The Beverly Wilshire Homes Association has filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles regarding the Caruso project at 333 South La Cienega. It is one of the most egregious examples of spot zoning in the city of Los Angeles. This project will set a precedent that crushes our neighborhood and other neighborhoods throughout the city.
The city of Los Angeles continues to allow developers to build as much as they want at the expense of the quality of life for the residents who live here. Winning this lawsuit will stop the city from continuing this policy throughout LA.
Please contribute as little or as much as possible; whatever you give will be greatly appreciated. With your help, we can clean up our city and hold our elected officials accountable. www.gofundme.com/save-our-city-end-spot-zoning
WHY BEVERLY WILSHIRE HOMES IS LEGALLY CHALLENGING THE CARUSO HIGH-RISE
ON LA CIENEGA BOULEVARD
Real estate developer Rick Caruso’s luxury high rise tower at the former Loehman’s site – 333 S. LaCienega — perfectly illustrates how pay-to-play promotes bad city planning in Los Angeles. These are some of the reasons the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association (BWHA) first attempted to negotiate with the developer to produce a project that was compatible with the neighborhood. When that process eventually collapsed after many meetings, we saw no choice but to appeal the project and then move forward with a legal challenge. We know this is a David versus Goliath struggle in which the developer could outspend us a 1000:1, but the following reasons compel us to remain steadfast in our opposition.
• This high-rise project clashes with the character and scale of nearby areas: As should be obvious from the rendering above, this project does not comply with the legally required General Plan policies that the structure be consistent with the scale and character of the neighborhood’s residential area. More specifically, this project will be 165 feet high and have a Floor Area Ratio/FAR (i.e., building mass) of 6.0 on a lot where height is restricted to 45 feet and building mass is limited to an FAR of 1.5. As for compatible character, the proposed tower has a nautical design, reminiscent of a cruise ship, while the surrounding residential buildings have a Spanish Revival
• Traffic congestion: The high-rise project is located at one of the most congested intersections in Los Angeles. Called the Bermuda Triangle, the site is the convergence point of San Vicente Boulevard, Third Street, LaCienega Boulevard, Burton Way, and LeDoux. No combination of street signs, signal lights, and traffic officers has managed to keep this intersection clear during rush hours, and the construction of an auto-centric luxury tower at this location can only make this bad traffic situation worse.
• Unconvincing public necessity: Los Angeles City Charter, Section 558, clearly states that for this project to qualify for a General Plan Amendment and zone change, it must conform to public necessity, convenience, general welfare, and good zoning practice. In this case, the tenants will be extremely rich, paying an average rent of $12,000 per month for lavish apartments in a building with five star amenities, including on-call luxury cars and drivers. These are certainly wonderful features for the 1 percent who can afford them, but the Wilshire Community Plan area has no demonstrated shortage of parcels that can accommodate such luxury apartments. The use of spot-zoning and spot-planning to jack up a 45-foot height limit to 165 feet may meet a private need to maximize profit, but it does not meet a public need. There is no public necessity for a spot-General Plan Amendment and spot-Zone Change to build a luxury apartment tower where it is strictly illegal and unwarranted. As for general welfare, the adjacent Cedars Sinai hospital had made multiple offers to the developer to lease the old Loehman’s building for a community cancer treatment center. That medical use, not a luxury high-rise, strikes us as major contribution to the general welfare.
• Poor Zoning Practices eliminate certainty: The related City Charter finding of good zoning practice is also sharply at odds with this project. The City Council must take three separate actions to legalize this project: a spot-zone change, a spot-height district change, and a spot-General Plan Amendment. Not only is City Charter Section 555 clear that such legislative actions must apply to socially and geographically significant areas (i.e., not single parcels), but these poor planning practices totally eliminate certainty from the planning process. When individuals, families, or companies move into an area, they have clear expectations of what can be legally built near their homes and businesses. But, spot-zoning completely removes this certainty. Cities like Los Angeles then become the Wild West. Spot-zoning through a City Council vote to permit a 165 foot high rise tower where 45 feet is the law eliminates all predictability from
the planning process. The zones and plan designations that people assumed about their neighborhood when they moved in can vanish at the snap of an elected officials’ and deep-pocketed developer’s fingers.
• Affordable housing hype: This project claims that it needs a major economic incentive, much greater building mass, to accommodate large luxury apartments, through LA’s Density Bonus Ordinance. More specifically, the developer intends to replace 13 of 145 luxury apartments with low-income units to build a much larger building. Yet the developer has owned this building site free and clear for many years, and he has no land acquisition costs. In this case, LA’s genuine need for more affordable housing has become a thin cover story for the construction of 130 luxury rental apartments where less than half of that figure is legally permitted.
• Misuse of on and off-site improvements: The project’s conditions of approval, as voted by the City Planning Commission and the City Council, include adjacent street trees, bicycle infrastructure, and a quasi-public fountain. Yet in nearby Los Angeles and Beverly Hills neighborhoods there are many existing pedestrian-oriented projects and corridors. Some have been built and operated as basic municipal services, not as spill over from mega-projects. Others are linked to by-right buildings that conform to plans and zones and that do not need City Council spot-zoning rescue ordinances to obtain public improvements.
• Bad Precedents: To justify height and mass far above legal limits, this project invokes other nearby buildings that exceed 45 feet. Yet, most of these other over-height buildings also required spot-zoning approval from elected officials. For example, one of these projects, across the street, at 8500 Burton Way, is a prototype for this project and is owned by the same developer. Yet, when it was permitted, its neighbors were told it would not become a precedent for more zone changes and General Plan Amendments. Nevertheless, the genie is now out of the bottle. If the City Council approvals prevail in court, it is only a question of time until nearby property owners make parallel requests. They will quickly realize that similar zone changes and General Plan Amendments can green light more lavish and lucrative high-rise apartment towers on their properties.
The take away from this project is that LA’s residents have no choice but eternal vigilance to stand-up to big real estate consortiums and their Little Helpers at City Hall. The BWHA needs technical and financial support from local residents to pursue administrative and legal challenges to this project. Therefore, we ask all readers to send in membership dues, as well as some extra to cover the costs for our legal challenges to this project.
Please contribute to our GoFundMeFund so that we can mount the best possible legal suit we can. Anything you can contribut is greatly appreciated!