How do you make Hollywood laugh? Build a community plan.
That's what happened when the City of Los Angeles tried to update its 1988 Hollywood Community Plan, which would have allowed for much taller buildings in certain areas, especially near subway stops. Three community groups sued, saying the city used fictitious population projections to justify towers and larger complexes and didn't consider alternatives. A judge agreed with Hollywood community groups and tossed out the city's plan, calling it “fatally flawed.”
Said retired city planner Dick Platkin earlier this spring: “I maybe have 25 years of experience but I cannot think of a judge throwing out a Community Plan in the past.” The city was forced to settle with the feisty Hollywood neighborhood groups, and to pay their legal bills – $1.75 million in legal bills, to be exact. So with the neighbors victorious, what happens to those clashing dreams for Hollywood?
The city got in trouble with the judge by citing figures that showed Hollywood's population to be climbing at a steady clip, thus necessitating far more housing units. In reality, the number of residents dropped between the 2000 and 2010 censuses by more than 10,000 – many of them Latinos.
Now the city must try again to create plan for Hollywood, and produce another environmental impact report, this time based on actual population-growth figures – presumably, they'll want to conduct a mini-census of the area, since the most recent population figures are three years old.
Hollywood “densification” has long been a wish for a small cadre of developers, as well as the city's political establishment led by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who once represented Hollywood as City Councilman. His former aide and successor, Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, is also generally seen as pro-development.
That's one reason why cranes now dot the skyline of Hollywood.
Of course, the existing 1988 Hollywood Community Plan allows for many a tall building.
“The old 1988 Community Plan certainly is not unfairly restrictive – it is generous,” said Robert Silverstein, one of the lawyers who defeated the new Hollywood Community Plan (and indeed, a lawyer who's successfully stopped several developments in L.A.) “The new Hollywood Community Plan was … what is the right description? It was dystopian.”
According to Platkin, the real reason developers wanted the new plan was not necessarily to build tall buildings – the 1988 plan pretty much allows them to do that just fine – but to make the underlying land more valuable.
Many developers make millions of dollars simply by buying land, then using their power at City Hall to get that land “up-zoned” (zoned for more valuable purposes, such as buildings taller than existing height limits) – then selling the land for a tidy profit.
The new plan would have allowed, according to Platkin, developers to do that en masse.
At any rate, they're still allowed to build tall, if not outright skyscrapers, in Hollywood – at least when the project isn't on earthquake faults.
The proposed Millennium Hollywood Project, which would have built two towers (35 and 39 stories tall) next to the Capitol Records building on Vine Street, was put on hold indefinitely after it turned out that the proposed towers were slated to be built directly on top of the active Hollywood Earthquake Fault. Whoops!
Now everything is on pause until California's state geologist figures out exactly where the fault line runs.
“They problem is, they just think the masses are asses,” said Silverstein, who also sued to stop the Millennium. “Take O'Farrell – I was standing there when he said there was no evidence of any earthquake fault on that property.”
This is all against the backdrop of an emerging housing crisis in Los Angeles. Rent is going up because there aren't enough units (houses or apartments) to meet demand. Ballooning home prices are leaving middle-class people behind.
One of the lawyers fighting City Hall's Hollywood community plan, Beverly Palmer, denied that her clients were against all development; they just want the right kind of development.
“I wouldn't say that no one wants housing,” said Palmer. “I would say that people want developers to be responsive to their concerns. When there's a problem is when they want to go in and just bulldoze over everyone.”
Additional reporting by Jill Stewart