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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“Nix Pix Museum” Says MMRA

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

The Academy Museum Draft Environmental Impact Report [DEIR] is the final chapter in a sad tale of incompetence and betrayal. Ultimately, it is a perfect example of the golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

We got our first look at the Academy Museum project in May 2013. It was a 104-page study that raised a few eyebrows, but that’s not out of the ordinary for a very large project. Then, on August 28, 2014, an almost 7000-page DEIR was dropped into our lap and we realized we were in the middle of a four-alarm fire. Aside from the shock at the size of the DEIR, our worst fears were confirmed: The Academy Museum is a full-tilt special event center masquerading as a museum – Nokia/L.A. Live in the Miracle Mile.

We were never supposed to be in this position. If Museum Associates (dbaLos Angeles County Museum of Art) had done what they promised when they bought the former May Company property in 1994, the landmark building would have been completely restored and now would be the home of:

  • Up to 20,000 square feet of additional gallery space for LACMA’s collection of prints, drawings, and photographs, providing enhanced accessibility and use by students, scholars, and the public.
  • The Boone Children’s Gallery with workshops, a video and new-media center, and other programs for children, young people, and families.
  • Curatorial and administrative offices.
  • Public amenities including a new restaurant and retail space.
  • An underground garage with 1000 parking spaces to replace the 1200-space May Company parking structure that was demolished – and ended up being the Pritzker garage with only 517 parking spaces.

But instead of restoring and readapting the May Company, they built the Resnick Pavilion, BCAM, and ARCO Plaza – piling on debt by issuing construction bonds to the tune of $383 million. And then

…In August 2011, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded LACMA’s bond rating and Museum Associates found themselves dog-paddling in the deep end of a financial mess of their own making. They needed an infusion of cash to stay afloat. Four months later, in October 2011, Museum Associates abandoned their promise to renovate the May Company for LACMA’s purposes and announced they had leased it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS] for an Academy Museum.

It was a shotgun wedding. AMPAS had flown too close to the sun, too. They had gone on a spending spree acquiring property at the top of the market to build a museum in Hollywood. Then the real estate market collapsed. But they still had a tidy dowry so the terms of this arranged marriage were that AMPAS would pay Museum Associates $36 million up front for a 110-year lease. That’s right, the 300,000 square-foot May Company and the 2.2 acres it sits on for $896.64 per day. It was fire sale, but Museum Associates was desperate for a quick fix to balance their books. In their haste, they conveniently forgot old promises.

In 2005 the residents of the Miracle Mile agreed to give up Ogden Drive (a public street connecting Wilshire Boulevard to 6th St.) allowing the original LACMA campus to be unified with the May Company parcel. In exchange, the May Company would be restored and readapted for LACMA’s uses. We lost a street and a great shortcut to 6th, but it seemed like a win-win proposition: May Company rescued, new gallery space for LACMA.

But then, Museum Associates eloped with AMPAS and now what do we get? A third of the original May Company will be demolished to make way for a giant sphere that looks like it rolled here from Disney World in Orlando; a million visitors a year with no new on-site parking; gridlock; traffic and parking intrusions to our neighborhoods; a digital sign district; super graphics; searchlights; celebrity premieres on Fairfax Avenue; paparazzi; screaming fans; long lines of limos; midnight screenings; concerts; and numerous special events. And will most of these functions be open to the public? Not likely.

He who has the gold rules. And that is why the City will grant all the variances and approvals requested for this project. It’s a done deal. AMPAS has spent over $1 million lobbying City Hall according to the most recent public records. For that kind of money, the City will turn a blind eye to the disastrous impact the Academy Museum will have on the community. A pair of ruby slippers and a major special events center are being plunked down in one the most notoriously congested areas in town – while all the politicians gather to sing a rousing chorus of “We’d Like to Welcome You to Munchkin Land.”

Of course, the politicians don’t want to make Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg mad. They want invitations to the groundbreaking. Talk about a photo op! But what will be missing from that picture is how Museum Associates betrayed the residents of the Miracle Mile and the surrounding communities when they climbed into bed with the Academy Museum.

[Ruby Slippers photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.]

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MMRA to Produce YouTube Interviews of CD4 Candidates

 

 

MMRA to Produce YouTube Interviews of Council District 4 Candidates

The race for Council District 4 is quickly shaping up to be the most contested open seat election in the city. Currently, there are 14 candidates running to replace Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who represents Council District 4 – a district that stretches from the Miracle Mile to Sherman Oaks [see map]. LaBonge has served on the council since 2001 and will be termed out in 2015.

The battle to represent one of the most influential districts in the city is attracting a broad range of candidates from City Hall insiders to complete unknowns – all who are vying to emerge on top in the March 3, 2015 general election.

Over the past two years, the Miracle Mile Residential Association has invested in social, online, and digital media to enhance and expand our ongoing commitment to community outreach. Our website, monthly emailnewsletter, and our MMRA Channel on YouTube have provided us with platforms to effectively communicate not only with the residents of the Miracle Mile, but with the city at large.

In the process of becoming a “digital” residential association we have witnessed first hand how good communication fosters engagement. It is in this spirit that the MMRA has decided to produce a series of video interviews with all of the candidates for Council District 4. Although traditional debates have their value, we want to provide an opportunity for voters to get to know each candidate in a “one on one” interview where their remarks are not hamstrung by the formal time constraints of a debate. This interview format will allow more “elbow room” for follow up questions and responses.

Ken Hixon, MMRA Vice President and Director of Communications, will conduct the interviews, which will be approximately 20 to 30 minutes in length and will cover topics relevant to both the Miracle Mile and Council District 4.

To date 12 candidates have committed to participating in this project:

Jay Beeber
Teddy Davis
Sheila Irani
Step Jones
Wally Knox
Fred Mariscal
Joan Pelico
John Nelson Perron, Jr.
Carolyn Ramsay
David Ryu
Steve Veres
Oscar Winslow

We are waiting for replies from:

Tera Bannister
Tomas O’Grady

 
The MMRA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization committed to providing a fair and open forum for the candidates to express their positions on a variety of issues to the residents of Council District 4. If there are questions or issues that you would like the candidates to respond to, please send your suggestions to:

 

 

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MMRA Pursues “Reduced Floor Area District”

[Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.]

 

MMRA Pursues “Reduced Floor Area District”

for R-1 Zoned Properties in the Miracle Mile

On September 4, 2014 the Miracle Mile Residential Association’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion in support of seeking Reduced Floor Area [RFA] District status for R-1 zoned properties in the Miracle Mile. On behalf of the board, MMRA President James O’Sullivan sent a letter to District 4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge formally requesting that he introduce a motion directing the Department of City Planning to draft a RFA overlay for the Miracle Mile limiting the base Floor Area Ratio to 0.42, increasing the side-yard setbacks of two-story homes and eliminating exemptions for over-height entries, balconies, covered porches, and attached garages.


The construction of a “McMansion” at 808 South Ridgeley [right] has galvanized the community to take this action. The implementation of a RFA would plug loopholes in the existing Baseline Mansionization Ordinance [BMO] and stop the construction of additional “super-sized” homes. A RFA would also serve as a stopgap measure to preserve the scale of our neighborhood while the community continues to do the consensus building required to create a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone [HPOZ] that would protect the traditional design and fabric of the Miracle Mile.The MMRA had hoped that recent efforts to reform the BMO would make this step unnecessary, but there is no relief in sight. The Miracle Mile is surrounded by HPOZs and by other neighborhoods that have already secured or are actively pursuing RFA status thwarting mansionization. It is apparent – given our lack of RFA and/or HPOZ status – that the Miracle Mile has become an easy and obvious target for developers of McMansions.A Reduced Floor Area District [see map] would limit the square footage for new construction and the remodeling of existing homes. It would only apply to single-family homes that are zoned R-1. Details of the proposed ordinance are contained in the letter the MMRA sent to Councilmember LaBonge [click here to read letter].

 

Click on map to enlarge.

 

Once the Department of City Planning launches the process of drafting a RFA overlay for the Miracle Mile they will hold a series of public hearings and workshops to garner community input. Although less time consuming and complex than creating an HPOZ, a RFA could take as long as a year (or more) to implement due to budget cuts and staffing shortages at the Department of City Planning – and the fact that the department is being deluged by new RFA applications from communities across the City that are desperate to stop mansionization. In Council District 4 alone there are already four RFAs waiting for action – the Miracle Mile would be the fifth RFA in this holding pattern.

It is a sad commentary on the state of our City that our leaders lack the political will to reform the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance in order to protect our historic and traditional neighborhoods from the intrusion of mansionization – and that residents must resort to creating RFA Districts to stop what the BMO was expressly intended to prevent. But it is very clear that our residents are ready to take any and all actions necessary to protect the quality of life in the Miracle Mile.

For additional information:

MMRA Declares War on McMansions!

Los Angeles Times Finally Starts to Report on the Mansionization Story

Preliminary Results of the Mansionization-HPOZ-RFA Survey

Mansionization Threatens Miracle Mile

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Lactose-free Politics • a message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

Lactose-free Politics

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

 

• July 2014: Sunset Blvd. water main rupture floods UCLA
• Sept. 2009: Coldwater Canyon water main rupture floods Ventura Blvd.
• The city replaces water mains once every 315 years
• 42% of Los Angeles’ 10,750 miles of sidewalks are in disrepair
• L.A. pays $3 million to $5 million a year for sidewalk injury claims
• 33% of the streets in the city have a score of D or worse
• Estimated cost of repairing these streets: $4 billion

The circa 1921 water main that spectacularly ruptured a few weeks ago on Sunset Boulevard and flooded UCLA with 20 million gallons of water reminds us that Los Angeles’ infrastructure is collapsing and there isn’t enough money to fix it. Not pipes, not roads, not sidewalks, not bridges, not fire department response times – not much of anything is getting improved, repaired, or replaced these days. It raises the obvious question: Where did all the money go that was supposed to maintain our infrastructure?

It is particularly interesting to me because many of the homes in the Miracle Mile were built in the 1920s. How much of our infrastructure was installed then – and how much of it is cracked or corroded and at the breaking point?

You would think there would be a place to look up current information on the state of our infrastructure, wouldn’t you? But there isn’t. And there’s a reason why such information is not readily available: because real estate development is the brightest star in the City’s overall dim economic firmament and if people really knew the truth about the state of our infrastructure they could use that information to slow or stop new development until the infrastructure issues are remedied. But this “no build” option is anathema to City Hall. As they say, money is the mother’s milk of politics – and to say “no” to developers would deprive politicians of a critical source of daily nutrition.

The City hasn’t always swept these facts under the rug. Back in 1996, when L.A. upgraded its general plan, the City made plans to chronicle infrastructure information and issue a yearly report so decision makers could prioritize public expenditures to ensure that our infrastructure could support development and jobs. It was, as the City declared at the time, an “elegant solution” to marry infrastructure with development.

Within a couple of years the City found this solution less than elegant. It became a source of acute political indigestion when the powers-that-be realized there wasn’t enough money to make sure neighborhoods had sufficient infrastructure to ensure public safety or quality of life. But they wouldn’t dare to publically admit that.

So, they declared to the taxpayers that the planning department has the discretion to determine the manner by which the monitoring and reporting requirements of the general plan are done. That “not all plan policies can be achieved in any given action, and in relation to any decision, some goals may be more compelling than others. On a decision-by-decision basis, taking into consideration factual circumstances, it is up to decision makers to decide how best to implement theadopted policies of the general plan in any way which best serves the public health, safety and general welfare.”  

That’s a mouthful. Let me translate for you.

What the city leaders really mean is they don’t want a little thing like failing infrastructure to prevent them from approving more and more high density real estate projects ­– they would miss the wonderful clinking sounds from the bottles of fresh milk that are delivered to their doorsteps every morning.

The City continues to hold the line that monitoring and reporting on infrastructure is optional. They are deploying that argument with a project in the Miracle Mile currently going through the Environmental Impact Report process.  This is an absurd spin on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This is “you can ask, but we can’t tell you because we don’t know – and even if we do, we don’t have to tell.”

Absent comprehensive and transparent monitoring and reporting on the state of the City’s infrastructure, how can we prioritize on what gets fixed and when? How do we budget our resources?

How many water mains could have been replaced with the money the City now must expend to compensate UCLA for the flooding of their campus? How many broken arms and collarbones must pedestrians endure before we come up with a rational plan to repair our jagged sidewalks? How large must the City’s annual budget deficits grow before we get a strong grip on city salaries and pensions?

The truth is hard to take. Behind the scenes, politicians say the public can’t handle the truth. That’s their way of rationalizing the artful way they dodge the facts about our infrastructure (and everything else). I think it’s the politicians who can’t handle the truth – for fear of being placed on a lactose-free diet.

 Sunset Blvd. sinkhole [Courtesy of KTLA]. Click image to enlarge.

For additional information:

Los Angeles Times:
Steve Lopez; A Case Study in L.A.’s Crumbling Infrastructure

Bloomberg Businessweek:
L.A. Faces $15 Billion Bill as Pipes Spring Leaks

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