“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.]

2003 vs. 2011 Infrastructure Report Card

“Shut up. We are busy.”
A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President
On April 14, the day it hit the iceberg, the Titanic received seven heavy ice warnings, including one from the Californian less than an hour before the fateful collision. The message said: “We are stopped and surrounded by ice.” Titanic sent back a message that said, “Shut up. We are busy.” – Seth Borenstein

Over 90 percent of an iceberg is underwater. It is a simple but sometimes treacherous fact. Deteriorating infrastructure is Los Angele’s iceberg. Every day we deal with potholed streets that flatten tires and buckled sidewalks that break arms. Trees go untrimmed, alleys fill with refuse, ageing water mains fracture, and two-thirds of our streets go without a weekly cleaning. But that is only what we see: the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

What many people are also not aware of – unless they have direct dealings with City Hall – is the continual diminishment of municipal services across a broad spectrum. Early this year the residents of the 700 block of South Genesee Avenue in the Miracle Mile applied to the City to limit parking on their block to permit holders only. This block has older apartment buildings with little or no off-street parking and its proximity to a popular gym and Museum Row had driven the residents to the breaking point. They obtained the necessary majority of signatures, had their petition vetted, and celebrated when it was approved. Parking relief had finally arrived. But then they learned that it would take eight to nine months for eight new parking signs to be installed. Eight to nine months?

The reason for the delay: the City’s street sign department has been so decimated by budget cuts that they are down to a skeleton crew and buried with backorders.

Is this a trivial example of how city services are falling ever further behind? It probably is to the people who wait months to have a burned out street lamp replaced or years for curb-cuts at their intersection.

But from the trivial to the profound, every City department is failing to provide adequate service to the residents and businesses of Los Angeles. Yet, like the Titanic speeding across the North Atlantic, the City ignores basic services while it rushes to approve new developments – one after another – without regard to the impact these projects will have on our crumbling infrastructure.

In a 2009 audit of the City’s Capital Improvement Program then City Controller Laura Chick concluded: “…that the City of Los Angeles does not have a citywide capital improvement program and capital budgeting process to adequately identify capital and major equipment needs, plan for solutions and necessary improvements, fund and approve its capital projects.”

In other words, the City is sailing without a chart – and has been for a long time.

Until recently it has been impossible to know the true condition of our infrastructure, but a recent Public Records Act request by the organizationFix the City yielded a never-before-seen 2010/2011 “Infrastructure Report Card” that appears to have never been released.

The report card looks like this:

But this 2010/2011 report card only tells part of the story about our failing infrastructure. When compared with a 2003 “Infrastructure Report Card”prepared for then Mayor Hahn the results are devastating. It not only shows that many of these grades have gone down since 2003, but it also reveals that much of the money required to fix our infrastructure was neither secured nor spent at that time.  Now in 2014 the amounts needed to repair our infrastructure have almost doubled and the cupboards are bare.

Also, several critical aspects of the City’s infrastructure covered in 2003 report card were not even mentioned in 2010/2011 report card: water, power systems, telecommunications, airports, public buildings, parks and the Port of Los Angeles. It’s as if the City wishes to “drop a course” to avoid a failing grade. But these items are conspicuous in their absence.

So, what do these report cards say about the City? A quote from the recently released 2020 Commission report says it best: “Los Angeles is sinking into a future in which it no longer can provide the public services to which our people’s taxes entitle them and where the promises made to public employees about a decent and secure retirement simply cannot be kept. City revenues are in long-term stagnation and expenses are climbing. Year by year, our City – which once was a beacon of innovation and opportunity to the world – is becoming less livable.”And what was City Hall’s reply to the 2020 Commission? Basically, their response has been: “Shut up. We are busy.”

Gone Hollywood; How the Hollywood Plan Threatens the Miracle Mile

A Message from Jim O’Sullivan, President of the MMRA:

Like many of you, we lost power at my house during the two wind events last week. I say “wind event” rather than wind storm because occasional wind gusts do not equate to a full-fledged storm. I have no idea what exactly caused these particular power outages ­– but I’m sure it has something to do with our aging and neglected infrastructure in Los Angeles. Our sidewalks are being buckled by untrimmed trees, our streets are an obstacle course of potholes, our aging water mains have become time bombs, hit and run accidents go uninvestigated for lack of properly trained traffic investigators, and budget cuts have slowed the response times of paramedics – the critical systems that support the quality of our lives are in a free fall.

Why would those of us who don’t live in Hollywood get involved in criticizing and/or opposing the recent update of the Hollywood Community Plan? The answer is: infrastructure. Because what happens in Hollywood doesn’t stay in Hollywood. Mayor Villaraigosa calls the super-sized developments recently proposed for Hollywood “elegant density,” but the residents call the plan the “Mahattanization” of Hollywood and find very little elegance in a plan that calls for adding an additional 50,000 residents without addressing the strain it will impose on the already collapsing infrastructure.

The new Hollywood Community Plan does not allocate funds to pay for fire and police services, water main and sewer maintenance, street and sidewalk repair, tree trimming, and the like. The City will have to borrow from Peter to maintain Paul, so to speak. In lieu of sensible long-term budgeting and planning the City will continue to deal with our infrastructure needs on a crisis basis: deferring routine maintenance and repairs in the Miracle Mile and every other community in Los Angeles to deal with the problems of the hour.

High-density-mixed-use-development-along-mass-transit-corridors is the new mantra of city planners and private developers. Build it big, the bigger the better; don’t sweat the details, it will work out somehow. The residents in the Miracle Mile are all for development, more jobs, reduced carbon footprints, subway extensions, and bike lanes, too – but we also like good old fashioned infrastructure. Infrastructure is the foundation of our city and it is folly to renovate, remodel, or expand a structure with a sinking foundation.

Like Hollywood Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard is a mass transit corridor. In the years to come, the Miracle Mile will have two subway stations and the city planners and private developers already have visions of yet another Manhattan dancing in their eyes. They will want to do to the Miracle Mile what they are doing to Hollywood and, once again, they don’t seem inclined to let the lack of funding for proper infrastructure impede their goals.

Many of us love the real Manhattan (I do), but the real thing has a public transit system that actually takes you where you want to go and its famous density is a result of being an island. Manhattan is also a very expensive city with an ever-shrinking middle class being squeezed out by the high cost of living. Development and gentrification in Hollywood has already driven away thousands of working class Latino families. (LA Weekly; Hollywood’s Urban Cleansing.)

All this brings me back to the so-called “wind events” which seem to constantly knock out our power in the Miracle Mile. Councilman LaBonge has told me he will find out what happened and I know he will, but that won’t solve a basic question I have, which is: Where does all the money go?

Los Angeles has a $7 billion budget (which doesn’t include the Department of Water and Power, LAX, or the Port of L.A.), so what are they spending that $7 billion on and why do they keep wanting to increase our fees and taxes? Something very wrong is going on here and before the City turns Los Angeles into Manhattan they need to explain how they are going to fix our infrastructure – or, in other words, how they will keep the lights on at my house.

 – from the March 2013 edition of the Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter