The Los Angeles City Council completed a possibly illegal manipulation of L.A.’s development approval process today by unanimously green-lighting the controversial Martin Expo Town Center mega-project slated for the gridlocked Westside. The oversized project was strongly opposed by many community groups and residents.

Martin Expo Town Center, proposed by the wealthy Martin Automotive Group, is located at the site of Martin Cadillac at Olympic Boulevard and Bundy Drive. On a 4.7-acre lot, the gigantic, mixed-use project will jam in 516 residential units, a live entertainment venue and a 10-story, 218,000-square-foot tower with retail and office space.

Through a company called Philena Properties, Martin Automotive Group needed “spot-zoning” approvals from the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti — a general plan amendment and zone change. The middle-class, low-slung neighborhood at Olympic and Bundy is not zoned for such a humungous project.

Since 2012, according to the city’s Ethics Commission, Martin Automotive and Philena Properties has spent $762,771 on campaign contributions to city politicians and high-priced lobbyists to win favors from City Hall. That big-time spreading around of cash may have helped at Tuesday’s Council meeting.

By voting 12-0, with avid support from District 11 Councilman Mike Bonin, the City Council completely ignored the long-standing concerns of numerous Westside organizations such as West of Westwood Homeowners Association, West L.A.-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council, Brentwood Homeowners Association and Westwood South of Santa Monica Blvd. Homeowners Association — all of which believe that Martin Expo Town Center will create an even worse traffic nightmare on the gridlocked Westside.


Developer’s rendering of Martin Expo with suspiciously gridlock-free streets — image from EIR


West L.A.-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council board member Xochitl Gonzalez told the Council today that Martin Expo Town Center was a “sprawling mess” that would have major traffic impacts in her community.

Nonetheless, Councilman Bonin made a particularly passionate case today on the behalf of Martin Automotive Group, saying that community people were “clamoring” for the mega-project that had “transit incentives galore.” He failed to provide a detailed list of those supposed incentives, and never mentioned that numerous, longtime neighborhood groups opposed Martin Expo Town Center.

Bonin went so far in his hard push to sell Martin Expo Town Center that he described it as a “community contribution” to the Westside. The councilman, though, was not as strong an advocate for Westside residents last week.

In a highly unusual, possibly illegal move, the City Council’s powerful Planning and Land-Use Management (PLUM) Committee waived a public hearing for Martin Expo Town Center and moved the mega-project to City Council for approval. Residents, as a result, were not given the opportunity to testify before the influential PLUM committee.

The eye-brow-raising action by PLUM was supposedly the result of a clerical error that prevented the committee from holding a public hearing.

Westside activists such as Xochitl Gonzalez then went to Councilman Bonin and asked that Martin Town Expo Center be sent back to PLUM so the public could testify at that committee. Bonin’s office, according to Gonzalez, hemmed and hawed and wouldn’t commit to fulfilling the request. Days later, Martin Town Expo Center received a unanimous “yes” vote from the City Council.

Martin Automotive Group received its spot-zoning approvals today, but Westside residents are now exploring legal action against the city of L.A.

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