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

First Academy Museum Public Hearing Held


First Academy Museum Public Hearing Held

MMRA Protests Digital Sign District, Special Events Center,
and Lack of Parking

On March 16, 2015 the first public hearing on the proposed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and special events center was held at City Hall. Hearing Officer Luciralia Ibarra took public testimony on the many zone changes, variances, and special approvals the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is seeking. The new museum and events venue will transform the former May Co. at the northeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] supports readapting the May Co. building for use as a motion picture museum. However, we strongly oppose the Academy’s request for the creation of a digital sign district, which circumvents the hard-won guidelines of the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay District and will convert the historic landmark into an electronic billboard. We also oppose the demolition of one-third of the historic building to make room for an adjoining 1,000-seat theater that will be heavily promoted for celebrity premieres, screenings, and large events.

Architectural critics have described the project as “a special events center masquerading as a museum.” The array of variances, zoning changes, and conditional use permits requested by the Academy lends credence to this charge: How many museums require catering facilities to host private affairs for 1,350 people? Or rooftop terraces seating 800 people? Or their very own digital sign district?

Some museum experts predict that the new museum will attract a million or more visitors per year – yet the Academy is unwilling to build any new off-street parking for the project. They maintain that the adjacent Los Angeles County Museum of Art has ample parking to spare. Residents of the Miracle Mile find this ludicrous. Visitors to LACMA frequently park on nearby residential streets when LACMA’s underground garage and/or Spaulding Avenue parking lot are full (or just to avoid paying for parking). The idea that a million new visitors to the Academy Museum will not create parking intrusions into the Miracle Mile defies common sense.

MMRA President James O’Sullivan submitted detailed written arguments against granting the approvals and zoning changes. He attended the hearing with MMRA Vice Presidents Alice Cassidy and Ken Hixon, who voiced their opposition to the project as proposed. Cassidy questioned the public benefit of a special events center intended principally to host private events.

Carthay Circle Homeowners Association and Beverly Wilshire Homes also had representatives at the hearing to express their opposition to the project.

[Top image courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.]

For additional information:

City of Los Angeles, Depart of City Planning: Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Science Museum Notice of Public Hearing

Miracle Mile Residential Association: Position Statement Prepared by James O’Sullivan for Academy Museum Zoning Administrator Hearing, March 16, 2015

Transcript: Zoning Administrator Hearing on Academy Museum Project, March 16, 2015

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

 

Pin the Tail on the Donkey (The CD 4 Council Election) • A Message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

Pin the Tail on the Donkey

(The CD 4 Council election)

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

Back in 2011–2012, when redistricting was underway, many of us were scrambling to figure out how the boundaries of the new city council districts would be drawn. That was especially true for many of us in Council District 4. The original redistricting proposal had many of the older Wilshire corridor neighborhoods from the Miracle Mile to Hancock Park in CD 5, but the map quickly morphed again into what it is today: A convoluted carpet stain that meanders from the Miracle Mile and Hancock Park to Sherman Oaks via the Hollywood Hills with side stops in Silverlake and Toluca Lake. It is the byproduct of City Hall sausage making at its worst.

So, now that it’s time to elect a new CD4 council member we are scrambling once again to figure out how to select someone to represent a district with such far flung neighborhoods. Some issues are universal, but the complexity of CD 4 with its many different community plans will present a daunting task for the next council member. Whoever is elected will have to hit the ground running on day one and, frankly, if they need a “learning curve” their education will occur while dodging incoming rounds. CD 4 is a battlefield of angry voters who are beyond frustration with City Hall.


Council District 4. Click on map to enlarge.

 

I have attended four-and-counting debates trying to determine what each candidate brings to the table. We have community activists (some who have worked for the City and some who haven’t), several candidates who have worked in County or State government, and a couple that I can’t quite figure out yet.

So far the debates have been interesting, but they are set pieces that have done little to help voters evaluate who would be the best person to replace Tom LaBonge. After the first debate all the candidates start sounding alike – particularly given their habit of  “borrowing” the best lines from their competitors.

By design, the debate format is too constrained to be little more than a regurgitation of bullet points that create in the viewer a sensation akin to Attention Deficit Disorder. At best, debates provide candidates an opportunity to make a first impression, which is helpful – but not particularly telling because candidates tend to be very skilled at making first impressions. But debates are woefully lacking in supplying substantive information that voters need to make a truly informed decision. And often debates send people home with more misinformation than real information. The hard truth is there are certain things a council member can do on their own and many other things that require the compliance of the full council (and as a result are practically impossible to achieve). The lines between these two points are so blurred at some debates that candidates can promise anything and not get called on it.

As they are currently configured debates do not work ­– imagine a bookstore that only sold book covers. It’s a fool’s errand to buy a book solely based on the author’s photo or the typeset of the title. We need a more intelligent and rational way to evaluate candidates, especially when we have an open seat with 14 candidates.

The Council District 5 Homeowners Coalition has devised a method of reviewing candidates and their positions that is worthy of replicating here in CD 4. It starts early in the campaign process: Candidates for every City office are asked the same set of questions and graded on a sliding scale based on their answers. The answers are posted without a recommendation, but the grading system leaves little doubt about who answered the questions and who did not. They also hold recorded debates that include detailed follow up questions.

The primary election for a new CD 4 councilmember is coming to an end, but it is past time for the community groups in our district to form our own coalition to help our residents make truly informed decisions about future candidates seeking City offices. The MMRA is committed to joining with other residential and homeowner associations in organizing the Council District 4 Community Coalition; not only to help better educate voters, but also to serve as a lobbying force for the many issues our communities share in common.

But where does that leave us right now – with so many candidates and so many questions unanswered? We have been a day late and dollar short on getting serious looks at the candidates in the primary, but that will not be the case in the runoff. (And it is the clear consensus that there will be a runoff.) The MMRA will produce video interviews with the remaining two candidates, which will comprehensively address issues relevant to the residents of the Miracle Mile and to CD 4 as a whole. We promise to give you the information and insight you need to make a well-educated decision in the runoff election. And if a runoff candidate declines to participate in these interviews, we’ll let you know and you can factor that into your decision.

In the small comfort category: I was so disturbed by what I saw at the early debates that I devised a transparency pledge and asked each candidate to sign it. Twelve of the 14 candidates have signed it and we will see who keeps their word once they are in office. But make no mistake, everyone is watching. And whomever wins will be sitting in a chair with a built in ejector should they prove to be ineffective or tone deaf to the needs of CD 4. You know folks are riled up when they are already talking recall before the election even takes place. It is a sign of the times.

The Council District 4 Candidate Transparency Pledge

MMRA Board Endorses Miracle Mile HPOZ

   

MMRA Board Endorses Miracle Mile HPOZ

Tom LaBonge Sponsors Council Motion
Launching Adoption Process

The Miracle Mile Residential Association Board of Directors endorsed the recommendation of the MMRA HPOZ Committee at its February 5th board meeting and adopted a motion supporting the creation of the Miracle Mile Historic Preservation Overlay Zone [HPOZ].

“The Miracle Mile is in the midst of an onslaught of over-development,” remarked HPOZ Committee co-chair Jeremy Matz, “HPOZ is the only way we can save our neighborhood.”

The proposed boundaries of the Miracle Mile HPOZ are Wilshire Boulevard on the north, San Vicente Boulevard on the south, La Brea Avenue on the east, and Fairfax Avenue on the west. Commercial properties and certain recently constructed large apartment complexes would be excluded.

The first step in the process is to have the adoption of the Miracle Mile HPOZ initiated by a council motion. MMRA President James O’Sullivan reached out to Councilmember Tom LaBonge who quickly agreed to sponsor the motion. “It is only fitting for Tom to do this and put his stamp indelibly on the Miracle Mile,” said O’Sullivan. “As he caps his long career in service to the City, I can’t think of a better ending than to help us preserve our neighborhood for generations to come.”

The Miracle Mile HPOZ has garnered the endorsement of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber values the special character of the residential area and fully supports the HPOZ effort,” said Steve Kramer, President of the Chamber.

The HPOZ also received a strong endorsement from Mid City West Community Council. Cary Brazeman, Chair of Mid City’s Planning and Land Use Committee, stated, “Mid City West Community Council is pleased to have voted overwhelmingly to support the study and establishment of a Miracle Mile Historic Preservation Overlay Zone that should include single-family and multifamily residences.  The neighborhood is an under-appreciated gem right in the heart of Los Angeles, with architectural history and community character that is abundant.  We encourage the expeditious adoption of the Miracle Mile HPOZ.”

There are many steps in the lengthy process of adopting an HPOZ, including a historic resources survey of the area and extensive community meetings and workshops. [See chart below.]

Click on chart to enlarge.

“This is all about outreach and community involvement,” said HPOZ Committee chair Mark Zecca. “Working within the guidelines of the Department of City Planning, the community needs to design the Miracle Mile HPOZ to meet their goals. There is leeway in an HPOZ preservation plan and it’s up to all of us to determine how restrictive or permissive we want the rules to be.”

Property owners and renters alike will participate in the HPOZ process. MMRA Vice President Ken Hixon commented, “The demolition of older rent stabilized duplexes and apartment buildings are steadily reducing the last vestiges of affordable apartments in the Miracle Mile. As luxury apartments replace older buildings, the neighborhood loses not only its architectural character but its neighborly spirit. Long-term renters in historic apartments sink deep roots into the community. Luxury apartments, which force them out, attract well-paid but transient tenants who are much less likely to develop those kinds of ties to the neighborhood.”

Zecca said that the HPOZ Committee is making plans for a series of meetings to educate residents on HPOZ and to gather their input. The committee will also develop a fund raising campaign to subsidize the costs related to pursuing HPOZ.

The HPOZ Committee is currently reviewing bids from historic preservation consultants who will prepare the historic resources survey of the Miracle Mile. They will make their recommendation to the MMRA Board of Directors at the next board meeting on March 5, 2015.

“It’s not a matter of whether will we still recognize the Miracle Mile in 50 years if we don’t pursue HPOZ protection for our neighborhood,” said MMRA Vice President Alice Cassidy, “it’s a matter of whether we still recognize it five years from now.”

Click on image to view video.

 For additional information visit the “HPOZ & RFA Info” page on the MMRA website: MiracleMileLA.com.

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

Council District 4 Candidate Transparency Pledge

In the January 2015 newsletter MMRA President James O’Sullivan wrote in “Council District 4 Players Guide” of the frustrations residents encounter with the opacity of council offices. The strong response the article generated from community activists and residential and homeowners groups throughout the city inspired Jim to create a “transparency pledge” [see below] that was distributed to all the candidates for Council District 4.

To date the following candidates have signed the pledge:

Tara Bannister

Jay Beeber

Teddy Davis

Sheila Irani

Wally Knox

Fred Mariscal

Tomas O’Grady

Joan Pelico

Carolyn Ramsay

David E. Ryu

  Rostom Sarkissian

Steve Veres

•••

These candidates have yet to sign the pledge:

Michael Schaefer

Step Jones

•••

The pledge:

TO: The Council District 4 Candidates

FROM: James O’Sullivan, President

Miracle Mile Residential Association

DATE: January 17, 2015

Dear Candidate:

Hopefully, as you travel around the different neighborhoods that make up

Council District 4, you are hearing of the many issues that are impacting

residents and businesses. There are some issues that you can resolve on

your own – and many more that will require the support of other council

members.

Some of these matters are relatively simple, while others are much more

complex – but there is one action you can take immediately upon your

election that will go a long way to correcting many of the problems we face

in our various neighborhoods. You can throw open the windows in your

new office and let in fresh air and sunshine. For far too long the Council

Districts have been run as absolute fiefdoms. Much of what goes on in the

Council offices remains secret and off limits to the residents and businesses

that the Councilmembers are supposed to be serving. This process did not

begin with you – but it must end with you.

Recently, City Controller Ron Galperin initiated “Control Panel,” an online

source of information about expenditures, revenues, payroll, special funds

and other data. A similar system could be utilized to achieve transparency

in the Council office.

All of you are trying to carefully parse your answers regarding contributions

from real estate developers, but the real issue has to do with access to the

Council office coupled with the frequent disregard for the policies

contained in the Community Plans and Framework Element that are

expressly designed to guide your decisions.

Time and time again, we have been forced to defend our neighborhoods

through legal actions when the City disregards these plans to our detriment.

We will no longer accept vague promises and slaps on the back. It is long

past time to level the playing field. This is why each candidate must commit

themselves to complete transparency in all their actions as our

Councilmember.

We, the voters of Council District 4, must know exactly where you stand on

these critical matters when we head to the polls on March 3rd. So, I

respectfully request that you endorse this pledge:

I ____________________________ candidate for the office of

Councilmember for Council District 4, pledge to:

 Immediately disclose whenever my office is approached about a

development project in CD 4, whether by the developer or any person

or group representing the developer. This information will be posted

on my Council office website. Neighborhood Councils and other

groups (homeowners/residential/business) in the area of the project

will be promptly notified to check for information on this website.

 Follow up meetings with me or any of my staff regarding the project

will also be posted.

 Immediately post any changes contemplated in CD 4 by any City

Department that would make changes to the Community Plans, i.e.

Bike Plan, Mobility Element, and Recode LA. Too often the majority

of stakeholders receive no advanced notice of these changes.

 Faithfully follow the policies for decision makers as outlined in each

Community Plan in CD 4, as well as Policy 3.3.2 of the Framework

Element.

 Require the City to officially document and demonstrate that the

infrastructure in the area of any contemplated project (requiring

discretionary approval) will not be threatened in relation to user

needs. This would include particularly critical services, such as water

and sewerage, as well as public schools, police and fire services, and

transportation infrastructure.

Candidate Signature: __________________________________

Date: _______________________________

The Council District 4 Players Guide

The Council District 4 Players Guide

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of knowledge as power:

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

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

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

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

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