In our first installment of “The Bulldozer Files,” in which we highlight press coverage of L.A.’s ongoing land-use wars, we focus on a 2008 L.A. Weekly story titled “Doomscraper? Here Comes Hollywood’s First-Ever Mega-Skyscraper.”
On Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street, at the site of the old CBS headquarters called Columbia Square, Molasky Pacific, a Las Vegas-based developer with deep pockets, wanted to build Hollywood’s tallest skyscraper. But Molasky first needed to get the blessing of then-L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti before purchasing the property for $66 million and moving forward with the project.
The Weekly exposed how developers and L.A. politicians routinely work together behind the scenes to build mega-projects. It’s a cozy, under-the-radar relationship that City Hall politicians don’t want the public to know about. But it’s always happening, according to L.A.’s political insiders.
“The first thing you do [as a developer] is make sure your plan is in line with the council member’s vision,” former City Councilman Art Snyder, who served in the 14th District on the Eastside from 1967 to 1985, told the Weekly. “Otherwise, you have a heck of a time getting it through the system.”
Jacque Lamishaw, a land-use consultant for more than 20 years, who advises developers on how to approach City Hall, also told the paper, “We’re telling [developers] that the do-all and end-all is your city councilman.”
The Weekly found that Molasky Pacific representatives and Garcetti’s office met several times behind closed doors, and “Kenneth Wynn, executive vice president of design and construction for Molasky Pacific — and brother of Las Vegas casino titan and hotel developer Steve Wynn — contributed $500 to Garcetti’s campaign chest.”
Garcetti would “not acknowledge that his team almost certainly gave the go-ahead to the Columbia Square skyscraper in the closed-door meeting two years ago,” the paper wrote. But Jon Perica, a veteran former zoning administrator at the city’s Planning Department, told the Weekly, “If Garcetti told them up-front, ‘No, it’s too big a project,’ the developer wouldn’t have moved ahead. That’s just too much money.”
The paper noted, “Three months after the series of quiet meetings with Garcetti’s people, Molasky Pacific closed the $66-million deal [to purchase] Columbia Square.”
Yet some residents, who were not familiar with the ways of City Hall, were excited about development in Hollywood. They lived in charming bungalows across the street from the proposed skyscraper, and one person believed she could keep her Old Hollywood neighborhood intact.
Jacque Lamishaw, the longtime consultant for developers, told the Weekly a very different, more clear-eyed reality about what will happen once City Hall gave Molasky a height change approval for the skyscraper.
“The bungalows across the street are going to go,” she predicted. “You can save them for a while, but they’re going to go.”
The Weekly also pointed out that Garcetti had a “weird faith” that building tall mega-projects would create more pedestrian-friendly “streetscapes” and lure rich, urban dwellers out of their cars. But one of the nation’s top urban design experts shot down Garcetti’s logic.
“The issue of building tall rather than wide has nothing to do with a better pedestrian environment,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor William Mitchell, a former dean of architecture and design at UCLA and Harvard and an expert in his field, told the paper. “It’s a very simplistic strategy.”
Mitchell had more strong words for Garcetti and politicians like him, per the Weekly:
Mitchell points to London and Paris — “two of the great pedestrian cities in the world,” he says — as places that clearly frown upon skyscrapers and instead focus on dense, low-slung offices and apartments with attractive streetscapes. “You don’t have to do it by building skyscrapers. That’s a scam.”
Mitchell also says, “If you think of urban space in East Coast terms — that’s not L.A. L.A. should build on its own qualities.” He cites one-story and two-story hangouts like the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Melrose Avenue near the Fairfax District, the Venice Boardwalk and, of course, the beaches as examples of “some of the world’s great public spaces.”
As for Garcetti’s fondness for bringing some of Manhattan to Los Angeles, the MIT professor practically scolds the green-living Rhodes Scholar. “Some people can’t shake this East Coast envy,” Mitchell says, “which is immature, and [they] need to get over it.”
A scam? Sounds just like L.A.’s rigged and broken development-approval system, which developers and L.A. politicians manipulate to serve their own self-interests. But the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will start the process of fixing that, and we ask for your support.