Photo: Iris Schneider
While our mayor is spending time in Washington, he's left LA a few souvenirs to contemplate. One takes up an entire city block of Sunset Boulevard at Western, and it's brought to you by Target and the Los Angeles City Council, with an assist from then-Councilman Eric Garcetti. The structure, under construction by Target, sits unfinished after a Superior Court judge overturned the city's approval of the project and ordered that construction be stopped. Last year, two neighborhood associations filed separate lawsuits against Target because the building was in violation of the height limit for that area. Target is filing an appeal and wants to continue construction without changing its plans. Meanwhile, the neighborhood has inherited a huge eyesore and a situation which won't be resolved for months, perhaps years.
In 2012, when Target approached the City Council with its plans for the corner property, Councilman Garcetti pushed through approval even though the project, at 74 feet, is more than twice the 35 foot height limit set for the neighborhood by the Vermont/Western Station Neighborhood Area Plan. Now that the court has found Target in violation of the law, I was wondering if Garcetti had any second thoughts about the wisdom of allowing and encouraging such a huge structure, and openly flouting the existing height limits. I submitted these questions to the mayor's office:
In retrospect, now that construction has been halted and the project is mired in lawsuits pitting the neighborhood against the developer, has he had a chance to reflect on that decision? What does he think should happen at this point to move the project forward? Why did he flout the established legal height limits? Given that several large projects are now on hold in Hollywood, either for violation of height limits, or inconclusive earthquake fault testing, what conclusions should LA citizens draw about the planning process and whose interests are represented in projects like these?
In response, Yusef K. Robb, Mayor Garcetti's director of communications, said: "We remain in favor of this corner of Hollywood being revitalized with a mix of small businesses, restaurants and pedestrian friendly features, including retail that creates jobs." This response has been the answer to any question raised about this project and never seems to change.
I emailed attorney Robert Silverstein, who represents one of the neighborhood groups, to ask if he thinks the onus for the current situation lies with the city or the corporation. He replied in an email: "Target admitted during the litigation that it was proceeding with construction at its own risk, and the City Council and Planning Dept. was [sic] complicit in permitting Target to do so. The onus is therefore upon both Target and the city to comply with the court's decision."
I asked what conclusions can be drawn about Councilman Garcetti's encouraging Target to jettison the height limits in building this project. Silverstein replied that "Garcetti disregarded both the law and the community by encouraging Target to ignore the area's carefully crafted zoning regulations and construct a project strongly opposed by the community. Garcetti's staff admitted at the city hearings that the purpose of exceeding the allowed height was to establish precedents to encourage others to seek to exceed the height and density limits on Sunset Blvd...The end result is a proliferation of bad projects and community uproar. The solution, however, is simple: the City Council and developers must respect the law."
I understand Garcetti's desire to create more pedestrian-friendly development. In doing it the way he did, however, what the neighborhood has been left with is anything but.