Coming Soon to a Courtroom Near You: The Academy Museum

Coming Soon to a Courtroom Near You:

The Academy Museum

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

On May 6, the City’s Planning Department recommendations on the Academy Museum project were released.  As expected, the department declared that everything is fine with the project and you – the community groups and Neighborhood Council – have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. The traffic created by the project is fine. The inadequate parking is fine. The digital sign district is fine… Everything is just fine!

Of course, it is the Planning Department that’s wrong and they’ve now guaranteed that one more case will join the courthouse queue, attempting to force the City to obey its own rules.

A few weeks ago, I felt a bit of hope – guarded, of course – after a meeting with members of the Academy Museum team, including Managing Director Bill Kramer and attorney Bill Delvac. I told them there was support in the community for the museum but not for the attached 1000-seat special event center [illustration below]. I made the argument that people have been waiting many years for a motion picture museum and it was within reach if they could abandon the event center. There would still be traffic and parking issues with the 5,000 visitors a day, but I believed we could find a solution and I made several suggestions to get the ball rolling.

Since its inception in 1983 the Miracle Mile Residential Association has been making good deals that work for the neighborhood and developer alike. We have always practiced the art of compromise. Kramer and Delvac said they would get back to me, but they never did. That’s too bad because there was a deal to be made by people of good faith. Now there is only the legal route.

I hope that everyone reading this who had concerns about the impacts of the Academy Museum on our communities understands that the City really doesn’t care what you think. Our elected officials loudly profess to value you at election time, but otherwise they do whatever they want – and then dare you to stop them.

There are good people who work at City Hall – but their reasonable voices are drowned out by the “go along to get along” mantra of the Wizards of Spring Street. When Los Angeles residents raise their voices to object to a project they are politely thanked for their comments and the project is routinely blessed with the magic words that sweeps all of our objections under the rug, “No significant impact.”

That is what the Academy purchased with the million dollars they spent lobbying City Hall: the City’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

The Planning Department’s recommendations are cause for celebration for all those supporting the Academy Museum and its special events center – but that feeling will be fleeting. Sooner or later they will be on the other side of the argument and they won’t know what hit them. Every neighborhood in this city is prey to overdevelopment, traffic intrusion, and infrastructure on the brink of collapse. The boosters of the Academy Museum will find themselves in our shoes one day, battling some gargantuan project that will dramatically impact their own neighborhoods.

They too will learn what “no significant impact” means. It is not a merely a technical phrase for grading a particular aspect of a project, it is also an apt description for the effect that the concerns of the residents have on City Hall.

The courtroom is now the only forum where the residents of Los Angeles are having a significant impact. The City has lost case after case: the 2012 Hollywood Community Plan Update was rescindedconstruction was halted on a Target Store at Sunset and Westernthe CIM Group high rise on Sunset had its occupancy certificate revoked and its tenants evicted; and recently a judge ordered a re-do of the Environmental Impact Report for the Millennium skyscrapers surrounding Capitol Records.

So, don’t be surprised when you see the Academy Museum project on that roster, too.

For additional information:

Los Angeles Department of City Planning: Academy Museum Recommendation Report

Park La Brea News/Beverly Press, 4/16/15: Mid-City West Nixes Museum’s Sphere

Preliminary Results of Miracle Mile Neighborhood Traffic Mitigation Plan

Preliminary Results of Miracle Mile
Neighborhood Traffic Mitigation Plan

In October 2014 the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] commissioned a “Neighborhood Traffic Mitigation Plan” of the Miracle Mile. The MMRA selected Gibson Transportation Consulting, Inc. to prepare a comprehensive study of the area with special focus on 8th Street between La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue. The study includes collecting traffic counts, reviewing accident reports, and making recommendations for traffic controls.

The MMRA’s principal objective for this traffic plan is to improve the safety of our streets for pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists alike. Short of barricading the entire Miracle Mile, there is very little that can be done to reduce the overall volume of traffic. The implementation of the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit curb lanes on Wilshire Boulevard and impending subway construction will only add to the number of vehicles coursing through our residential streets – a situation already exacerbated by Waze and other way-finding apps that send motorists shortcutting through the Miracle Mile.

MMRA President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon met with Patrick Gibson, President of Gibson Transportation Consulting, Inc., and Ben Seinfeld, Field Deputy for Council District 4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge, to review preliminary results of the traffic study on April 1, 2015.

The MMRA is pleased with Gibson’s thoroughness and professionalism. The study is a work in progress and the initial research answers some questions and raises others. Of course, devising improvements is one thing – financing the cost of their implementation is a much more difficult challenge that will have to be addressed by the community at a later date.

Gibson is continuing their work on the study and once the final Neighborhood Traffic Mitigation Plan is completed it will be shared with the entire community.

Here is a summary of key elements of the preliminary findings:

Additional stop signs or traffic signals on 8th Street

Installation of stop signs and/or traffic signals is governed by standards dictated by the State of California. Traffic counts along 8th Street are not sufficient to meet state requirements for the installation of additional stop signs or lights between La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue.

Continental crosswalks

Continental crosswalks – broad  “Zebra stripe” crosswalks – have been proven to reduce injuries and deaths by making pedestrians more visible to motorists.  Gibson recommends that continental crosswalks be added to every 4-way stop and traffic signaled intersection along 8th Street.

Cochran Avenue and 8th Street is a priority as this intersection is used by children attending Cathedral Chapel School. The pedestrian signals at this location need to be updated to modern “count-down” models, as well.

“Line of sight” issues along 8th Street

North/south streets between La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue intersect 8th Street at an acute angle that can make it difficult to see cross traffic and ascertain whether it is safe to cross or turn onto 8th Street. This “line of sight” problem is a historic source of accidents.

Gibson surveyed every intersection along 8th Street and observed that overgrown foliage on some corner lots obstruct the field of vision for motorists and cyclists. Gibson is preparing an inventory of these properties with foliage that exceeds code limits for corner lots.

Gibson’s investigation revealed that the intersection of Masselin Avenue and 8th Street does not conform to minimum standards for adequate line of sight. Northbound vehicles on Masselin Avenue must pull well out onto 8th Street to check for oncoming cross traffic, making it dangerous to cross 8th Street or to make a left turn [see Gibson charts linked below].

Removing three-to-five parking spots on the south side of 8th Street just east of Masselin Avenue would improve line of sight, but restricting northbound traffic on Masselin Avenue to right turns only at 8th Street might be a better solution. Gibson is analyzing both options.

Olympic Boulevard

The Los Angeles Police Department only takes reports of accidents that involve personal injury. This skews the official accident tally by not including the majority of accidents: Those that do not result in physical injury to motorists.

A review of LAPD accident reports indicates the risks of crossing or making left turns onto Olympic Boulevard, particularly during “peak hours” (morning and afternoon rush hour periods). Restricting traffic on north/south streets intersecting with Olympic Boulevard to right turns only during peak hours would lower the number of collisions. Gibson is studying which Olympic Boulevard intersections this mitigation might be called for.

Parking

Construction of major “infill” apartment developments on the former surface parking lots behind the Desmond’s and Dominguez-Wilshire buildings, as well as the closing of the public parking lots on Detroit Street (north of Wilshire Boulevard) for use as subway construction yards, have created a severe parking shortage at the eastern end of the Miracle Mile.

Parking at the western end of the Miracle Mile is strained by visitors to Museum Row, new apartment and condo developments, and by older multi-unit buildings with little or no off-street parking.

This parking crisis will be worsened with the commencement of major subway construction along Wilshire Boulevard, which will eliminate some parking spaces near the subway construction sites.

The MMRA is collaborating with Metro, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and Council District 4 to explore adding diagonal parking to streets between 8th Street and Wilshire Boulevard. Gibson is preparing studies on how many new parking spaces would be gained and what impact it would have on traffic patterns.

Gibson recommended that those streets in Miracle Mile without Preferential Parking seek that status and those with Preferential Parking petition the City for 24-hour/seven-days-a-week permit parking only. The MMRA strongly endorses this recommendation and has been encouraging the residents to take action for the last year or so.

The MMRA has created a “Preferential Parking Primer” on its website to aid residents seeking Preferential Parking for their block and for those who desire to change their respective permit parking restrictions.

For additional information:

Gibson Transportation Consulting, Inc.: Miracle Mile Study Graphics and Charts

Larchmont Buzz: Wilshire-Detroit Parking Lot Closure

KPCC – Southern California Public Radio: People Finding their ‘Waze’ to Jamming Once-Hidden Streets

Betrayal in the Council District 4 Race • One Person’s Opinion

Betrayal in the Council District 4 Race
One Person’s Opinion

by James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

In the Western classic, One Eyed Jacks (1961), starring Marlon Brando and Karl Malden, one line really jumped off the screen and has stuck with me over the years. Early in the movie Malden’s character betrays Brando’s character, resulting in hard time in a Mexican prison for Brando and riches for Malden. Five years later, Brando escapes and goes after Malden – who has used his wealth to become sheriff of Monterey California. In the twists and turns that follow, a violent confrontation takes place between Brando and Malden. Malden uses his position as sheriff to frame Brando and have him locked up. Knowing that Brando’s character will be hanged in two days, Malden has one last private talk with him and attempts to excuse his earlier betrayal, to which Brando replies: “You may be a one-eyed jack around here, but I’ve seen the other side of your face.”

To me this line encapsulates the age-old story of betrayal.

In real life betrayal is rarely that clear cut or dramatic, but sometimes it’s close. What follows is my reflection as the author of the Transparency Pledge signed by 12 of the Council District 4 candidates.

On Monday, March 16th, a whole bunch of us trooped down to City Hall for a hearing on the Academy Museum and event center project (at the former May Co. at Fairfax and Wilshire). This project has caused great concern in the community and we were there to make sure our voices were heard.

To the great dismay of members of the Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA) who were in attendance, Carolyn Ramsay arrived and promptly set about expounding on how wonderful the project would be and completely cut the legs out from under all the neighbors who had just testified.

It was like we had not been there, that we were invisible. Among other things, she stated that “the Miracle Mile went from kind of a – there were tumbleweeds blowing down Wilshire 20 years ago. There was nothing happening. And now it has really blossomed.”

Yes, she said tumbleweeds – you can’t make this stuff up.

She also said she was happy to see that the Academy was working so closely with the neighborhood. Now, maybe she meant the business types or film buffs from all over L.A. who showed up to testify in favor of the museum, because she could not have been talking about those of us who live within a few blocks of the project.

She closed her statement with how it is important that the Academy listen carefully to the community and that they’ve done this so far. Again, I’m not sure what “community” she is talking about.

Carolyn’s cheerleading for the Academy Museum and event center was just after the Vice Presidents of the MMRA and I had described our fears about traffic, neighborhood intrusion, parking issues, the sign district, and other infrastructure problems. Representatives of Carthay Circle Homeowners and Beverly Wilshire Homes also had voiced similar concerns. Words like fearfulstrikes fear, and terrified peppered the testimony from those living closest to the project.

Yet, Carolyn didn’t offer the slightest acknowledgement of the community’s concerns as she gushed over the Academy Museum and event center. It was clear that she had given no consideration to the residents most impacted by this project. Her blind endorsement of the project could only be explained in one of several ways: Either she is oblivious to the issues voiced by the community or she will support big development no matter what the consequences to the neighborhood.

I have known Carolyn for a long time and never in my wildest imagination did I suspect she would so completely turn her back on the community. I had just witnessed another side of Carolyn Ramsay.

Given that Carolyn is presenting herself as a champion for our neighborhoods and as the candidate who will work for the community and hold City Hall accountable, I found her assessment of the Academy Museum and event center project beyond flawed.

But this was one of the reasons why I developed the Candidate Transparency Pledge. I wanted a document that spelled out how they would go about making decision on land use matters and more. I wanted to be able to hold their feet to the fire and in my opinion, as its author, Carolyn had just violated the pledge. She signed a document saying– among other things – that she would base her decisions on policies as outlined in the General Plan and require that the City officially document and demonstrate that there is sufficient infrastructure to support new development.

We all know what is happening with infrastructure in this City. Some of it is visible like crumbling streets, buckled sidewalks, and untrimmed trees – while some things like cracked water and sewer pipes, as well as aging power systems are not.

New development requires all kinds of infrastructure to support its use. Some issues like our water supply scream from the headlines every day and we know we have to make do with less, not more. So the pledge was to ensure that new development not overburden the infrastructure for the residents and businesses in the neighborhoods.

Maybe Carolyn believes that because she hasn’t been elected yet that the pledge doesn’t count. Well, in my world you either protect neighborhoods because it is the right thing to do or you do not.

If Carolyn could be so cavalier about a project with such serious impacts to the neighborhood how could we ever trust her to advocate for us on anything? I have concluded that I, for one, can’t. Carolyn can get all the endorsements in the world saying she is a protector of neighborhoods, but actions speak much louder than words. Unfortunately, her action at the hearing demonstrated that she is all about “business as usual.”

On the way back from the hearing, I was asked why I thought she did it – why she showed up to speak about a project that has the potential to be catastrophic to the neighborhoods surrounding it? I could only answer that I believed it was a command performance, one she felt she could not ignore. What a shame.

The Miracle Mile is not the only neighborhood with huge projects on the drawing board. Sherman Oaks has the Sunkist building expansion; Hollywood has 8150 Sunset Blvd.; Windsor Square/Hancock Park has the CIM Group Park Mile Specific Plan project; and those are just a few off the top of my head. All require sufficient infrastructure including public safety and mitigation against traffic intrusion into their neighborhoods.

All of us need and deserve more than business as usual!

For additional information:

Council District 4 Candidate Transparency Pledge

MMRA Meets with Metro • Seeks to Shift Nighttime Utility Relocations to Daytime Hours

 

MMRA Meets with Metro

Seeks to Shift Nighttime Utility Relocations
to Daytime Hours

Miracle Mile Residential Association President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon met with representatives of Metro and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation [LADOT] on January 27, 2015 to discuss the noise and vibration impacts of ongoing nighttime utility relocation work.

At the meeting the MMRA presented a letter to Metro with suggestions for how nighttime noise disturbances could either be eliminated or better mitigated. The letter stated “It is clear after a year of Advanced Utility Relocations (AUR) that nighttime construction in the Miracle Mile – one of the most densely populated urban corridors in the country – cannot be done without disturbing the peace. Such work requires a super-human level of noise mitigation that has been demonstrated to be impractical to achieve on a consistent basis.”

The MMRA requested that LADOT grant Metro permission to work during morning and evening peak hours so that the majority of utility relocations could be shifted to daytime.

In a written reply, Kasey Shuda, Metro Construction Relations Manager, replied: “If the Los Angeles Department of Transportation was to approve peak hour exemptions for the project, from 6AM-9AM and 4PM-7PM, they would require two lanes of traffic remain open in each direction. This would cripple the ability of the contractor to complete a majority of AUR [advanced utility relocation] work due to the current condition of Wilshire Blvd. In order to keep two lanes of traffic open in each direction the project would be required to complete street reconfigurations including landscape removal, median demolition, signal relocation and street lighting relocations. These activities are not scheduled to take place until just prior to pile drilling. Pile drilling is the first activity of major subway construction. It is scheduled to take place first at the Wilshire/La Brea station in late 2015.”

The MMRA’s position is that since street reconfiguration is already in the plans to allow for the construction of the underground subway stations at La Brea and Fairfax, this reconfiguration should take place sooner than later to allow utility relocations to be done during daytime hours.

At the meeting Metro representatives acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to assure that nighttime construction won’t keep some residents awake, but that their goal was to disturb as few residents as possible. The MMRA takes issue with this calculation, which measures the success of mitigation by how many people are kept awake. We believe that every resident living along the Wilshire corridor has a fundamental right to sleep at night and that the only effective means to ensure this right is to stop subway construction between 11 PM and 7AM.


Click image to view video.

In its letter the MMRA also discussed proposed mitigations at the four subway construction sites to be located in the Miracle Mile. “Metro needs to go beyond mere compliance with the minimal requirements of the noise code if they want to generate good will in the community,” said Hixon. “Nine years of subway construction is going wear nerves thin, especially when nearby residents are kept awake all night.”

To date over 750 people have signed the “Sleepless in the Miracle Mile” petition opposing nighttime subway construction. The MMRA will continue to work with Metro and its contractors to make this lengthy project go as smoothly as possible, but we will not alter our opposition to nighttime construction. Nighttime subway construction and a good night’s sleep are inherently incompatible goals.

MMRA Letter to Metro, 27 Jan. 2015

Metro Letter to MMRA, 3 Feb. 2015

For additional information:

Park LaBrea News/Beverly Press: Noise from subway work rattles nerves at night

MMRA website: Subway Construction page

 

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

“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.]

MMRA Endorses Mid City West Trolley Plan

[From the November 2013 edition of the MMRA newsletter:]

preferred trolley

The Mid City West Trolley Plan

[or how to get you husband to leave the car at home…]

Last June billionaire developer Rick Caruso introduced the idea of an extension of the Grove’s fixed rail trolley to connect the popular shopping center with Museum Row at Wilshire and Fairfax. Recently, it was announced that the Los Angeles Museum of Art had teamed with Caruso to study the proposal. The results of an engineering study Caruso commissioned are expected later this month.

But several years before Caruso’s plan, Julie Anne Brame had a problem. Brame, who lives in the Crescent Heights/Melrose area, likes to walk – her husband doesn’t. After work, Brame would often encounter resistance from her husband when she suggested that they walk down to 3rd Street to try one of the many restaurants there. He would usually prefer to drive, even though parking is always difficult. Out of her idle wish that there were some easy way to quickly get around the area – so that she could get her husband out of the house without driving – came an idea: the Mid City West Trolley.

Brame is a resourceful woman and persistent, too. She kicked around the idea with like-minded friends and a plan evolved to have a rubber wheel trolley that would connect Melrose, Fairfax, the Grove, the Miracle Mile, La Brea, 3rd Street, the Beverly Center, and the Cedars-Sinai medical complex. She and her supporters did their homework, studying successful rubber wheel trolley projects across the country.

Trolley map

They took a fresh and modern approach to develop a program that would connect densely populated neighborhoods, existing parking garages, and popular destinations to facilitate circulation and reduce local automobile traffic. Their target riders would be residents, business patrons, employees, students, and tourists.

Their research helped them devise a check list: the trolleys would have to come every 15 minutes, their time of arrival easily monitored via a GPS smart phone app, they would have to provide free wifi access for passengers, and be comfortable and fun. The trolley program would also have to be flexible to allow for route expansion and to navigate around obstacles, like the upcoming subway construction in the Miracle Mile.

They knew that to succeed their trolley would need savvy marketing and promotion and both private and public support. And it would take a lot of outreach. That’s when Brame looked around for a way to learn the ropes and promote her trolley plan. So, in 2011 she got herself elected to the board of Mid City West Community Council [MCWCC]. As she got the lay of the land – how things get done in L.A. – she began to pitch her trolley idea to fellow board members, representatives of homeowner and residential associations, City council members, and anyone else who would listen.

Her skills of persuasion and well thought out approach began to win fans. She did not have to make a hard sell: ever worsening traffic congestion constricts travel and commerce in the area and the advent of the Purple Line subway extension makes “first mile-last mile” transportation from subway stations imperative. And the projected one million visitors a year to the soon-to-be Academy Museum at the former May Company will only exacerbate gridlock along Fairfax. The consensus was clear: something had to be done.

Soon, MCWCC endorsed a motion in support of studying the feasibility of Brame’s trolley plan, Councilmember Tom Labonge publicly announced his support at recent meeting of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce, and the Miracle Mile Residential Association will consider a motion in support of the project at its upcoming board meeting on November 7th. And even Rick Caruso gave a nod to the Mid City Trolley by asking his engineers to include a review of Brame’s plan in the study of his fixed rail trolley, which many residents strongly oppose on grounds that it would only further clog traffic and present many safety issues.

While Caruso’s fixed rail trolley grabs all the headlines, Brame’s rubber wheel trolley steadily gained traction. Brame is clear that her plan is very much a work in progress and that the current proposed route could and probably will change depending on which parts of the area are most supportive. Hence, the inherent advantage of a rubber wheel trolley – the route can be expanded to meet new demand and include more of the Mid City West area.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation would operate the system, but the financing is complex. It will take a mix of private and public money to get the trolley rolling and, long term, it would take an ongoing financial commitment from the City to sustain it. Although, Brame aspires to follow the example of other successful rubber wheel trolley programs that generate substantial income from advertising revenues.

The initial plan is to begin on weekends to test the concept with service beginning of Fridays from 6 PM to midnight; Saturdays 10 AM to midnight; and Sundays from 11 AM to 10 PM. If this pilot plan succeeds service would be expanded to 7 days per week.

And, perhaps – in a year or so – Brame and her husband (and the twins she is soon expecting) will be able to leave their car at home when they go out for dinner.

[A motion endorsing the Mid City West Trolley Plan was adopted by the Board of Directors of the Miracle Mile Residential Association at our November 7, 2013 meeting.]

MMRA Appeals Petersen Museum Facade

[The following three articles are reprinted from the September 1, 2013 edition of the Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter. To see the articles in their original format with accompanying graphics, maps, and links to documents referenced herein click HERE.]

MMRA PRESIDENT APPEALS PETERSEN FACADE

James O’Sullivan, President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA], has appealed the Department of Planning’s approval of plans by the Petersen Automotive Museum to erect a new facade on their building on the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

O’Sullivan appealed the decision on grounds that the facade violates the design guidelines of the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay District [CDO] and ignores the CDO mandate that the museum maintain a pedestrian entrance on Wilshire Boulevard during operating hours, allowing the Petersen to continue to turn its back to Museum Row.

Plans for the facade as well as the interior renovations of the museum were officially announced by Petersen officials on August 18 at the Concours d’Elegance classic car show in Pebble Beach – but renderings of the controversial façade were leaked to the media in early July, accompanied by stories that the museum was selling off a substantial portion of its collection.

Alarmed by this situation, the MMRA requested a meeting with representatives of the Petersen. O’Sullivan and MMRA Vice President Ken Hixon met with Terry Karges, Executive Director of the Petersen Museum, and their planning consultant, Melody Kanschat, on July 28. At this meeting O’Sullivan and Hixon were surprised to learn that not only had plans for the facade been already submitted to the Department of Planning – without any notice to the community – but that the plans had been approved by the City ten days earlier, on July 18. They also learned that the decision would become final unless an appeal was filed by August 2.

With only a few days to act – and with no time to call for a Board of Director’s meeting – O’Sullivan filed an individual appeal on behalf of the MMRA. The Central Area Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on the appeal on September 10.

The MMRA Board of Directors adopted a motion approving O’Sullivan’s appeal at its August meeting. The board is very troubled by the fact that the community was kept in the dark about the Petersen’s plans. The MMRA is committed to community involvement in the decision-making process (this newsletter is an example of that commitment). We are a consensus-based organization – but it is difficult to arrive at consensus if our residents don’t have all the facts in a timely manner.

The MMRA is also gravely concerned that the “jungle gym” design of the Petersen façade will be an attractive nuisance. The ribbon design reaching all the way down to the sidewalk will provide an easy foothold to secure climbers and will tempt young people and graffiti artists to scale the building.

The attractive nuisance doctrine states that a landowner may be held liable for the injuries to minors trespassing on their property who are unable to appreciate the risks posed by an object or condition. By approving this design, the City of Los Angeles – and its taxpayers – could share financial exposure for damages should a minor be injured climbing the Petersen facade.

The MMRA also fears that the Petersen facade will be a magnet for taggers and graffiti artists, who are notorious for the dare-devil risks they assume to prominently place their “tags.” They have been known to precariously hang over speeding traffic in order to tag freeway signs. High visibility is the supreme objective of taggers; the Petersen’s location on a busy intersection at the western gateway to the Miracle Mile presents an ideal canvas for such vandalism.

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WHEN A CIRCLE IS A SQUARE

A geometry lesson from the Los Angeles Planning Department

by James O’Sullivan, President, MMRA

The Los Angeles Planning Department has once again made a mumbo jumbo finding to justify a project it wants to approve. On July 18 the Director of Planning issued an opinion about the proposed new facade of the Petersen Automotive Museum that strains credulity. But this is par for how the City operates. I don’t have anything against the Petersen – I’ve taken many visitors there – but, in my humble opinion, the new facade design is just plain ugly. It reminds me of the psychedelic boarders of an old Grateful Dead poster. It’s definitely “trippy” – and it seems no more relevant to an automotive museum than it does to the Miracle Mile.

There is a Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay [CDO] that many of us worked for years to get approved and it is supposed to make sure that these kinds of designs do not happen in the Miracle Mile. However, the Petersen and the City did not deem it necessary to share this new design with anyone in the Miracle Mile, they just handled it in secret and approved it. And, love it or hate it, it really irks me that the community was shut out of this process. So, on behalf of the MMRA, I appealed the approval of the Petersen’s new facade and look forward to everyone – pro and con – having the opportunity to weigh in on this project when it goes before the Central Planning Commission on September 10.

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – particularly when it comes to modern architecture – but you can read the CDO yourself and see that it contains clear language about horizontal and vertical design elements.

Most people would agree that a circle is not a square and a horizontal line is not the same thing as a vertical line. That is not the case for the Los Angeles Director of Planning. After examining the application from the Petersen, the Director of Planning called horizontal lines vertical. Actually, what he said was that the “facade upgrade consists of installing a series of stainless-steel curvilinear ribbons. . .which provides a new horizontal and vertical rhythm and provides a sense of scale to the facade.”

Horizontal and vertical rhythm? Is he describing the Petersen facade or judging an episode of Dancing with the Stars? That is just plain nonsense. How can you look at the renderings of the facade and reconcile it to what it says in the CDO?

The approval stated, “The project has been reviewed by staff and has been found to be in substantial conformance with the design guidelines.” I have learned over the years that when anyone from the City mentions substantial conformance it means they will deem that a square is a circle if it suits their logic. The guidelines that that City must implement state that plans must conform to the CDO. Either they do or they don’t. There is no such language as “substantial conformance” to be found in the CDO.

The Planning Director admits that the Petersen design doesn’t really fit the Miracle Mile when he says: “Although the facade is very different from the surrounding commercial buildings, the unique facade design as proposed revitalizes the building and at the same time introduces an aesthetic design that enhances the area. It is consistent with the innovative modern architecture design present in the nearby museum uses (my italics).”

Normally, I would take the word “present” to mean LACMA West, the Bing, Hammer, Ahmanson, Broad, or Resnick galleries at LACMA or the A+D museum next door. But he seems to be saying that the Petersen facade is “consistent” to proposed designs that have yet to be approved, let alone built, such as the Zumthor “ink spot” redo of LACMA or the glass bubble theater the Academy Museum plans to build on the north side of the former May Company building.

And, to top it all off, the Planning Department seems completely oblivious to public safety. A child or teenager looking at the façade won’t see “innovative modern architecture” – they’ll see a giant jungle gym. The design screams: “Climb me!” And they will. And there will be injuries and lawsuits. And the taxpayers will find themselves on the hook for a share of the damages because the Planning Department approved a shiny, four-story attractive nuisance.

Although a design like the Petersen facade was never anticipated by those of us on the citizen advisory committee who created the Miracle Mile CDO, it is exactly what we were trying to prevent. The CDO was a product of community input and consensus. The approval of the Petersen facade was a well-executed end run around the community.

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What is the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay District?

In 2004 the Los Angeles City Council approved the creation of the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay Guidelines and Standards [CDO]. The CDO covers all commercially zoned parcels and structures along Wilshire Boulevard between Sycamore Avenue on the east to Fairfax Avenue on the west, with the exception of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Hancock Park.

The purpose of the CDO is to enhance the physical and aesthetic qualities of this distinctive section of Wilshire Boulevard. It addressed one of the key tenants of the City’s General Plan Framework to “determine the appropriate urban design elements at the neighborhood level” in order to create a more pleasant, pedestrian-oriented environment.

The impetus to create the CDO was sparked by a rash of new construction in the early-2000s that was inconsistent with the pattern of historically significant architecture in the Miracle Mile. Some of these new buildings paid little attention to the design of their Wilshire facades. They did not have open pedestrian entrances on Wilshire Boulevard, their display windows were blacked-out, and their signage was out-of-scale. These new buildings visually degraded the character and unique identity of the community [such as the Smart & Final store].

At that time, the preservation and restoration of the Miracle Mile’s mainly Art Deco historical buildings were also threatened and it became apparent the only way to establish standards for the rehabilitation of these unique historic resources was by means of a CDO. Hence, the CDO created two sets of architectural guidelines, one for new and existing developments and one specific to historic structures that are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the former May Company building.

In its recommendation supporting the creation of the CDO, the Department of Planning wrote that the CDO “will ensure that future development provide a sense of place in terms of design by applying unique architectural guidelines and standards developed for this area, and will help prevent the development of structures with exterior design that is not compatible with the surrounding community.”

A citizen advisory committee was formed to work with the Department of Planning to craft the CDO. The committee consisted of residents and business and property owners, who were charged with making the Miracle Mile section of Wilshire Boulevard a more pleasant and attractive street and to address issues of urban design, land use compatibility, and quality of life issues. James O’Sullivan, President of the MMRA, served on the committee and Renee Weitzer, Land Use and Planning Deputy for Councilmember Tom Labonge, was in regular attendance.

The CDO that emerged through the hard work of the citizen advisory committee, as approved by the City, mandates in its introduction that “All projects within the boundaries of the Miracle Mile CDO District should comply with the following Design Guidelines and Development Standards.”

Q & A:

Why was the Los Angeles County Museum [LACMA] exempted from the Miracle Mile CDO?

LACMA is a county institution located in Hancock Park, which is a county park. The CDO is under the purview of the City of Los Angeles, whose regulations do not apply to Los Angeles County property.

The MMRA is particularly puzzled by the Planning Department’s approval of the Petersen facade on the grounds that “it is consistent with innovative modern architecture design present in nearby museum uses.” The logic of this statement in ambiguous – it appears to be a reference to LACMA, given that it is the only nearby museum with innovative modern buildings present. But as explained above, LACMA is not legally bound by the guidelines and standards of the Miracle Mile CDO. If, indeed, they are referring to LACMA, then the Planning Department found that the Petersen facade was consistent to the CDO by comparing it to a museum that is exempt from the CDO. This slight of hand ignores the purpose, intent, and spirit of the CDO.

Does the CDO prohibit modern architecture?

No, not at all. The CDO does establish practical guidelines regarding setback, having a Wilshire pedestrian entrance, avoiding garage driveway entrances on Wilshire, etcetera – as well as general design standards regarding massing, architectural elements, and building materials – but it doesn’t require that new projects be constructed in an Art Deco or any other particular style.

Who enforces the CDO?

The Los Angeles City Department of Planning. But – as evidenced by their endorsement of the Petersen facade – it is obvious that anything goes with the Department of Planning.

The MMRA recently requested that our Councilmember, Tom Labonge, reinstate the Miracle Mile CDO citizen advisory board – but he refused. He maintains that the Department of Planning is solely franchised to implement the CDO. It is a Catch 22 situation for the Miracle Mile. The Department of Planning is in charge of implementing guidelines and standards that they feel free to redefine at will – without any public input.

Neither the Department of Planning nor the Petersen Museum did any public outreach before the plan for the new facade was submitted and approved by the City. The MMRA only accidentally learned of the project after it had been signed off on – and only a few days away from the expiration of the appeal process.

Since the filing of an appeal by MMRA President James O’Sullivan, the Petersen has belatedly begun its outreach campaign. And it is only because the appeal was filed that the public will have any input on this project at all.

Obviously, since the Department of Planning has apparently abdicated its responsibility to enforce the CDO, it falls upon the MMRA to fight for its implementation. To some the CDO is an imperfect document, but it was created by consensus to address the concerns of the community. The MMRA fully supports efforts to improve the CDO or to correct any of its defects. But it cannot be casually dismissed; it is the law in the Miracle Mile.

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