CityWatch, July 15, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 56
RETHINKING LA - Only in LA can a developer come to town with a $20 Billion budget, go to work on a construction campaign that impacts literally every neighborhood in the city, and not take responsibility for traffic mitigation, pedestrian and cyclist access, ADA compliance, roadway improvements, signalization enhancements, or simply adhering to LA’s municipal code.
This cavalier behavior is the work of the LAUSD, they’re LA’s largest developer, and they are above the law.
When the LAUSD’s building program gets implemented in a neighborhood, it doesn’t come with the expected community benefits that would demonstrate a partnership, it comes with an expectation that the local municipal authority will take responsibility for any street improvements and traffic mitigation.
The LAUSD spent $228 million on Central Los Angeles High School #9, aka the Visual and Performing Arts High School, and failed to deliver an ADA accessible school. The City of LA was expected to deliver the improvements that would support and encourage children as they walked and bicycled to school.
This isn’t the exception, it’s the rule, and the recent roster of newly constructed LAUSD schools that are on LA’s Safe Routes to School project list demonstrates LAUSD’s shortcomings when it comes to connecting with the community.
Simply put, if the LAUSD played by the same rules as the residents, they would build to code, they would include community benefits, and they would improve local streets to mitigate traffic and to support the kids who walk and bicycle to school. But they don’t because they are above the law.
Not to be outdone, the LA County Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO), owner of massive amounts of property including the land surrounding more than 70 transit hubs, is developing mixed-use Transit Oriented Development (TOD) projects such as Hollywood’s W Hotel & Residences and the Westlake/MacArthur Park development.
Hollywood’s TOD came with great promises of intersection improvements, community benefits, connectivity, and public space enhancements.
When the ribbon was cut, the truth was revealed, LA’s Metro is another developer that operates as if it is above the law, violating LA’s municipal code, ignoring community benefit obligations, and creating traffic issues that took the life of a pedestrian in a crosswalk within the first few weeks of operation.
Not to be outdone, LA’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is technically part of the City Family yet it operates independently, a privilege that comes from having a dedicated and protected revenue stream. The CRA uses incremental tax revenue to develop “blighted” neighborhoods, a designation that was almost applied to the entire city of LA. It does this with the bull-in-a-china-shop behavior that locals have come to expect from the CRA’s well-funded development partners. Land is condemned and seized using the unique “I can do better than you!” interpretation of eminent domain, and then the notion of “public use” is twisted and the public gets used, literally.
The CRA is consistent with the Metro and the LAUSD in its arrogant approach to development and it also violates municipal code, ignores its community benefits obligation, and develops property as if it is above the law. Based on results, it is.
Rounding out the slate of mega-developers is the City of Los Angeles itself. One would think that of all developers, the City of LA could be counted on to develop its projects with a strict adherence to LA’s municipal code but that’s not the case.
LA has several building campaigns in different states of completion, and they include libraries, fire stations, and police stations. Funded with public money, these projects are built with an admirable goal of “on time and under budget” but with disregard for the third commitment, “up to code.”
Funded projects have a momentum that allows them to proceed without the traditional obligations of community benefit, of accessibility and for connectivity, and of community oversight.
In the process of defending local residents of the East Hollywood neighborhood who were being cited by Building & Safety for over-in-height fences and other code violations, I visited several municipal facilities, some of which were out of code, including the new Rampart Police Station.
In the spirit of LA’s complaint-driven process for code enforcement I attempted to initiate a code violation complaint, only to discover that the City of LA is also above the law. Apparently, Building & Safety can’t take a code violation complaint on municipal property and developments and I was sent on a journey of “anywhere but here” as I attempted to hold the City of LA to its own standards.
The residents of Los Angeles live in a city that preys on itself. Public money is spent on projects that arrive with their own gravitational pull, bending the community to the will of the project. Schools, fire and police stations, libraries, transit developments, and infrastructure improvements should arrive wrapped in respect, not contempt for the community.
The City of Los Angeles has an obligation to enforce the law of the land evenly, and if it applies to the residents, it also applies to the largest developers in the city. Most of all, it applies to the City of Los Angeles.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)