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
Garcetti does not acknowledge that his team almost certainly gave the go-ahead to the Columbia Square skyscraper in the closed-door meeting two years ago. Yet Jon Perica, a veteran former zoning administrator at the city’s Planning Department, points out, “If Garcetti told them up-front, ‘No, it’s too big a project,’ the developer wouldn’t have moved ahead. That’s just too much money.”
Three months after the series of quiet meetings with Garcetti’s people, Molasky Pacific closed the $66 million deal for Columbia Square. Then, about eight weeks later, on October 16, 2006, television producer Jon Crowley posted rumors on his blog that the old CBS buildings would be torn down.
The very next day, Crowley, who writes at www.hollywoodthoughts.blogspot.com, received anxious e-mails from both council President Garcetti and Molasky Pacific officials, rebuffing his post. “Garcetti e-mailed me personally,” says Crowley, who works at Sunset Gower Studios.
It was a curious situation — a tiny blog read by just 30 people per day had set off a panic attack in the office of the busy and powerful City Council president. Clearly, Garcetti was standing on high alert.
Molasky Pacific then attended a meeting with Garcetti himself on Valentine’s Day, 2007, according to the developer’s spokesman Lewis. That apparently went well too. Several days later, in March, the firm sent an application to the city’s Planning Department for the project’s approval. It is said to take longer for a single Los Angeles homeowner to navigate the same system to build a backyard shed.
In the application, a little-known fact is buried in confusing, zoning-code jargon: A hard-won height limit of 45 feeet would be wiped out to allow a “no-limit” building, 922 percent taller than permitted.
It’s unclear why Garcetti won’t cop to his role as the overseer of development, along with the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which currently has four cranes in the air above Hollywood. Maybe he’s uncomfortable peddling luxury giants while playing to his audience as a lefty lover of open space. Perica, who in the city''s Planning Department worked cases involving high-rise development, says of the stealth skyscraper, “A project that large is not even going to be submitted to the Planning Department if the City Council office isn’t behind it.”
Records from Molasky Pacific show that, in fact, Garcetti is closely involved. Besides his February 2007 meeting, the council president met personally with the firm in October 2007, and again in February 2008.
“I haven’t anywhere on the record supported that project — privately or publicly,” says Garcetti during a telephone interview with the Weekly. Molasky Pacific’s flack, Lewis, denies in an e-mail that the skyscraper is a done deal under the City Council’s land-use overlord culture: “City Council President Garcetti has not ‘signed on’ to the project. He has not expressed support at any of the meetings we have held with him.”
When informed of Snyder’s comments about how things really work in City Hall, Garcetti somewhat backtracks. “I certainly haven’t said, ‘Don’t build anything there,’ ” he says.
Robert Nudelman, a knowledgeable pro on the inner workings of City Hall and director of preservation issues at Hollywood Heritage, a feisty local group that’s saved numerous old buildings, notes it is standard procedure for a council member to appear, outwardly, to have no position on a project. “His silence speaks for itself,” Nudelman says.
Land-use consultant Lamishaw believes Garcetti’s refusal to admit he’s given any kind of nod to the Columbia Square project comes of political necessity. The 14 other council members, who operate in the same fashion — rulers of their fiefdoms when it comes to the land — rarely finger each other over the practice.
“He would just cause trouble for himself and the rest of the City Council,” Lamishaw says, if he let voters see how it works. Not just Garcetti, but “the other City Council members don’t want people to know they do that kind of thing.”
Lamishaw notes that Garcetti “needs to hold the cards close to the vest” so he can still have leverage and win a few “concessions” from the developers. Garcetti, in fact, says he handed over a list of “community benefits” to Molasky Pacific. They included affordable rents on 10 percent of the units, a set number of living-wage jobs during construction, Garcetti’s favored mix of live/work units, “green” buildings, “open plazas and parks,” and “adequate” parking. Most of these things, though, are not concessions. Affordable housing and parking are created by law — based on the size of the building — and a sculpture garden in a condo complex is not a park.
Yet the key issues likely to shock Angelenos the most — the sheer height of the skyscraper and its effect on the nearby historic community and Hollywood’s classic skyline — didn’t make Garcetti’s modest wish list.