30-story tower planned at foot of Baldwin Hills raises a fuss


This is the kind of completely new development turn for Los Angeles that should get a thorough debate in the political arena but that rarely does — didn't in the last mayoral race and I'll bet won't in next year's campaign either. It's a mega-development already approved by the City Council for the former KABC Radio site on La Cienega Boulevard at Jefferson Boulevard. The most noticeable element of the 11-acre Cumulus plan is a residential tower OK'd to rise 30 stories.

If you know the area, where the city limits of Los Angeles bump up against Ballona Creek and Culver City's hot Hayden Tract district, you know there is nothing anywhere close to that high within miles. Just trying to go from memory here, but I don't think there is a 30-story building anywhere along La Cienega, including in dense areas such as Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and around Beverly Center. So this would erect a 30-story tower in front of the view from (and of) the Baldwin Hills and Kenneth Hahn Park, along with a mixed-use mega-development in a part of town that has nothing of that intensity. This is just up La Cienega from the Target store (the former Fedco) at Rodeo Road. The media reporting on the project struggle with what to label the neighborhood: I've seen West Adams, Southwest LA, Baldwin Hills, and even South Los Angeles (in the LA Times.)

So it would be establishing a brand-new high-rise focus on the skyline in a corner of Los Angeles where nothing pierces the sky now and where that level of development has never existed. When you go high-rise in Los Angeles, you don't just intensify traffic and density at an intersection, you also alter views and can render a whole bunch of single-family homes as no longer private or in full sunlight. The twist here is the Expo Line station at La Cienega. The planning concept behind all of the new transit lines in LA is to concentrate future development around the stations. So through that lens, plopping a 30-story tower by the La Cienega/Jefferson station makes civic sense.

The community around La Cienega and Jefferson sounds torn in the recent news coverage — new stores and restaurants would be welcome by many in the neighborhood, but there's also concern about traffic and density in an area that is already a a major pass-through route between Central LA, Hollywood and the LAX area. What makes this different from the ordinary politics of growth, density and traffic is that this is creating a permanent new high-rise center in a part of the city that never was one before. Just the kind of thing you'd think would get a complete citywide airing before going forward.

The new news that brings this all up now is a lawsuit filed against the project. From the LA Times story:

In a lawsuit filed last month, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative say city officials violated state and local laws when it approved the project. The City Council amended zoning and height restrictions to permit the high-rise.

Opponents said the tower would be too tall and the housing complex too dense for the area. Additionally, they said the massive development would further congest major streets, which are popular routes to LAX.

“We are in areas where we have been frequently deprived of these services,” said Damien Goodmon, head of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. “We want them, but you can’t tell us to get that we have to put up with out-of-scale, out-of-character development that is going to overburden our area and not even be affordable for us.”

City officials would not comment on the lawsuit, but said that there has been overwhelming support for the project. During the two-year approval process and multiple meetings, hundreds of residents said they backed it, said Vanessa Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for L.A. City Councilman Herb Wesson, who represents the area where the project is slated to be built.

“It’s unfortunate that the only concerns about this project are coming from outside of the community,” she said. Residents’ input was “instrumental in creating the vision for the project. This is about having community members shop in the community they live in and bringing new amenities to the neighborhood.”

And at Curbed:

The two groups say the project is in an area where the tallest buildings are only four stories tall.

The Crenshaw Subway Coalition unsuccessfully sued Metro over the Crenshaw Line light rail, which will cut through Leimert Park, Hyde Park, Inglewood, and eventually have a stop that connects to LAX. The coalition had argued construction would ravage businesses along Crenshaw Boulevard. It wanted an underground segment as opposed to above-ground rail there.

Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is a group described as "supporters of the ballot measure" of the same name. Its spokeswoman is Jill Stewart, who is the campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, the group sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative up for vote in November. That initiative seeks to slow down development citywide by requiring city planners to strictly adhere to the city's outdated General Plan.

Construction on the West Adams mixed-user was expected to begin in 2018.

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