Cumulus project in South Los Angeles

Gigantic ‘Cumulus’ Project Worries West Adams Neighbors — And City Hall Doesn’t Care

In Archive by Patrick Range McDonald

Carmel Partners, a San Francisco-based development firm, is counting on L.A.’s broken and rigged development-approval system to bring them millions.

You see, tapping that broken system is the only way the developer can jam the massive, 1.9-million-square-foot “Cumulus” project, with a looming 30-story skyscraper, onto the longtime KABC Radio property that’s just east of Ballona Creek and Culver City on La Cienega Blvd. near the 10 freeway.

The proposed mega-project is also right across from the homes of African American and Latino residents in West Adams.

“This project really does shine a light on the social justice issues involved with redevelopment,” attorney Jamie Hall told us.

Because skyscrapers are not allowed on this land, which is close to the gridlocked commuter thoroughfares of Venice and Washington boulevards, Carmel needs big political favors from the L.A. City Council to plop the super-sized mega-project with 1,218 luxury units at 3321 S. La Cienega Blvd.

The developers need a General Plan amendment, a zone change and height district change, among other things. This is serious rule-bending. Zoning exists so neighborhoods are protected from over-sized development. But the San Francisco developers know the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti’s track records – these politicians look the other way whenever developers start spreading around the cash at City Hall.

Here’s how the developer cash gets spread around. Months before Carmel Partners filed the “initial study” for their skyscraper complex with the L.A. planning department, a bunch of people who work for Carmel contributed $700 each to City Council President Herb Wesson’s campaign. Christopher Bede, Michael LaHorgue and Ron Zeff, of Carmel, gave a total $2,100 to Wesson. The skyscraper, if enough rules get broken, will be built in his City Council district.

Carmel Partners also contributed $700 to the campaign of City Council member Jose Huizar and $700 to Huizar’s “officeholder account” – a legal slush fund the wealthy use to donate to L.A. politicians. Reformers have called the City Council’s slush funds an invitation to corruption. The firm also gave $700 toward the re-election of Councilman Curren Price, and another $700 to Gil Cedillo’s upcoming re-election.

Why give to Huizar and Cedillo, since their Eastside districts are nowhere near West Adams or South L.A.? Because Huizar and Cedillo serve on City Hall’s too-powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee, a key player in helping developers ignore and bend the rules.

Carmel Partners paid a City Hall lobbyist a total of $59,356 in 2014 and 2015 to schmooze with City Council members and planning department employees.

That’s $64,256 Carmel Partners has pumped into L.A. City Hall so far. Pennies compared to the tens of millions in pure profit Carmel will reap if it is allowed to ignore community character and zoning laws to erect a skyscraper in a single-family, minority neighborhood near Ballona Creek.

In the broader neighborhood of West Adams, the median household income is $38,209. Residents don’t have the cash to buy the kind of insider access that Carmel bought. But they shouldn’t have to. Local politicians should be looking out for everyone’s interests, not just the privileged few.

Attorney Jamie Hall was hired by African American and Latino residents who live next to the proposed Cumulus mega-project. They are working- and middle-class, and several are retired.

These residents have never fought City Hall before — and they are not against development. They simply want the traffic problems caused by this mega-project to be reduced, so people are not driving like crazies through their quiet neighborhood to avoid gridlock on La Cienega Blvd. during rush hours.

Yet the neighbors are not wealthy. They don’t know Gil Cedillo or Jose Huizar. They don’t have politically connected attorneys and lobbyists. So nobody — not the L.A. planning department employees paid by taxpayers or Eric Garcetti’s Planning Commission or their own elected councilman, Herb Wesson — are listening to them. At all.

So Garcetti’s Planning Commission recently approved the Cumulus mega-project, and now the City Council will vote on it. The neighbors’ suggestions for reducing cars speeding through their community and ruining its cherished, calm character have been ignored at every step.

The neighbors, known as the La Cienega Heights Association, may be forced to file a lawsuit just to be heard. Just to be taken seriously.

“We don’t want to kill the project,” Hall said. “We just want the [traffic] mitigations.”

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, heading for the March 2017 ballot, will give all communities — like West Adams — more say over how their neighborhoods are shaped and impacted by development. The citizens’ initiative, when approved by voters, will force the City Council to end its broken, unfair and rigged development-approval system that’s manipulated by developers and their politician pals.

Residents will no longer be treated like second-class citizens by the very politicians they elected.

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