What in the heck is happening in Koreatown?

Community activists don’t want a 27-story, 269-unit residential high-rise to go up in a low-slung, working-class section of Koreatown. The city’s planning commission voted against the proposed skyscraper, with one commissioner describing it as “wildly inappropriate.” Yet Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a rare move, overturned the planning commission and approved the mega-project — but only after Beverly Hills developer Michael Hakim agreed to fork over $1 million to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. It was one of those “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” deals.

Crazy, right?

So Coalition to Preserve L.A. campaign director Jill Stewart visited yesterday with prominent Koreatown activist and attorney Grace Yoo and Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council vice-president Aura Vasquez to hear what they had to say.

A little background…

Hakim lives in Beverly Hills and once ran for city council there as an anti-development candidate. Yes, it’s true! Read our February 22 story for more info on that. But in L.A., miles away from his posh city, Hakim found a way to get over his strong distaste for overdevelopment and tried for years to build a gigantic skyscraper on South Catalina Street near Eighth Street. City officials, quite wisely, always turned him down.

Suddenly, last spring, out of nowhere, Garcetti approved the mega-project after Hakim agreed to the $1 million contribution and another back-scratching donation of $250,000 to L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson’s District 10 “Community Benefits Trust Fund.” Hakim’s high-rise is located in Council District 10.

Today, Hakim is still trying to get final approvals for his mega-project with market-rate (meaning, “not very affordable”) housing. But, things are looking pretty darn good for him, and he can make millions and millions off the wildly inappropriate skyscraper.

Yoo, Vasquez and their neighbors are justifiably steamed. And Hakim’s high-rise is a major example of why the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve L.A., is so needed.

(By the way, take a look at the picture below of the proposed site. The skyscraper would rise another 20 stories above that first palm tree. That “wildly inappropriate” remark is wildly accurate. Wow!)

“For this 27-story project to be built,” said Stewart at a press conference yesterday, “city officials will have to bend almost every rule in the book – but that happens every day at City Hall. The rigged system at City Hall rewards greedy developers and it is hard to beat. But the public can win and put new controls on reckless development if they vote for our measure when it gets on the ballot.”

ktownscraperThe Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will impose a two-year moratorium on development projects that seek height, zoning and General Plan amendments — and require special handling, rule-bending and council intervention to go forward, such as Hakim’s. These are the kinds of flagrantly obnoxious projects that overwhelm our traffic, our neighborhoods and our environment.

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will also require City Hall to begin a periodic, systematic review of its planning rules as set forth and established in the General Plan. During this review process, citizens will have new opportunities to shape the rules of the road and the destinies of their communities.

Finally, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will permanently protect the citizen-shaped General Plan against the most egregious abuses of the current rigged system at City Hall for approving major projects.

L.A.’s General Plan is supposed to be the city’s planning constitution. Its integrity needs to be protected and respected. Today, however, General Plan amendments are handed out to developers like candy. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will stop these developer hand-outs, such as the one Hakim is getting from Garcetti.

There’s a lot on the line with overdevelopment and horrible land-use policy in L.A.

In Koreatown, Yoo said at the press conference that Hakim’s mega-project will result in the destruction of more than a dozen rent-controlled units and cause even more wreckage.

“If this project is built,” Yoo warned, “it will have a domino effect on the rest of the area. All of these mom-and-pop apartment buildings will be swept up by developers. The working families living in them will be evicted, and the developers will put up luxury housing.”

Vasquez added: “I’m not against all development, just irresponsible projects like this one. Unfortunately, many developers don’t have the best interests of the community in mind, and they’re ruining our community and filling the streets with their traffic. In Koreatown, we have a traffic crisis and a parking availability crisis created by too much development. When I get home from work, it’s often almost impossible for me to find a parking space. Many times I have to walk alone several blocks in the dark from my car to my apartment, and it’s scary.”

Unsurprisingly, both Yoo and Vasquez support the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

Like many other Angelenos across our city, they want citizens to have a major role in important land-use policy decisions that impact L.A.’s communities, and they want developers to play by the rules just like everyone else.

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(Top image by Patrick Range McDonald)

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