qualifies, but someone could decide to self-finance – which would blow the lid off and throw conventional wisdom out the window.

Trying to find the best candidate by reading their comments and pledges in newspapers (the few statements that can be found) hasn’t been very helpful so far. Even a search for their positions on their websites (which many don’t have yet) is an exercise in frustration. Candidates know that the average person wants their streets and sidewalks fixed, their trees trimmed, and adequate police and fire protection, so they promise to deliver those things. The obvious, boilerplate promises; there’s nothing new here.

The problem is that most of their promises – boilerplate or otherwise – are beyond their ability to deliver. Most of the things being promised – protecting neighborhoods; alleviating traffic congestion; solving pension and healthcare issues; bringing film and TV production back to L.A.; adding more bike lanes; and a whole laundry list of other items – require the approval of 14 other council members to get done.

Once elected, our new councilmember will be introduced to the odd and uniquely L.A. political process that delivers unanimous council votes almost 100% of the time. Individuality is not encouraged on the City Council. It’s a go-along-to-get-along sort of place. But each Councilmember does wield considerable control over their district and related funds. This is where real issues arise and hard questions need to be asked.

Recently, a hubbub arose when the LA Times reported that Councilman Tom LaBonge was sponsoring an 80th birthday party for Elvis Presley at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood. Unsubstantiated rumors quickly went viral about funding attached to this sponsorship, prompting many to wonder if those funds couldn’t be put to better use – like repairing a root-damaged sidewalk?

My interest in this issue led me to do a search of funds controlled by CD 4. That search yielded results that were as clear as mud.

A question I would like each CD 4 candidate to answer is this: Will you frequently post online simple-to-read reports detailing where the money under your control comes from, where it is goes, and who it benefits?

Many hundreds-of-thousands of dollars are transferred into – and out of – these funds to pay for a variety of things and I can’t figure out what the hell is going on. Many of the expenditures may well be for things that really benefit the community, but it would be nice to know that with some certainty.

The well-worn issue of accepting campaign contributions from real estate developers recently took a turn toward the ludicrous with the candidates parsing which are the good developers (the small ones) and which are the bad developers (the large ones) – as if virtue could be measured by square footage. One candidate even made the classic error in a debate by saying he would never take money from a developer…after he already had. Of course, he then returned the contribution post haste.

While campaign contributions are not a big issue for me, I understand why many voters are concerned. For years we have watched money from developers flood political races while noticing that the doors to City Hall are held wide open to every real estate project that crosses the threshold. Conversely, many residents who feel that their neighborhoods are under siege find the welcome mat is not rolled out for them.

It would help ease the perception of impropriety between political contributions and project approvals if the playing field were leveled. One key means to achieve this would be for each candidate to pledge complete transparency. If elected they would:

  • Immediately disclose whenever their office is approached about a development project in CD 4, whether by the developer or any person or group representing the developer. This information should be posted on the council website and the Neighborhood Councils and homeowners/residential groups should be promptly notified about the project, from its conception.
  • Disclose any follow up meetings with the Councilmember or staff regarding the project. All too often projects gallop out of the starting gate without the community’s knowledge.

And speaking of knowledge as power:

  • Advocacy groups are constantly meeting with the Planning Department and LADOT on issues – from bike lanes to rewriting the zoning code – and the public is left out in the cold. Any changes contemplated in CD 4 should be clearly and concisely posted on the Council website. There should be full disclosure in real time so that everyone is informed.

Would a CD 4 candidate who agreed to do all of the above get my vote? Yes, if they also agreed to:

  • Faithfully follow the policies for decision makers as outlined in each Community Plan in CD 4, as well as in the Framework Element.
  • Require the City to officially document and demonstrate that the infrastructure in the area of the contemplated project is not threatened in relation to user needs. This would include particularly critical services, such as water and sewerage, as well as public schools, police and fire services, and transportation infrastructure.

My point is, I don’t want promises, I want answers – and so should you.

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Strong Community Support for Miracle Mile HPOZ

Large Turn Out at January 10th Meeting

Approximately 100 residents attended the Miracle Mile Historic Protection Overlay Zone [HPOZ] Meeting on January 10th at Candela/Leonardo’s Night Club. Sponsored by the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] and hosted by Mark Zecca, MMRA board member and chairperson of the HPOZ committee, the meeting featured a panel composed of Shannon Ryan from the L.A. Office of Historic Resources-HPOZ Unit and Robbie O’Donnell, a founder of the Wilshire Park HPOZ.

Last May the MMRA board of directors created an HPOZ committee to do fact-finding, gather the input of residents and property owners, and report on how an HPOZ might be designed and implemented. The board’s action was sparked by the spread of mansionization into the Miracle Mile.

The HPOZ committee conducted a series of informal meetings with residents and consulted with experts – including Michelle Levy, head of the HPOZ Unit at the Department of City Planning, and Katie Horak, Senior Associate with Architectural Resources Group, Inc.

From left: Shannon Ryan, Robbie O’Donnell, Mark Zecca

The committee also launched an online poll [MMRA Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ Survey] to gauge community support. At the November 2014 MMRA Annual Meeting, which was attended by over 130 residents, a large showing of hands demonstrated interest in pursuing HPOZ protection for the Miracle Mile.

After months of research, outreach, and preparation, the HPOZ committee presented its findings to the community at the January 10th meeting. The advantages and disadvantages of an HPOZ were discussed in detail in a question and answer session following the opening presentation.

The meeting was videotaped and posted in two parts on the MMRA Channel on YouTube. Residents who did not attend the January 10th meeting are encouraged to view the meeting on YouTube. It offers a comprehensive examination of the benefits of HPOZ to our community and honestly examines the impact on property owners – and does so at greater length than can be recounted in this newsletter.

Click on image to view video.
 A

The residents attending the January 10th meeting demonstrated nearly unanimous support for seeking HPOZ status. This support is also reflected in the results of the online survey. As a result, the HPOZ committee will recommend to the MMRA board of directors at its February 5th meeting that the HPOZ application process be initiated and a motion to that effect will be introduced for adoption by the board.

The HPOZ committee will be holding a series of future community meetings to iron out the many details involved in creating an HPOZ: boundaries, design guidelines, financing the required architectural review, etc. For the latest updates and additional information visit the “HPOZ & RFA Info” page on the MMRA website: MiracleMileLA.com.

MMRA Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ Survey
Participate in the survey
View the results

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Interview with Neighborhood Prosecutor Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri

[Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter, November 2014:]

Q & A:

Interview with Neighborhood Prosecutor

Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri

Earlier this year City Attorney Mike Feuer revived the Neighborhood Prosecutor Program, which had been disbanded in 2010 due to budget cuts. The program attaches a Neighborhood Prosecutor to every police division in the city to serve as a liaison between law enforcement – as well as other city agencies – and the community. The prosecutors are tasked with overseeing a range of quality of life issues from nuisance abatement and code enforcement to gang activity and other threats to public safety.

Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri was assigned in May 2014 as the Neighborhood Prosecutor for the LAPD Wilshire Division [see map], which includes the Miracle Mile. A native of Los Angeles, Zahiri attended UCLA and the Southwestern School of Law and previously worked for a firm that provided prosecutorial services for cities in Los Angeles County. Ms. Zahiri was interviewed November 12, 2014 at the Wilshire Division police station:

What is a neighborhood prosecutor?

While that question sounds easy to answer, I am learning that it can mean a variety of things. On a daily basis, I answer and look into a multitude of issues. What I’ve been telling the community is to contact me, give me the information, and if it is something that I can have an impact on, or help with, then I’m more than happy to contribute. Many issues, for example, auto repair on the street, have departments enlisted to enforce the applicable regulations. In these cases, it might involve me calling that department and explaining to them what is going on, as well as the seriousness of the issue. Further, I can explain to these departments that I will ultimately participate in the enforcement actions, should voluntary compliance not be obtained. In the past, a lot of these cases sort of got lost in the system. With a Neighborhood Prosecutor at the station, and aware of the particular issues, we can ensure that the issues are given the care and attention they need in order to be resolved.

Often the frustrations of the residents are compounded by not knowing who to complain to. There are so many different departments: animal services, building and safety, parking enforcement. Isn’t one of your roles to educate people in how to complain?

Yes. I am continuously learning about the different departments and agencies in the City, as well as the available services. If a community member has a particular issue they are unsure of where to direct, I can most certainly guide them to the appropriate department. 3-1-1 is also a wonderful resource. One of the things I’m learning is that many of the departments are overwhelmed. Therefore, complaints sometimes do not get answered as quickly as we’d like. And due to the lapse in time between a complaint being submitted, and then addressed, once an investigation is conducted the issue might not be present. If I know about the issue, and know the possibility of the particular agency being unable to investigate the situation, I can work to get another department or agency involved in order to address the issue. I can also be in touch with the complainant in order to ensure we have all necessary details.

That raises an interesting question in terms of the hierarchy of complaints. So, when you have a situation with multiple agencies involved, who is on first, who is on second, or does the City Attorney’s office trump them all?

My advice is, if it’s a new complaint and you have not yet referred it to the agency that is meant to address that particular issue–start there. File a complaint. If you don’t feel that it’s being addressed, then let me know and if there is something I can do, I will.  As I mentioned earlier, many of these agencies are overwhelmed and knowing that there is an attorney who will be there once they have conducted their investigation helps. They know that once they get a package prepared, it’s going to get the attention it deserves.

Prop 47 was just approved, which shifted a number of felony crimes downwards to misdemeanors. Will that have an impact on the neighborhood prosecutors?

It is too early to say. At this point, the cases will probably go through our normal misdemeanor channels. Due to the number of cases that will now go to the City Attorney’s office based on Prop 47, we will be there to assist and contribute in any way we can to ease the process. It is likely that new Deputy City Attorneys will be hired to assist with the new case load.

Many people don’t realize that the City Attorney handles criminal cases.

We do, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office handles all misdemeanor filings in the City. These misdemeanors can include anything from DUI offenses, to family violence cases, to drug cases.  Many crimes are considered “wobblers.” This means they can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors. In this regard, the City does handle very serious criminal cases.

Are you getting hit with a lot of these quality of life issues?

Very much so. I ‘ve attended various Neighborhood Council meetings, as well as other neighborhood association meetings, and much of the community has gotten to know me – and how to contact me with their issues. Additionally, I intentionally sit beside the Senior Lead Officers when I’m at the station so that I have immediate contact when they are getting complaints and I can be aware of them.

Do you spend most of your time downtown or at the Wilshire station?

It’s sort of a mix. I have a desk at both locations. There are benefits with being at both locations. If I’m filing a complaint, or need to brainstorm with other Neighborhood Prosecutors, it is great to be at City Hall. While being at the station allows me to have direct contact with the community and the officers.

If you file a complaint are you the attorney handling it at court?

Yes. As a Neighborhood Prosecutor, vertical prosecution is a great tool. A lot of times after general quality of life crime makes their way through all the necessary channels, and to court, the appearing attorney cannot be aware of the significance of the issue, or the particular sentence that can abate and remedy the issue for the community. And because we are in the community, and have directly filed that case, we are aware of its significance, and the best way to handle it.

Given the budget cuts that the courts have gone through – the backlog of cases – does it have an impact on your work?

It does. Although prosecution is a tool, and for many cases the only tool, we as Neighborhood Prosecutors can use other tools and methods to obtain results without necessarily filing cases and prosecuting them in the court.

So you directly interface with the parties involved in a complaint?

Yes, I usually have directly interfaced with the individual who brought the original complaint. And if the complaint can be resolved without utilizing the court system, then we will go that route.

That would seem to be very effective, because you are implying that we can resolve this here or in court.

It is. Many times, explaining the law, as well as the possible repercussions to failing to comply can resolve an issue. If the problem can be resolved this way, then we can save the time and resources it takes to get something before a court. Our goal is not to go to prosecute, but to abate the issue in an effective manner.

Give us a short lesson in how to properly complain.

Start off with complaining to the right department. If you don’t know which department to contact, either contact me or call 3-1-1, they’ll help you. Keep records, and take photos if possible. Of course, never put yourself in any kind of danger while gathering evidence. Check back with that department to find out who the inspector assigned to your case is, and you can contact them directly if you need further information. For many issues, it can be appropriate to bring me in from the beginning. It’s important that people feel free to contact me, that’s my job: to serve the neighborhood.

What’s the best way to contact you?

Email is definitely the best way.

•••

Mehrnoosh “Nooshi” Zahiri
Wilshire Neighborhood Prosecutor
mehrnoosh.zahiri@lacity.org
(213) 978-2220

Useful City Phone Numbers

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2014 Annual Online Survey

[Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter, November 2014:]


Miracle Mile Residential Association
2014 Annual Online Survey

Click on map to enlarge.
In November 2013, the MMRA launched its first online survey of Miracle Mile residents to gain a better understanding of your attitudes and opinions on central issues, such as traffic and development. Last year’s poll had 114 respondents; the results can be reviewed here.

The 2014 annual survey repeats many of the key questions asked in last year’s survey, which will indicate how opinions have shifted (or not) in the past 12 months. While hardly a scientific survey, the poll provides a “snapshot” of the community and helps guide the MMRA in prioritizing our efforts. The Miracle Mile Residential Association is a consensus driven organization and polling helps to ensure that the actions of the MMRA reflect the will of the residents we represent.

The MMRA also uses more targeted polls to gauge opinions on single topic issues. Both the “MMRA Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ” and “LACMA Bridge Over Wilshire” surveys are still open. You can participate in those polls or view the results in the links below.

The annual poll is not just for residents living within the boundaries of the MMRA [see map above], we are also interested in how residents in neighboring areas feel, too. The survey will remain open until December 31, 2014. The results of the annual survey will be featured in the January 2015 newsletter.

We utilize SurveyMonkey for our polls; it is a secure and simple way to gather your input. Participation is completely anonymous and your honesty is welcomed. So, please take a few minutes to complete the poll – there are 60 questions with opportunities to make specific comments. And you can skip over the questions that don’t interest or apply to you.


2014 Miracle Mile Residential Association Annual Online Survey

Participate in the survey


MMRA Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ Survey (May 2014)

Participate in the survey
View the results


LACMA Bridge Over Wilshire Survey (July 2014)

Participate in the survey
View the results


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LACMA’s Billion Dollar Debt

[Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter, November 2014;] 

LACMA’s Billion Dollar Debt 

(and Michael Govan’s Very Good Day)

Commentary by Greg Goldin

 

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas: Is this Michael Govan Day in L.A. or what? We’re trying to figure that out. Did you know what today was?

Michael Govan: That today was?

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas: Yeah, Michael Govan Day in the city, in the county of Los Angeles? Did you know that? It is. Thank you.

Michael Govan: Thank you.

– November 5, 2014 MeetingLos Angeles County Board of Supervisors

On November 5, LACMA’s plan to build a new museum that would span Wilshire Boulevard got its first enormous contribution. To help kick off the Museum’s fundraising campaign to build the proposed Peter Zumthor building, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors opened the public treasury and signed a check for $125 million. The gift, hailed as proof of the county’s commitment to art and culture, whizzed through on a unanimous vote, but it seems neither the supervisors, nor the reporters present that day, had read the fine print. The colossal sum was not nearly enough, it turns out, to get the ball rolling on the Swiss architect’s $600 million (and-climbing) oozing mega-structure. So, the Supervisors agreed to kick in another $300 million – this in the form of a government-issued bond to be repaid over 30 years by LACMA’s patrons and donors.

Even for the multi-billion dollar county, $425 million is a pile of money.  One would have hoped that the self-avowed fiscal conservatives on the board – among them, the socially liberal but financially prudent Zev Yaroslavsky – might have questioned how the money would be repaid and what the citizens are getting in return.  Yet, to hear the string of fulsome remarks by the Supervisors themselves [see link below], the mere appearance of LACMA chief Michael Govan was sufficient recompense for the public’s investment. One of the fawning Supervisors declared it “Michael Govan Day” – only to be told that such a decree violated the state’s Brown Act, and thus had to be withdrawn. LACMA’s imperial and expansionist dreams, it seems, justify the taxpayers’ gifts and loans without inquiry, investigation, or a single note of caution.

Some math is useful here. The County’s Chief Executive Officer, William T. Fujioka, laid the facts out to the Supervisors in his November 5 report. The citizens of Los Angeles county will donate $125 million to LACMA – a gift that will ultimately cost the county $10 million a year for fifteen years, topping out at $150 million. That’s the money that made the headlines. Since LACMA can’t raise the remaining $475 million in construction funds fast enough, the county has agreed to step up, to “provide adequate and timely funding for the proposed Project during its eight year delivery schedule.” That’s the $300 million bond, which will saddle LACMA with new debt of $18 million a year – adding up to $540 million over the 30-year lifetime of the loan. And that assumes the price tag for Zumthor’s creation will actually be $600 million. There are many independent estimates that put the figure at closer to $1 billion. Will the county close that gap, too?

If the past is prologue, there is ample reason to question the soundness of these arrangements. As the Supervisors know well, LACMA is already burdened with debt, and those debts have forced the Museum to compromise recent plans, to the public’s detriment.

The story begins in 2001 when LACMA undertook “Transformation,” its self-proclaimed plan to march west toward the May Co. building. For $50 million, that landmark was going to be refurbished to add 20,000 square feet of gallery space, renew the Boone children’s gallery, and carve out office space for staff. But the money had to be diverted because Museum Associates, which runs LACMA, couldn’t repay the $383 million debt it had amassed to build the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Reznick Pavilion. During the deepening recession, LACMA couldn’t bear the costs of restoring the May Co. while shelling out $15 million a year for the debt service for the BCAM and the Reznick. Thus, the May Co. renovation was jettisoned.

While everyone’s attention was focused on the delivery of Michael Heizer’s very large rock, LACMA’s finances were sinking like one. Its debt was nearly twice as large as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and almost $100 million more than the Museum of Modern Art. The viziers on Wall Street weren’t as easily diverted by the “levitated” spectacle as the citizens and their elected representatives were. The Museum’s bond rating, then perilously close to a default, was downgraded, which put the institution in the unfortunate position of having to find a way to re-leverage itself.

The answer came when a seemingly friendly marriage was arranged between the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (which had failed more times than can be recounted to open a museum) and LACMA. The Academy agreed to an up-front payment of $36.1 million to lease the 300,000 square-foot May Co. building and a chunk of real estate along its backside for the next 110 years. The Academy would get a museum and LACMA was free to reschedule its debts. For the Academy, it was a sweetheart deal; for the public, not so. The Academy paid the pitiable sum of ninety-two cents per square foot in virtual perpetuity, when the cost of much less glorious and valuable space across the street on Wilshire is four dollars a square foot and climbing. Govan told the Los Angeles Times in June of this year, “The idea was not to haggle, not to make an issue of money; whatever was fair was fair.”

The difference between market rents and this no fuss, no mess deal comes directly out of the taxpayer’s pockets, since the County already furnishes LACMA with $30 million a year in operating costs. In effect, the County is now subsidizing the Academy, one of the richest institutions – with access to seemingly unlimited Hollywood money – in the universe.

All disappointing evidence that LACMA lacks fiscal accountability. Now it is proposed that in addition to its current annual tab of $15 million in debt service, another $18 million be heaped on. For the foreseeable future, LACMA would be more than $1 billion in debt. What will this staggering sum mean to the County when the next recession hits?

And, while everyone agrees that public subsidies for the largest encyclopedic museum west of the Mississippi are worthy, shouldn’t forking over $690 million (the real price of the debt repayment) have some steely strings attached. For example, who will own the new Museum if it ever gets built? Will County negotiators extract a guarantee that LACMA have free admission when the new building opens? (The Hammer, in Westwood, is now free, and the new Broad Museum, in downtown, will be as well when it opens in fall 2015.) And, at long last, will the public be given seats on the Museum’s Board of Trustees – that exclusive, self-anointing body of the super-rich who govern LACMA?

Even if Museum director Michael Govan’s plan melts into the tar that Peter Zumthor says inspired his design, these questions will remain. If the Los Angeles County Museum of Art  – whose very name embodies its public heritage – is to be a truly civic institution, then what better time that now, on the brink of its receiving more than a half a billion dollars from taxpayers, to ask for genuine accountability and a place at the table for its true stakeholders?

Michael Govan photo courtesy of Aaron Salcido, Zócalo Public Square; Zumthor LACMA model courtesy of Los Angeles Times (© Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner)Levitated Mass photo courtesy of Jen Pollack Bianco, My Life’s a Trip.

Sources:

County of Los Angeles, Chief Executive Office: Museum of Art: Proposed East Campus Replacement Building Project Approval of Financing Concept and Funding for Preliminary Design and Planning Activities

November 5, 2014, Meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors: Transcript

San Gabriel Valley Tribune (3/14/13): Tim Rutten: Financial questions need answers before LACMA swallows MOCA

Los Angeles Times (6/2/14): Film Academy to pay LACMA $36.1 million for movie museum lease

For additional information:

Los Angeles Times (11/6/14); L.A. County supervisors embrace LACMA’s financing plan for makeover


Greg Goldin is the coauthor of Never Built Los Angeles and a curator at the A+D Museum. From 1999 to 2012, he was the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine. He is a longtime resident of the Miracle Mile and was featured in the MMRA Channel’s YouTube presentation: “The Miracle Mile in Three Tenses: Past, Present, and Future.” Greg is an occasional contributor to this newsletter; “LACMA: The Sky’s the Limit” appeared in the August 2014 edition.

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MMRA Supports LaBonge Motion to Reform Small Lot Subdivision Rules

MMRA Supports LaBonge Motion to
Reform Small Lot Subdivision Rules


Example of typical small lot subdivision

 

In 2005, a “Small Lot Subdivision” amendment to the Los Angeles Municipal Code was passed allowing developers to carve up lots in commercial and multifamily residential zones into small single-family plots. The previous minimum size for a single-family lot of 5,000 square feet was reduced to 600 square feet with a minimum width of 16 feet. The purpose of this law was to promote housing density by permitting “infill projects” in established communities.

These smaller lots are fee-simple parcels that can be bought and sold independently of each other. Unlike condo owners, residents of the small-lot homes own a plot of land and a home that is built on a separate foundation. These “townhouses” do not share walls, although they are built only inches apart. Typically, these small-lot homes range from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet and are accessed via a long driveway on the edge of the property with two-car tandem garages at grade level, bedrooms on the next floor, an open-plan living area above that, and a rooftop deck.

The spread of small-lot home development – from Silver Lake to North Hollywood to Venice – is generating “push back” from nearby residents. Neighbors have complained about the noise generated by rooftop decks and the lack of parking when small-lot homeowners place multiple sets of trash bins on the street. Unlike many condo or apartment projects, small-lot guidelines do not require private trash pick up. Another problem is that the inherent inconvenience of tandem garages encourages small-home residents to use street parking. Also, these projects lack proper setbacks and their tall and boxy designs are often incompatible with the scale and look of the rest of the neighborhood.


Recently, Councilmember Tom LaBonge proposed updating current guidelines and imposing stricter rules on Small Lot Subdivisions as a result of the many complaints generated by these projects. LaBonge’s reforms would include a 15-foot setback for small-lot developments; require private trash pickup to eliminate having as many as 20 individual trash barrels on the street; replace tandem parking garages with traditional two-car garages; mandate additional review of rooftop decks to reduce impact on adjoining neighbors; and require that the architectural character of the neighborhood be considered in the approval process.

“I strongly believe in tweaking the Small Lot Subdivision ordinance to ensure that new small lot subdivisions fit into the character of the existing community better,” said LaBonge.

Although no small-lot subdivision projects have been built in the Miracle Mile – given the number of multifamily zoned properties in our community, some adjoining single-family homes – it is only a matter of time before this sort of development arrives. On October 9, 2014, the board of directors of Miracle Mile Residential Association endorsed Councilmember LaBonge’s effort to reform the Small Lot Subdivision rules. These changes would mitigate the most egregious problems created by these projects.

“Frankly, I don’t think this sort of development belongs in the Miracle Mile,” said MMRA President Jim O’Sullivan, “but there’s nothing we can do to stop it. But Tom LaBonge’s reforms are a step in the right direction by reducing their impact on the neighborhood.”

For additional information:

LaBonge Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance Reform Motion

The Eastsider L.A.: Councilman Calls for Reviewing Small-Lot Development Rules

Larchmont Buzz: Developer Plans Small Lot Subdivision for 421 Van Ness Ave.

Los Angeles Times: In Urban L.A., Developers are Building Trendy Homes on Tiny Lots

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Proposed Ban on Single Family Home Demolitions Includes Miracle Mile

 

Proposed Ban on Single Family Home
Demolitions Includes Miracle Mile

A tidal wave of complaints about mansionization – and the inability of the existing Baseline Mansionization Ordinance [BMO] to stop the spread of McMansions – has prompted the City Council to propose a stopgap measure to protect neighborhoods under attack. A plan presented October 7th at the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee would impose temporary restrictions to stop or limit demolitions in areas with pending applications for either a Reduced Floor Area District [RFA] or Historic Protection Overlay Zone [HPOZ].

The Miracle Mile Residential Association submitted a request to create a RFA to Councilmember Tom LaBonge on September 13th. LaBonge appeared at the City Council committee to place the Miracle Mile on the list of neighborhoods to be included in the proposed Interim Control Ordinance [ICO].

The ICO – which is still to be finalized before being brought to a vote of the full City Council – would prohibit all single-family home demolitions while allowing only interior remodels that retain all exterior walls and roofs orfeature a less restrictive option that could allow complete demolitions but limit new structures to 120% of the size of the previously legally existing structure. Either measure would effectively stop mansionization, but MMRA President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon informed the committee that the MMRA preferred the first option prohibiting single-family home demolitions entirely.

Nearby areas to be included on the list of protected neighborhoods are La Brea-Hancock and North Beverly Grove, which – like the Miracle Mile – are seeking RFA status, and Carthay Square, which has been waiting nearly four years for approval of its HPOZ. Staffing cuts to the Department of City Planning have created a logjam of pending RFAs and HPOZs. Developers have been exploiting this backlog to quickly build McMansions before protections are officially implemented.

An ICO is a temporary ordinance that is renewable in six-month increments for up to two years. It would stop mansionization in the most vulnerable areas and give the city time to reform the BMO and tighten zoning rules so that neighborhoods could have more say about the density and scale of new home construction and remodeling.

The ICO would protect the Miracle Mile while our RFA is developed and HPOZ protection is pursued. The proposed ICO clearly has the support of the entire City Council and it is anticipated that it will be approved and implemented by the end of the year.

For additional information:

Los Angeles Times: Tighter L.A. ‘Mansionization’ Rules Coming Too Slowly, Critics Say

MMRA Request for Reduced Floor Area District, Sept. 13, 2014

MMRA Newsletter, September 2014: MMRA Pursues “Reduced Floor Area District” for R-1 Zoned Properties in Miracle Mile”

Los Angeles Times [Editorial]: L.A. is Bogged Down in Trying to Save Its Historic Structures

Los Angeles Times [Steve Lopez]: L.A. Should Act Quickly to Close Loopholes in Mansionization Ordinance

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MMRA Submits Comments on Academy Museum DEIR

MMRA Submits Comments
on Academy Museum DEIR

 

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] has submitted its comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report [DEIR] for the proposed Academy Museum at the former May Company site. The nearly 7,000-page DEIR was released on August 28, 2014. The 45-day commentary period closed on October 14, 2014.

The DEIR highlights the scale of the Academy Museum project:

  • The creation of a “Sign District” allowing for the historic May Company building to serve as a background for super-graphics and digital signs.
  • Demolition of the 1946 northern addition of the May Company building to allow for the construction of the 1000-seat “Sphere” theater with a 10,000 square foot enclosed view deck. In total, the overall project will house three theaters with a combined seating capacity of 1,350 persons.
  • A ground level “Piazza” beneath the “Sphere” theatre providing access to the northern entrance to the Academy Museum. The “Piazza” would host outdoor events and screenings with up to 2,500 attendees.
  • Banquet and conference space with a capacity for 1,200 persons, including a “ Tearoom” rooftop terrace with a capacity of 800 persons that will also be utilized for outdoor film screenings.
  • A Museum Café with seating for 150 persons and a 5,000 square foot Museum Store.
  • A projection of 860,000 visitors per year with no new on-site parking.
  • Movies premieres, concerts, and other special events.

The DEIR is a very lengthy and complex legal and technical document that is difficult to concisely summarize. (For an in-depth view, follow the links below to see the MMRA’s comments to the DEIR and our independent traffic expert’s assessment.) The MMRA objections to the project center on traffic congestion, traffic and parking intrusions, infrastructure, public services, and the overall impact of locating a major special events center in a heavily congested and densely populated residential area.

Here’s the backstory.  In the mid-2000s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS] began aggressively acquiring parcels in Hollywood as a future location for a museum. Working with the now defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which wielded its power of eminent domain, AMPAS secured a full city block south of Sunset Boulevard on Vine Street. Including other parcels, as well as their holdings at the adjacent Pickford Center of Motion Picture Study, AMPAS assembled approximately 8 acres.

Then, with the stock market crash in 2008 and ensuing recession, AMPAS’s fundraising campaign for the Hollywood museum site derailed. They were left holding a large parcel that was suddenly worth much less than they had paid.

Three years later the dream of an Academy museum was revived. In 2011 AMPAS signed a long-term lease to take over the former May Company from Museum Associates, which operates the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA].

This preamble about AMPAS’s thwarted plan to locate a museum in Hollywood is relevant because it spotlights what is so obviously wrong with their plan to locate the Academy Museum in the Miracle Mile: They are trying to fit all of their grand plans for an 8-acre project in Hollywood into a mere 2.2 acres at the May Company site.  It is not an easy fit.

AMPAS has had to resort to slight-of-hand in the DEIR to create the illusion that an Academy Museum is compatible with the Miracle Mile – so that they can preserve their objective to be a major tourist attraction and special events center. But the only way they can do that is to minimize its true impact on the community.

A 2008 Traffic Study for the proposed Hollywood museum location projected 7,800 visitors per day. The DEIR for the May Company location projects only 5,000 – for a total of 860,000 visitors per year. Museum experts not connected to AMPAS predict that the project will easily draw at least 1 million visitors annually, if not match or exceed LACMA’s current annual attendance of 1.2 million visitors.

Why does AMPAS claim that the Miracle Mile location will attract 2,800 fewer visitors per day than the former location in Hollywood? Answer: To justify the lack of any new on-site parking. In Hollywood AMPAS was going to build a 5-story parking facility with 850 spaces; at the May Company site they propose none.

But even with this miraculous reduction in the number of visitors, AMPAS still needs to conjure hundreds of visitors arriving on foot, bicycle, or wandering over from LACMA, to cram down their numbers to meet city-mandated parking requirements.

The DEIR tortures visitor projections and parking discounts so that it will support its most important finding: That there is already adequate parking at LACMA’s underground Pritzker garage and Spaulding surface lot for the Academy Museum to share parking with LACMA.

This defies reality. The residents in areas adjacent to LACMA have endured the parking and traffic intrusions of LACMA visitors for decades. Everyone knows that LACMA doesn’t have enough parking. The “Full” sign is up almost every weekend at the Pritzker garage and Spaulding Lot. But according to the DEIR, LACMA has hundreds of existing parking spaces to spare.

In truth, the Academy Museum is as much a major special events center as it is a museum, with 87,000 square-feet devoted to theaters, events space, cafes, and a store and 84,000 square-feet for exhibitions areas, collections, and exhibit support.

As stated in the DEIR, the primary purpose and objective of the project is “…providing film screening and premieres in a state-of-the-art theater competitive with venues in size and amenities.”  Translation: The museum hopes to steal some of the audience, and wrestle some of the revenue, from such popular film premier venues as the Chinese Theater, the El Captain, and the Cinerama Dome. The list of additional events, besides film premieres, includes Academy member and public film screenings, traveling shows, concerts, performances, cultural programming, spoken word productions, classes, video and press events, and film festivals. Each of these will attract anywhere from 100 to 1,325 attendees.

These “special events” are intended to “Provide for revenue-generating events that support sustainable Museum operations….” Not surprisingly, AMPAS places no limit on the number of special events per year nor does the DEIR indicate the maximum number of special events that the project could potentially accommodate on an annual basis. That could top 300 per year – especially given their desire for revenue.

From the blare of rooftop movie screenings to the glare of digital signs that violate the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay, to the onslaught of traffic and nightly events, the MMRA has concluded that the Academy Museum doesn’t fit the Miracle Mile. With all due respect, it should go back to where it came from: Hollywood. That’s where it was originally supposed to be. And that’s where tourists expect to find it.

For additional information:

Academy Museum Draft Environmental Impact Report

Miracle Mile Residential Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Tom Brohard and Associates – MMRA Commissioned Traffic Focused Review of the Academy Museum DEIR

Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Carthay Circle Neighborhood Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Los Angeles Times [Feb. 28, 2014]: Some Feel Cheated by Change in Film Academy’s Hollywood Museum Plans

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