By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In effect, the Mayor’s Office was putting together a public-subsidy package for Mann: the exclusive right to public land at a discounted price. As public policy, the strategy is defensible — it makes sense to offer incentives to keep Mann’s burgeoning biotech empire based in Los Angeles. But the Business Team eschewed the “public” part — side-stepping public input, scrutiny and accountability.
Mann also is trying to obtain an additional piece of DWP property in the San Fernando Valley, and the mayor supports this effort as well, although other bidders also have expressed interest.
The jockeying on behalf of Mann finally drew the attention of Councilman Alex Padilla, whose northeast Valley district includes both sites. Keeping Mann’s companies, with their high-paying jobs, in L.A. is a great idea, noted Padilla spokesman David Gershwin, but both Padilla and the public were out of the loop until late in the negotiations. “The Mayor’s Office did not approach the council office with detailed information,” said Gershwin. “Did Genesis LA ever sit down and have a meeting with the councilman about these projects? No. Every single project needs community involvement and buy-in because there is such a history in our district of neglect and haphazard zoning.”
Padilla also used his City Council leverage to put the brakes on another Genesis site in his district, when he learned that the Mayor’s Office had crafted a deal to sell six city-owned acres for $100,000. Maybe the price is fair, because the land is a former landfill, but Padilla isn’t going to let the acquisition, which doesn’t involve Mann, go forward without scrutiny, said Gershwin.
Critics cite the Chinatown Cornfield escapade as an example of how the backroom deal making can backfire. The 45-acre Cornfield site was a busy rail yard for almost a century, and before that, farmland that included the main irrigation channel that nurtured young Los Angeles. The development plan endorsed by Riordan and Delgadillo for this now-contaminated expanse was an $80 million warehouse project courtesy of Ed Roski Jr., a mayoral favorite for building Staples Center. Riordan was prepared to kick in $14.2 million in federal subsidies to clean up the land.Ă˘
But what was good for Roski did not please activists and many adjacent Chinatown residents, who preferred a park or a mixed-use development with public open space. Environmentalists saw an invaluable opportunity to create a green zone near the L.A. River, which could then spur further river-restoration efforts. Activists finally stalled the project by demanding a full Environmental Impact Report. A similar scenario is playing out at nearby Taylor Yards, another river-adjacent Genesis site, where environmentalists and local residents also have sued over the lack of an Environmental Impact Report.
Which raises an interesting question: Is the Genesis effort at these two locations an example of cutting red tape to get things done or cutting corners to serve interests that may or may not coincide with the public interest?
At the Cornfield, activists have crafted a happy ending, using anticipated state park bonds to buy off Roski’s Majestic Realty. Roski gets to make money just by bailing out, and the community gets a better project. The fate of Taylor Yards remains uncertain, though a portion of the site will be parkland.
“Some of the Genesis projects continue to be re-scoped based on community needs,” said Genesis president La Franchi of the Cornfield property. “This is one of them. We will continue to work with all the parties involved. What we don’t want to see is that 10 years from now, that property is still vacant and abandoned.”
It isn’t in the promotional materials, but Genesis projects could leave two lasting imprints on the cityscape: Big Macs and billboards. McDonald’s has paid to play, donating $1 million to the Genesis nonprofit. McDonald’s restaurants are signed up for three Genesis sites, and the corporation is strongly considering five others. Over the last three yeas, revenues at urban McDonald’s are up 20 percent compared to a nationwide sales increase of about six percent, said Jim Carras, McDonald’s local director of development.
McDonald’s is “our exclusive sponsor for that industry category, but there is no exclusive right to locate” at a Genesis-designated project, said La Franchi. “I think that any company that is involved with Genesis is just more in tune with Genesis when new sites are brought on board. Other fast-food retailers have not been as aggressive at going into the inner city.”
A different take is provided in Genesis strategic-planning documents obtained by the Weekly. The documents contain tailored sales pitches to potential corporate sponsors. One company considered for approach was a local franchisee for the Tony Roma’s restaurant chain — “The L.A. franchise owners are extremely wealthy and committed to Los Angeles,” the document notes. Under “Key Points,” it reads, “They [also] own the L.A. Burger King franchise. Burger King cannot become a sponsor because McDonald’s already is — but Tony Roma’s can get in the door.”
At this week’s International Council of Shopping Centers convention, the city of L.A., Genesis and McDonald’s shared a booth in a faux mall erected within the Las Vegas Convention Center. Setting up shop by the “Food Court” gave L.A. access to one of the most heavily trafficked locations — because it’s where all the free food samples were being handed out. Other self-promoting cities, such as Detroit, Sacramento, Huntington Park and Chino, were relegated to more traditional digs in the “Municipalities Court.”
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