For years, L.A.’s billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso has shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobbyists and L.A. City Council and mayoral candidates to get City Hall approvals for his massive, opulent projects such as The Grove and Waterside. He’s doing it again for his newest luxury project, “333 La Cienega.”
Caruso wants to build 333 La Cienega, a 20-story luxury high-rise, next to the Beverly Center — where traffic and congestion create one of SoCal’s most gridlocked intersections.
Resembling a cruise ship plopped on top of a big building, the $155-million mega-project at 333 La Cienega is overwhelming. For obvious reasons, it is not allowed by the zoning in that area.
But that probably won’t matter. Caruso has made pals at L.A. City Hall. Between 2000 and 2016, according to L.A. City Ethics Commission filings, Caruso and his associates at Caruso Affiliated Holdings, laid out $123,600 in campaign contributions to 42 L.A. political candidates.
Caruso and company have also shelled out $295,218.75 to three lobbyist firms, just since 2007, to assure privileged access to the Planning Department, Building and Safety Department, Mayor’s Office and City Council.
The money goes into City Hall, and the favors come out.
Between 2000 and 2016, Caruso, a City Hall insider who gets appointed to city commissions by politicians, has 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). Caruso’s employees and associates have chipped in quite a bit more.
Caruso is merely tapping the broken rules that create massive traffic jams and ignore the overwhelmed city infrastructure: lay out money for City Hall campaign contributions and lobbyist fees, and pour cash into city officials’ pet projects. In return, a developer gets “rezoning” of the land, a political decision that is often worth millions and millions of dollars.
For a $3.5-billion real estate mogul like Caruso, the checks he personally wrote for $65,750 don’t even add up to the cost of a supercharged Range Rover.
Caruso’s “333 La Cienega,” which is targeted for construction on property at San Vicente Boulevard, Third Street, and La Cienega Boulevard, is a 1 percenter’s statement of pure power. Deep-pocketed tenants will enjoy such high-life amenities as concierge service, a deluxe fitness center with full spa, on-site valet, a dog-walking service, on-call luxury sedans. And full room service.
“If you want a salad from the Polo Lounge,” Caruso told the L.A. Times last year, “we’ll bring you a salad from the Polo Lounge. People want to be pampered.”
Caruso is eager to pack a whole bunch of affluent folks who can afford high monthly prices into one, super-sized mega-project no matter what the consequences may be for surrounding neighborhoods and already-jammed streets.
But Caruso needs the L.A. Planning Department and city politicians to sign off on a zone and “height district” change. Those are supposed to be rare — but the City Council approves dozens, sometimes in a single week. He also needs the City Council to green-light a General Plan “amendment” to change the land use allowed from “Neighborhood Office Commercial” to “Regional Center Commercial.”
333 La Cienega is not zoned for any of this for a reason: There’s no infrastructure to prop it up, and no way for the crowded community to absorb it. It’s nowhere near the subway. But they’re calling it a boon for people who want to use transit.
Once that land is magically turned by the City Council into a “Regional Center Commercial,” almost anything can be justified upon it. Caruso doesn’t even have to build. He can flip the land, and walk away with tens of millions of dollars.
That’s why we need the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative heading for the March 2017 ballot.
Think about it. Rick Caruso makes what for him is a truly modest investment: $418,000 in contributions and lobbying fees since 2000. And if the City Council says “yes” to The Flying Cruise Ship, Caruso gets a return he’d be damn lucky to pull off on Wall Street.
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(top image via Caruso Affiliated)