“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.]

Miracle Mile Spotlight: Black Dog Coffee

Miracle Mile Spotlight:

Black Dog Coffee

Bradley Gold had what he thought was a “lifetime career” working in operations for a restaurant chain when he was laid off at age 53. So, he walked away from corporate life and entered the world of sole proprietorship when he opened Black Dog Coffee in 1998.

It was an opportunity right in his back yard. Brad lived six blocks away and, at that time, his wife had an office in the Wilshire building where the restaurant is located. According to Brad the previous owner was “a motivated seller” – and, given his sudden joblessness, Brad was obviously a motivated buyer.

“So, I changed the name, changed the menu, changed everything,” he explains. “I think up until I came along most of the places that had been in here were geared toward the people working in the office buildings and the residents were given less attention. All the places around were always closed on Saturdays and Sundays. And I knew from the get-go that I wanted it to be a seven-day-a-week business – because you can’t be a neighborhood business if you close on the weekends.”

Brad [behind counter at left] knew what he was doing. With outdoor seating and free wi-fi, Black Dog Coffee is one of the most popular eateries in the area. The menu features a variety of breakfasts and sandwiches – and, of course, great coffee.

Brad attributes his Miracle Mile location as key to Black Dog’s success. There are thousands of residents within easy walking distance and close to 3 million square feet of office space within a two-block radius of the coffee shop. “You couldn’t do any better than that if you were a single operator in Century City,” Brad remarks.

Brad grew up in the restaurant business. His parents operated an Orange Julius stand in Burbank for 25 years. He worked there when he was in high school. “And I’ll tell you, it’s a lot more fun working for myself than it was working for my dad,” he laughs.

Approaching his 70th birthday – the father of two grown children and the grandfather of three – Brad represents the end of the line for the restaurant business in his family. His daughter is a realtor and his son is a journalist – and he is enormously proud of them.

What began 17 years ago as a remedy to forced early retirement has now become a pleasant working retirement for Brad. “I’m very grateful that the restaurant turned out the way it has. In the beginning I worked around-the-clock, but now I’ve got seven employees and four of them have been here ten years or more,” he said, knocking on wood. Having such a stable and trustworthy staff allow Brad and his wife to take vacations to Europe and Asia.

“I’m going to continue to work, because I’m not working that much anymore. And it gets me out of the house every morning –makes me shave.”

Photos courtesy Black Dog Coffee.

Black Dog Coffee
5657 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: 323-933-1976
Email: blackdog5657@gmail.com
Website: http://www.blackdogcoffee.com
Hours:
Monday–Friday 7 AM–6 PM
Saturday–Sunday 8 AM–4 PM

The MMRA newsletter does not solicit or accept advertisements. Our support of local businesses is a matter of principle ­– for which we receive no financial compensation or consideration of any kind.

 

Angry Residents Confront Metro Officials at Noise Meeting

Subway Construction Update

Angry Residents Confront Metro Officials at Noise Mitigation Meeting

Grinder

On May 27, Metro held a meeting of the Purple Line Extension advisory group at the Petersen Museum. On the agenda was Metro’s mitigation plan for construction noise and vibration in the Miracle Mile. Metro’s PowerPoint presentation on the topic can be seen here.

The proposed mitigations offered to the community did not pass the “common sense” test with numerous residents in attendance. Nighttime work currently underway for utility relocations at Wilshire/La Brea and Wilshire/Fairfax sparked complaints from residents of the La Brea-Hancock area and from those living on Orange Street near Fairfax.

A mother of young children displayed a smartphone video she made of Metro contractors grinding welds on temporary steel plates covering a trench near La Brea and Wilshire; the late night work woke her children blocks away.

A professional recording engineer living on Orange Street argued that Metro was trying to snow residents by claiming that nighttime subway construction would not exceed nighttime ambient noise levels by more than 5 decibels. He pointed out that while that might seem to be only a slight increase in volume to the uninformed, in fact, a 5 decibel increase would nearly double the perceived nighttime ambient noise levels.

A Windsor Square resident complained that a long promised sound wall surrounding the subway construction yard at Crenshaw and Wilshire had yet to be completed – despite the fact that the utility relocation crews headquartered there began using the site many months ago.

Others inquired why nighttime utility relocation work recently detoured eastbound Wilshire traffic to 8th Street for two nights in a row; a situation that had idling and honking vehicles stacked up at the intersections of Genesee and Ogden late into the night – without traffic control officers present. Even Metro’s 720 bus was diverted to 8th, adding to the traffic noise that disturbed a number of nearby residents.

A Metro official admitted that they were having difficulty implementing practices designed to require the various utility relocation contractors to reduce nighttime noise; that it is a challenge for Metro to ensure that every construction vehicle has a low volume back-up alarm; and that, on occasion, a construction worker pulls up to the work site in the middle of the night with their car stereo blaring. This official was also unable to explain why workers were grinding welds at such a late hour, despite Metro’s often-repeated assurances that noisier work would be confined to the earlier hours of the evening.

The experiences of residents enduring the disturbances of nighttime utility relocations serves to reinforce the MMRA’s opposition to permit 24/7 activities at the Miracle Mile subway station construction sites. In their PowerPoint presentation Metro admitted that the greatest amount of noise would be generated at their Wilshire/La Brea yard, which will house a slurry recovery facility and a grout manufacturing plant – as well as serve as the location where all the dirt will be extracted from all of the tunneling from Western to La Cienega.

Once again, it was reiterated at the meeting that the contractor of the subway extension is solely responsible for mitigating noise and vibration. That the mitigations Metro touted at the meeting were only examples of mitigations that might be provided. This is why the Miracle Mile Residential Association maintains that until such time that Metro actually engages a contractor it is pointless to discuss specific noise mitigations for the subway construction sites at Fairfax and La Brea. Time and time again, the MMRA has informed Metro that it will not sign a blank check on work hours exemptions that will be cashed at the expense of the residents of the Miracle Mile.

The only way to guarantee that the neighborhood has a voice in how subway construction is conducted in the Miracle Mile is to sign the online petition opposing nighttime, Sunday, and holiday construction. This petition campaign, which has been underway since last February, has already compelled Metro to ask the Los Angeles Police Commission for a “time out” in considering their application for an exemption from work hours rules at the Miracle Mile subway construction sites.

Subway Petition Lawn Sign

The MMRA’s “no blank check” stance appears to have gained traction with the Police Commission. Recently, the commission began requiring all contractors seeking work hours exemptions in the Miracle Mile to consult with the MMRA before they will consider applications for variances. This is a requirement that the commission didn’t enact before they granted permission to allow nighttime utility relocation work. Obviously, our petition campaign has provoked this policy change and the MMRA is pleased that the commission is being so responsive and respectful towards our community.

The MMRA’s petition campaign has gotten a lot of attention – and some criticism from those who mistakenly believe that we oppose the subway extension. Our objective is to balance the fundamental right of thousands of residents to enjoy the peace and quiet of their own homes with the enormous demands of a massive, decade long, multiple billion-dollar construction project. Neither side is going to get everything they want, but the MMRA will not allow the needs of the residents to be ignored no matter how important or worthy the cause.

SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION

Click here to download the printable petition

We also invite you to visit the Subway Construction page on the MMRA website. It is frequently updated with links to media coverage on our petition campaign, official correspondence, construction fact sheets and reports, YouTube videos of subway construction techniques, and other information.

Miracle Mile Spotlight: Miracle Mile Toys & Games

[From the April 2014 edition of the Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter.]

Miracle Mile Spotlight:

Miracle Mile Toys & Games

As a child Christine Johnson must have been a very skilled curator of toys and games, because her shop contains a fantastic collection of quality merchandise. It is obvious that every item has been thoughtfully selected. Her eye for detail is readily apparent, from the custom-made shelves to the second-floor play area. Christine is a student of fun with a keen insight into children and what entertains them (and adults, too…).

Christine is a bright and personable woman with a very focused and pragmatic approach to business and community. She grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to Massachusetts when she was 13. A graduate of Wellesley College, she married an attorney who had family and a twin brother living in Southern California.  So, after college she and her husband came west and, in time, settled into a home on South Ridgeley Avenue in the Miracle Mile. They sold the house last summer and now live in an apartment on Wilshire in Koreatown. “Which I like a lot, it’s bigger,” says Christine – space is imperative with three children under the age of 10.

Christine was drawn to brick-and-mortar retailing because: “ I like the idea of touching a product and selling a real product to a real person. And I think it’s important for the community to have those kinds of businesses here, because that’s what makes a community: interaction.”

Although the store has a website, she doesn’t sell online. “You don’t get the same community feeling if you don’t go into a store once in awhile – especially with toys. When you’re online buying toys you’re seeing an abstract of what everybody likes, you’re going to see the things that everybody buys. You can sort by most popular, best reviewed, but you’re not necessarily going to find little gems. Or something that might have gotten slammed in a couple of reviews but happens be a really fine product.”

Although Christine has placed ads in local papers she has found that the best advertising is word of mouth from moms and dads. “We do a lot on Facebook and Instagram has been really good for us. I post pictures of what’s happening in the store or a cute new product and people find it by the hash-tag.”

When asked about the impact of the impending subway construction on small businesses along Wilshire, Christine was blunt: “That is going to be chaos. It’s going to be dirty, noisy, messy. They [Metro] can definitely communicate better with businesses and residents. They’re not doing well with that at all. Nobody really knows what’s happening or when. I can’t plan my business if they’re not giving me any more details. But I came into it knowing all this. I opened the business knowing that Metro was coming. That’s why I picked this spot. And I knew it was going to be hell – for nine years, potentially. And I’ve never been naïve about the challenges.”

She commented that subway construction will diminish already limited parking for merchants and restaurants in the Miracle Mile. Her store has no off-street parking and is dependent on the metered parking on Wilshire. “I’m sure it’s a barrier for some people, I’m sure I’m missing people who maybe found me online, then drive through the area and decide not to stop. But most of my customers walk here or live within a few blocks. And I’m able to sustain the business with that level of locality. I think the business will be able to continue based on my ‘local love’ – fingers crossed.”

Christine [photo, right] is optimistic that others like her will take the plunge and start new businesses in the Miracle Mile. “I have customers who come in – and it’s inspiring, I guess, for them to see a new business like this. They have their own dreams about their own business and they ask me all kinds of questions: how did you do it, how do you manage it, how do you do it with three kids? Starting a business for some people seems absolutely daunting. It is emotionally daunting. But if you can get past the emotional aspect of it, it’s a nine-to-five job –okay, maybe it’s eight to midnight.”

By the way, Christine doesn’t sell toy guns – but she remarked, “I finally caved and got water guns, but they’re behind the register. You have to ask for them,” she laughed.

 

 

Miracle Mile Toys & Games
5363 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
310-651-1414
Hours: 10 AM–6 PM, Every Day
www.miraclemiletoys.com
Facebook

[Note: The MMRA newsletter does not solicit or accept advertisements. Our support of local businesses is a matter of principle – for which we receive no financial compensation or consideration of any kind.]

Why Can’t the Miracle Mile Be More Like Beverly or 3rd Street?

Why Can’t the Miracle Mile Be More Like
Beverly or 3rd Street…or Melrose
or La Brea?

When the Miracle Mile Residential Association 2013 Annual Survey asked “Would you like to see a broader variety of retailers along Wilshire Boulevard?” over 80% of the respondents answered yes. New mixed-use development has brought additional businesses, particularly chain restaurants, to the Miracle Mile – but residents often wonder why we don’t have the number and assortment of independently owned retailers and restaurants found on Beverly or 3rd Street…or Melrose or La Brea? There are many answers why:
 
Unlike those popular shopping and dining areas, there are no height limits on development along Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile. Hence, older storefronts here are more vulnerable to being razed to make way for new and higher developments. Dozens of these older storefronts have been demolished in the past 20 years to erect new buildings – and more face impending demolition for the construction of the subway portals at La Brea and Fairfax: the southern blocks of Wilshire between La Brea and Detroit and between Ogden and Orange Grove will be torn down this summer, displacing Albertson’s Wedding Chapel, the Yamaha Music School, the A+D Architecture and Design Museum, and other galleries and small businesses.
 
These sorts of older buildings are best suited to starting a new shop or restaurant. They offer smaller and more affordable spaces. The commercial spaces in mixed-use buildings are typically too large and too expensive for start-up businesses and new entrepreneurs. The landlords of some mixed-use buildings demand “shopping mall” type leases that extract a percentage of gross sales on top of the monthly rent payment. Also, newer buildings prefer dealing with large corporations and national franchises with triple-A credit ratings.
 
This is why tenants of the new buildings tend to be a matter of round up the usual suspects: such as Chipotle, Subway, Starbucks, Five Guys, and bank branches. Not that these businesses aren’t needed and welcomed in the Miracle Mile, but when the annual survey asked what kind of retail outlets residents would like to have in the area they replied: book stores, clothing and shoe boutiques, gourmet food and wine shops, art galleries, card and gift stores, and other specialty retailers.
 
An obstacle to attracting these types of businesses is that critical mass is difficult to achieve along many blocks of Wilshire in the Miracle Mile. Small retailers congregate on streets like Beverly and 3rd Street because the large concentration of such businesses attract customers – and foot traffic is critical to the success of these enterprises. Customers will check out new retailers on their way to another known store. And the number of restaurants, pubs, and independent coffee houses keep the streets lively well into the evening.
 
Street life and foot traffic has improved along Wilshire in the past few years. But many restaurants in the Miracle Mile are completely dependent on the lunch trade for their survival. Customer traffic significantly diminishes on weekdays after 5 PM – and is nearly nonexistent on certain blocks of Wilshire during the weekends.
 
Despite these challenges, throughout the Miracle Mile there are unique and independent businesses, retailers, and eateries operated by talented and hard-working owners. The best way to preserve the shopping and dining diversity we do have – and to encourage new businesses to locate here – is for all of us to support and patronize Miracle Mile businesses.
 
The Miracle Mile Residential Association will continue to encourage developers and property owners to think outside the box when seeking retail tenants ­– and this newsletter will do its part, beginning with this issue, to shine a “Miracle Mile Spotlight” on local businesses and restaurants. Please send in your favorites [newsletter@MiracleMileLA.com] and we will feature them in future issues.
 
– This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of the MMRA newsletter.

Petition Drive to Stop Nighttime Subway Construction Going Strong


Hundreds of Miracle Mile Residents Join the Fight
to Stop Nighttime Subway Construction

Last month the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] launched a petition drive to stop nighttime, Sunday and holiday construction for the Purple Line Subway Extension – which is scheduled to begin major work in August. In January 2014 the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority [Metro] applied to the Los Angeles Police Commission to be exempted from municipal noise ordinances for subway construction in the Miracle Mile.

MMRA members and volunteers from the community have been distributing petitions every Saturday within the boundaries of the MMRA [see map]. So far about 60 % of the area has been canvassed and the remaining blocks should be completed by March 22. The response has far exceeded expectations and the online petition has proved to be a very effective means of collecting signatures.

The Police Commission has not set a date as to when they will render a decision on Metro’s applications to be exempted from noise ordinances, so the petition drive will be an on-going campaign until further notice. The petition effort has also received significant support from residents in neighborhoods adjacent to the Miracle Mile, who will be equally impacted by nighttime, Sunday and holiday construction. The MMRA has received a number of requests to expand the petition campaign beyond our boundaries and this be will taken this under serious consideration once the canvassing of the MMRA area is complete.

The petition campaign has attracted media attention and MMRA President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon have been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times for a story they are preparing about the impact of subway construction on the Miracle Mile. The Times also interviewed the owner of an apartment building located near the Fairfax subway station construction site, as well as a long-time resident on nearby South Orange Grove Avenue.

Metro is battling our efforts to stop around-the-clock construction by accusing the MMRA of being “against the subway.” This allegation could not be further from the truth. The MMRA whole-heartedly supports the extension of the Purple Line. Our issue with the subway expansion is solely about nine years of constant nighttime, Sunday and holiday construction noise and disturbances.

The Miracle Mile is one of the most densely populated urban corridors in the nation; we must stand together to remind Metro that we are a residential community and not a full-time construction zone.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION

On March 3, 2014 the MMRA sent a letter to the Los Angeles Police Commission clarifying our position. The MMRA believes the burden should be on Metro to demonstrate why the residents of the Miracle Mile are unworthy of the protections of a well-established ordinance that protectsall residents of Los Angeles from 24/7 construction activities. We encourage you to read this letter; it makes a concise and strong argument why it is premature for Metro to seek to be exempted from the noise ordinance at this time [click here].

If you would like to help out with the petition campaign please contact us at: petition@MiracleMileLA.com.

Additional information:

MRA Newsletter – February 2014: MMRA Launches Petition Campaign to Stop Nighttime, Sunday, and Holiday Subway Construction at the Fairfax and La Brea Stations

The Subway Construction page on the MMRA website contains a lot of details and information with maps of the Fairfax and La Brea stations and construction staging sites. It also includes YouTube videos of tunnel boring machines in action.

MMRA Launches Petition Campaign to Stop Nighttime, Sunday, and Holiday Subway Construction at the La Brea and Fairfax Stations

On January 10, 2014, Metro submitted formal requests to the Los Angeles Police Commission seeking exemptions from work hours restrictions in order to allow contractors at the Fairfax and La Brea subway stations to work around the clock, seven days a week. Demolition of the existing buildings at the construction staging sites will begin in August 2014 and installation of solder piles in preparation for “cut and cover” excavation of Wilshire Boulevard to build the underground subway stations is scheduled to start in January 2015.

Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 41.40 prohibits construction activities between the hours of 9 PM to 7 AM, “in a manner as to disturb the peace and quiet of neighboring residents or any reasonable person of normal sensitiveness residing in the area.” The code further limits the hours of allowable operations from 8 AM to 6 PM on Saturday. Construction work is not permitted on Sundays or holidays.

La Brea and Wilshire Station. Shaded areas are the construction staging sites.
La Brea and Wilshire Station. Shaded areas are the construction staging sites.

Exemptions from construction “work hours” codes are granted on a six-month basis by the Los Angeles Police Commission. Metro intends to continually apply for these exemptions for the projected nine years it will take to complete the Purple Line subway extension from Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard.

The Miracle Mile will be the location of two subway stations: La Brea/Wilshire and Fairfax/Wilshire. The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] supports the Purple Line subway extension, but it is unfair and unreasonable for Metro to subject thousands of residents to nine years of noise disturbances and other disruptions from nighttime, Sunday, and holiday construction.

Fairfax and Wilshire Station. Shaded areas are the construction staging sites. Note that the station entrance has been moved to the southwest corner of Orange Grove and Wilshire since this map was originally published.
Fairfax and Wilshire Station. Shaded areas are the construction staging sites.
Note that the station entrance has been moved to the southwest corner
of Orange Grove and Wilshire since this map was originally published.

It is difficult to fully convey the vast scale and immense complexity of constructing the subway extension through a densely populated urban corridor like the Miracle Mile. The MMRA has created a Subway Construction page on our website [MiracleMileLA.com] with links to various documents that provide details on the construction process. There are also links to YouTube videos on tunneling techniques. We encourage residents to examine this material so that they can better grasp the enormity of this project.

Construction of the subway extension through the Miracle Mile faces many daunting challenges: from high ground water to the removal of pre-historic fossils to high concentrations of methane. Entire blocks of the Miracle Mile will be demolished to facilitate construction. Traffic lanes on Wilshire, La Brea, and Fairfax will be eliminated or restricted for lengthy periods and these thoroughfares will also bear the wear and tear of hundreds of trucks per day. Even if subway construction work was limited to normal daytime hours the disruption to residents and local businesses will be profound.

The impact of subway construction on the Miracle Mile is exacerbated by other impending major construction projects in the area: the Academy Museum at the former May Company, the new 13-story Museum Square office building, extensive interior and exterior renovations at the Petersen Automotive Museum, and construction of the new Shalhevet high school and adjoining mixed use apartment development. The volume of all this construction traffic will significantly increase congestion on Wilshire, Fairfax, and La Brea.

Metro touts that any nighttime construction work would not exceed five decibels over normal ambient sound levels – the maximum increase allowed at night [when such work is allowed by exemption from municipal ordinances]. But a five-decibel change represents a clearly noticeable increase in the perceived volume [an increase of ten decibels is perceived as doubling the sound level]. People are much more sensitive to noise at night, a noticeable increase in ambient levels will disturb thousands of residents living in the areas surrounding these construction staging sites.

We are highly skeptical that Metro contractors can operate pavement breaking equipment along Wilshire at night without keeping residents awake. Not to mention the constant rumble of trucks hauling away dirt all night long – a source of noise and vibration that will also impact residents south of the Miracle Mile.

On January 28, 2014, MMRA President Jim O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon attended a meeting between Metro and Windsor Square residents that was called by the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council Transportation Committee because of nighttime noise and other disturbances at the Crenshaw/Wilshire construction staging site – which is being used as a base for subway related utility relocations along Wilshire. The residents had a long list of complaints over issues that were keeping them up at night: the glare of work lights, the beeping of back-up buzzers on vehicles, the clanging of equipment being moved in and out of trucks, idling engines, and the like.

At the meeting a Metro engineer maintained that Metro was in “technical compliance” because the disturbances did not exceed the five-decibel threshold. That may be the scientific case, but – whatever the decibel level – noise from nighttime construction activities at Crenshaw/Wilshire was sufficient to mobilize the community to protest and demand mitigations from Metro.

The construction staging sites for the Fairfax and La Brea stations extend well into densely populated areas and will directly abut multiple-family buildings. To ask thousands of residents to go without sleep for nearly a decade of construction is preposterous. Work hours ordinances were devised to balance the need of contractors with the fundamental right of residents to enjoy the peace and quiet of their own apartments and homes.

Representatives of Metro frequently dismiss the adverse impacts of subway construction by remarking, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.” But the Miracle Mile is a residential neighborhood, not a frying pan.

In their request to the Police Commission, Metro stated that: “An exemption will also minimize construction impacts on the surrounding community by accelerating the completion of the work.” The MMRA believes that nighttime, Sunday, and holiday construction would have just the opposite effect by maximizing the impact on the residents by depriving them of any respite from nine years of constant noise and disruption.

On Saturday, February 15, 2014 the MMRA will begin canvassing the entire Miracle Mile to distribute petitions opposing nighttime, Sunday, and holiday subway construction. The petition is also available online. The canvassing of the area will continue over subsequent weekends and then expand to areas north, east, and west of the Miracle Mile.

If you would like to help with this petition drive – or host a yard sign [see photo at top] – please contact us at: petition@MiracleMileLA.com . Your support will help insure that you and your neighbors will not be sleepless in the Miracle Mile.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN ONLINE PETITION 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE PETITION 

Appeal of Petersen Museum Facade Denied

MMRA Exploring Other Options…

On September 10, 2013 the Central Area Planning Commission denied an appeal filed by James O’Sullivan, President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA], regarding the new facade for the Petersen Automotive Museum. The three-member Commission voted to sustain the Director’s determination for a Community Overlay Approval of the facade.

O’Sullivan filed an appeal on grounds that the new facade would violate the guidelines of the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay District [CDO], which was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in 2004 to provide design standards for public and private development in commercial zoned areas along Wilshire Boulevard. O’Sullivan’s appeal was endorsed by the MMRA Board of Directors, who share his concern that approval of the Petersen facade will set a precedence that will nullify the CDO. The MMRA is carefully exploring all available options in order to protect the CDO.

For additional information read:

MMRA President Appeals City’s Approval of Petersen Museum Facade, Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter, September 2013

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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