By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Rosendahl must have known what he was up against when he took on Playa. He had recently defeated Flora Gil Krisiloff in the 11th Council District race, which generated more than half a million dollars in independent campaign-related expenditures, including $46,000 on election day by Playa Vista president Steve Soboroff to distribute fliers supporting Krisiloff, who favored the controversial development. The day before the election, Playa developer Robert Maguire spent $25,000 to get out the vote for Krisiloff. The day before that, Playa vice president Douglas Moreland spent $10,000 on fliers in support of Krisiloff. Playa developer James Thomas spent another $17,000 on Krisiloff, while the Ballona Wetlands Committee to Stop Playa Vista spent a mere $14,791 for mailers, split evenly between Rosendahl and Antonio Villaraigosa on his way to being elected mayor.
Ethics Commission reports show that Playa lobbyists, principles and employees have spent lavishly to promote the development, now in its second phase, which will add another 2,600 residential units. Since 2003, the 14 registered Playa lobbyists have spent at least $1.2 million on “development of Playa Vista and related land use and permit matters.” They gave another $106,713 in political contributions. Included in that amount is a $5,000 donation to the American Diabetes Association at the behest of then–council president Alex Padilla, and an inauguration-day donation of $12,500 to the mayor’s after-school program, L.A.’s Best. Last year the lobbyists gave $5,600 to City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s campaign for state attorney general and $500 to his officeholder account. They gave $1,000 to the Youth Policy Institute at the behest of Padilla, who also received $30,000 from Playa lobbyists for his state Senate campaign.
Other firms acting as consultants for Playa have received more than $1 million from the developer, and spent more than $1.2 million lobbying for the project. Private political contributions from Playa employees, partners, investors and lobbyists total more than $18,000, and contributions by Playa total more than $36,000. Council members who voted for the narrower “peer assessment” environmental review last January, with the exception of Greg Smith and Janice Hahn, received contributions from Playa in the months before the vote. Wendy Greuel, a leading voice for public campaign financing, received the most direct contributions from Playa Capital: $2,000.
Yet the Playa foes, who believe the law is on their side, may have a secret weapon: David Hsu, a geological engineer who oversaw the grading division at the Department of Building and Safety. According to Playa activist Patricia McPherson and employees at the building department, Hsu voiced major concerns about the methane-gas venting system and whether methane barriers could withstand gases released during the dewatering process. When Hsu resisted approval of the methane system, McPherson and building-department employees say, he was promoted to deputy superintendent in West Los Angeles and prevented from any further involvement at Playa.
Hsu might bolster the case for the environmental review that Rosendahl has yet to deliver. Provided, that is, the engineer will talk. “I will comply with a subpoena or court order, but I cannot talk to you about this,” Hsu told the Weekly on Monday, after confirming he has been interviewed by the Ethics Commission about issues arising while he headed the grading division. Hsu would not confirm the substance of his discussions with the Ethics Commission, but sources at the building department say it involved grading issues in the Hollywood Hills, and Mark Abrams, accused of campaign-money laundering.
Sources at the building department are skeptical of the Playa methane system, which is supposed to consist of 50-foot vent wells, a gravel blanket under the buildings, pipes to pull water from the ground while diverting any gas that is released, and an impermeable membrane under the concrete foundation of the 17 or so residential projects. The project’s foes point to methane-inspection approvals that occurred, in some instances, after the foundation was poured. They question how approval of an underground system could even occur in such a fashion — assuming that such a system exists. The foes further question the city’s monitoring process, insisting there’s been a lack of continuous inspection by the city’s deputy methane inspector. On June 22, after months of inquiring about the city’s methane-inspection regime, Rosendahl wrote to building-department general manager Andrew Adelman and urged him to produce methane reports that show input from members of the public and the neighborhood councils, as required by a city ordinance.
“We have no assurances that there is an adequate methane system at Playa, or that it works,” activist Daniel Cohen said on Friday.