On Thursday, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission gave billionaire Rick Caruso special spot-zoning favors for his 20-story luxury high-rise known as “333 La Cienega.” Proposed for the gridlocked intersection of La Cienega and San Vicente boulevards, the residential skyscraper will loom over its neighbors and open the door to more tall development in the area.
Caruso, a longtime City Hall insider, is the super wealthy developer of high-end shopping malls The Grove and Americana. Between 2000 and 2016, according to the city’s Ethics Commission, Caruso and his associates at Caruso Affiliated Holdings have shelled out $123,600 in campaign contributions to 42 L.A. political candidates.
Rick Caruso has personally written checks totaling $65,750 to L.A. elected officials such as ex-City Council member Tom LaBonge ($4,500), Mayor Eric Garcetti ($2,900) and Council members Jose Huizar ($2,200) and Paul Koretz ($2,200). The developer also gave $100,000 to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles,” a non-profit that helps Garcetti finance his pet projects.
Such generous giving from deep-pocketed developers seeking favors from L.A. elected officials is all too common.
In October, L.A. City Hall was rocked by the infamous “Sea Breeze Scandal,” in which the Los Angeles Times revealed that a developer and his associates spent hundreds of thousands in campaign donations that benefitted City Council members and Mayor Eric Garcetti, who ultimately approved a residential mega-project that the City Planning Commission had rejected.
With 333 La Cienega, Caruso seeks profitable spot-zoning favors to build a 20-story luxury high-rise in a neighborhood that’s not zoned for a tall, dense mega-project — the billionaire wants a zone change, a General Plan amendment and a height district change.
At City Hall on Thursday, Rick Caruso appeared before the City Planning Commission, whose members are appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti. The billionaire described his mega-project as “iconic,” a “palace” and “luxurious.” The developer, who lives far from San Vicente and La Cienega boulevards, also said with an odd sense of entitlement, “We have been tolerant of the community, and inclusive.”
L.A. City Council member Paul Koretz, of District 5, stated in a letter that he supports the mega-project. Many neighborhood activists, however, testified in opposition.
Robert Sherman noted that the height of the luxury project will “set a precedent” in which other developers will seek to build even more skyscrapers in the residential and commercial area.
“We don’t want that to happen,” Sherman told the planning commissioners.
Dick Platkin, a member of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and a supporter of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, said his group has “strong objections” to the “enormity” of Caruso’s skyscraper. He added that Rick Caruso and his supporters also misrepresented 333 La Cienega as a “transit-oriented” project, a selling point that developers often use to win favor with the public and City Hall officials.
“It is a transit-adjacent development,” Platkin said.
Toby Horn, another member of Beverly Wilshire Homes Association, said 333 La Cienega was one more example of developer greed in L.A.
“How much more money does a billionaire need?” she asked emphatically.
Several planning commissioners breezily dismissed the community’s concerns about the height and size of Caruso’s luxury high-rise.
“The height doesn’t bother me, quite frankly,” said commissioner John Mack.
“I don’t have an issue with the height,” added commissioner Veronica Padilla-Campos.
“I’m not bothered by the height,” said planning commission president David Ambroz, who’s widely known for his patronizing comments to the public.
Although the mega-project will dramatically alter neighborhood character, impact an already congested intersection and open the door to more tall development, the City Planning Commission took less than 20 minutes to deliberate and then unanimously approve the profitable spot-zoning favors Rick Caruso sought. It now moves to the City Council’s powerful Planning and Land-Use Management Committee.
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