L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti And Hollywood's 'Elegant Density' -- A Love Story
Elegant, if not harmonious
Hollywood Patch opened its doors last Thursday -- hey guys! -- and we're not particularly surprised to see that editor Anna Bakalis' first story attempts to tackle the Hollywood Farmers Market vs. L.A. Film School beast. Patch is the latest in a line of many national newspapers, ours included, that have searched for the whole story and only come out with a piece of it.
So, in the spirit of digging a little further toward the grit of the matter, and because we wouldn't mind some heat to combat this awful Grapevine freeze, it's the Weekly's turn, once again, to look beyond the easy parking-produce battlefront and get to the issue at the core of the the catty community tussle: The L.A. City Council and Hollywood Councilman Eric Garcetti's undying love for "elegant density."
Squeezing as many developers onto one block as possible has long been a passion of city politicians. In the past few years, the Weekly has found that such aspirations have led to lung disease (and possibly autism) in children living near freeways and developments that defy environmental regulations in favor of maximizing squish-space.
From the latter story:
Council President Eric Garcetti defended the [city's effort to exempt from environmental review outsize projects that applied for the "density bonus"] in an interview with L.A. Weekly at that time, saying that even though it didn't provide enough protections for hard-fought quality-of-life rules like requiring greenery and building setbacks from the street, he was, "trying to fix something that was broken."
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The case of the Hollywood Farmers Market is less extreme, but it's still very revealing of the City Council's strange, profitable and often detrimental want to pack everyone in as tightly as possible.
When a "This Way LA" roundtable aired on KCRW radio Dec. 17, we heard Garcetti claiming triumphantly that a compromise had been reached between the market and the L.A. Film School -- and we didn't believe him for a second.
"It was music to my ears," said Garcetti. "I was happy to play a role, to bring those sides together, and now we're just going to work on some of the final language in the next 24 hours."
The next day, Garcetti's office sent out a sheepish press release about a vague solution -- with a glaring white space where the Film School's signature should have gone.
Michael Woo, who's on both the city's Planning Commission and the SEE-LA board that oversees the farmers market, issued this follow-up statement: "Up until almost midnight last night, Councilman Garcetti and his staff tried to negotiate mutually-acceptable language which would reflect the basic interests of each side. In the end, we were not able to come up with language which would satisfy the Film School. That is the reason why the Film School is not officially signing-off."
Sure enough -- the Film School had backed out at the last minute, unsatisfied. That's because this is not a simple parking problem for them. How many times do we have to say it? The Film School wants to expand its curriculum and event calendar to Sundays -- and that would require complete access to roads and sidewalks surrounding the facility. Yes, Film School President Diana Derycz-Kessler loves organic food and community togetherness and blah blah blah, but she also loves running a successful business that has room to grow.
A sign taped to the Film School reads: "QUIET PLEASE FILMING INSIDE"
Although Garcetti's still smiling like the best of politicians, he must know his vision for urban overlap has wedged him between a high-rise and a hard place. Even if this particular neighborhood feud works itself out, there are worse ones to come, as more and more developers are given the OK.
John Walsh -- who opposed the new Department of Public Works street-closure regulations from the get-go -- has been a Hollywood resident since 1973 and a "gadfly extraordinaire" since anyone can remember. He's fought the subway, the mayor, the Los Angeles Times and the rest of us lazy new journalists -- and he's just waiting for everyone to realize that every real problem in this city stems from land use and overdevelopment.
Walsh explains to the Weekly that Garcetti had to know full well what was going on when new street-closure regulations were passed in September 2009, requiring 51 percent of businesses on each block to give their permission.
Garcetti says it often: He wants to live in a world where he can stroll from the market to the theater to a subway station home. And it's not just him. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Woo and most of the current councilmembers are equally enticed by the idea of a busy hive of cash-cow developments squeezing up next to each other in New York-style "harmony."
But "this is not New York," says Walsh.
Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, who was on KCRW's original Hollywood Farmers Market broadcast, expresses to the Weekly sincere bewilderment as to why the market can't just move to a large open space, like a parking lot to the east or the elementary school to the west.
And the list of confused characters goes on.
A community activist is born
Gabrielle Frankel is a brand-new community activist who cares deeply about keeping the Hollywood Farmers Market as-is. "I'm just a shopper who has some time on my hands," she says. She also happens to mention that Patch editor Anna Bakalis, who quoted Frankel in her piece, acted "hostile" in their interview. That can happen after being wooed by Adam Englander, the Film School's new PR big-shot.
(The Patch article, interestingly, quotes farmers market director Pompea Smith's salary at $72,000. Which may seem like a lot to a Patch editor -- sorry, couldn't resist -- but as long as we're speaking salaries, who wants to guess how much the Film School honchos are pulling per year?)
Anyway, Frankel has spent almost $15,000 from her own bank account to fund American Apparel-made Save the Hollywood Farmers Market T-shirts. (And they're hot stuff: The staff at Amoeba Records has been spotted wearing them.) Frankel also started a 501(3)(c) organization, in case the market ever needs a separate entity as an ally.
She may be new on the political scene, but it didn't take long for her to hear Walsh's name and go a-knockin' at his front door. Literally.
"He's this local guy with crazy gray hair ... wearing an orange plaid jacket -- such a weirdo," she says. "But it turned out he knew how to contact everyone."
She's also quickly learned how difficult public figures can be to pin down. "Angela Mota, Garcetti's staff member working on the Hollywood Farmers Market issue, physically evaded me," she says.
Frankel soon realized that the market's enemy was not the Film School, but the Department of Public Works regulations.
"Eric Garcetti told me twice that a legislative tweak is necessary to make the ordinance work," she says.
John Walsh says: Duh.
"What they're doing ... is giving land-use decisions over to favored land owners," he says.
Frankel has reached an interesting conclusion (surely Walsh had nothing to do with it) that might help explain why an ordinance like this will never work: "Every business has a legal duty to their shareholders to say no. They don't have a legal duty to be nice to the community."
Garcetti's spokesperson, Julie Wong, told the Weekly last month that the councilman had no idea the new 2009 street-closure regulations would be a problem until the L.A. Film School bomb dropped in a media flurry this November.
Now, she says Today, she adds that Garcetti was worried about the petition process all along -- just not the L.A. Film School's unwillingness to sign in particular (even though the school has long aired its dissatisfaction, and agreed to a preliminary access-to-parking deal with the farmers market three years back).
"Early on, we knew this could be an issue," Wong says today. "We foresaw that the paperwork might be confusing for the folks who run the farmers market."
After the Weekly's most recent Hollywood Farmers Market piece, we were also contacted by someone who has not received an inch of soapbox throughout this whole fiasco: A Selma Street resident.
Patrick Taylor, who lives on the corner of Selma Street and Ivar Avenue, at the center of the market, says that he and many of his building's 100 other residents, if given the choice, would not sign a street-closure permit for the Hollywood Farmers Market.
"There are quite a few of us -- I have talked with quite a few," he says. "And if anyone wants to ask us about it, we'll talk."
There is another row of apartments that takes up almost the entire area across from the Film School. Taylor says many of them aren't happy either. On Sundays, it's impossible to park or have any guests over; smoke and noise beginning at 6 a.m. make opening a window a non-option, which can really suck in the summertime heat; and more often than not, the market leaves a giant mess in its wake.
Most of all, he says, market organizers and vendors just aren't very nice about it.
"We were here first -- that's kind of the attitude we always get," he says.
The street-closure regulations read:
"A petition must be submitted indicating that occupants of at least 51 percent of the residences or businesses within the closure area have no objections to and support the closure. Petitions must be signed by the owner, manager, assistant manager, or lessee of the residences or businesses impacted by the closure."
However, it is amended by the following: "The general exceptions to this requirement are if the closure is requested by the Councilmember for the district or the requesting party or organization owns at least 51 percent of the property within the block."
In the case of the Film School on Ivar Avenue, the latter exception overrode the former. In the case of Taylor and his alleged army, a certain councilman must have signed off for them, because no one ever approached them for permission.
Where organic farming meets Jack in the Box
Hollywood Property Owners Alliance director Morrison says she's "mystified" as to why the market can't just move a few blocks over so everyone can be happy.
"We got out a big visual map looking at the core part of Hollywood and thought, 'Wow, there are options," she says. "I sent it to the council office." But she hasn't heard back.
A spokesman for Allied Media Productions, located in said parking lot, says Allied is in business on Sundays: "We would need parking spaces, and our clients would need parking spaces."
As soon as the Film School became the public enemy of the market, nearby businesses like Jack in the Box and the indie-run Sound Factory piped up that they weren't so stoked on sharing their street-space, either.
"It is an enigma to me why the community -- in an economy like this -- why there would not be some empathy for a business who would like to operate on Sunday," Morrison says.
She adds that she has not yet contacted any specific businesses about potentially moving the market into their front yard -- as Garcetti hasn't yet asked her to -- but that she's confident many would be fine with it.
"Sometimes I actually have to sit on the curb to eat my pupusa. It seems like there's so much opportunity for some expansion and breathing room -- i dont personally see how that would affect the urban charm," she says.
But then how would Garcetti and neighborhood trendsters who wish they lived in Brooklyn take their Sunday stroll from the fresh-fruit booths to the theater dome down the street?
"'Squeeze' is the word of the future," says Morrison. We couldn't agree more.
Beginning January 9, there will be 90 days for the market, the Film School, Garcetti and the Department of Public Works to try and make everyone happy. Stay tuned to the Informer for more drama, stock press releases and a Hollywood-load of pissed-off residents.
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