West Hollywood residents and city council members have been reeling since news broke of an exclusive agreement reached between the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Cohen Brothers to explore bringing a massive, multi-use complex to Boystown.
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, residents expressed outrage during the public comment period — resident Stephanie Harker was “gobsmacked,” Cathy Blaivas said her “head was spinning” and Larry Block declared Boystown was about to “lose its character.” Council members insisted they knew nothing about the plans before WEHOville broke the news on Feb. 1.
“I’m really angry about this,” said Councilmember Abbe Land. “It’s pretty outrageous that the MTA would do this and we have to read about it in the paper.”
Cohen Brothers Realty Corp. of California, whose president is Pacific Design Center owner Charles Cohen, has been granted exclusive rights to present proposals for developing the MTA bus yard lot on the southeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard at San Vicente Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Cohen Brothers submitted an initial proposal to build a three-level underground bus garage with a massive, multi-use complex on top. Projected to take up the entire 8.4-acre bus yard and adjacent 2.5-acre sheriff’s station lot, that complex would be a mini Century City-like development with high-rise office, hotel, residential buildings and retail space, an outdoor amphitheatre, a movie theatre and a new sheriff’s station building.
The full 13-member Metro Board approved the two-year exclusive negotiating agreement with Cohen Brothers on at its Jan. 24 meeting.
Councilmember John Heilman confessed he was “completely in the dark” on the agreement, and City Manager Paul Arevalo said the “rollout” was “poorly handled from a public relations standpoint.”
Others questioned whether the city truly didn’t know anything.
“It’s just really hard to believe that both the city of West Hollywood and the Sheriff’s department would not know that this mega-development was coming on,” said Steve Martin, a candidate for council in the March 5 election. “The Pacific Design Center has a long history of working with the city, a long history of working with the city staff. They know how the game is played. I don’t believe they would come forward in a very cavalier way to the MTA and never once contact anyone at City Hall. That is simply not credible.”
Arevalo said he has been talking with the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who sits on the Metro board, about making sure the city is kept in the loop on future aspects of the plan.
The proposed project was the talk of town over the weekend. Residents expressed fury over not hearing about the project, alarm over the increased traffic the project would bring and dismay over the belief it could “destroy” the Boystown area, so called for its concentration of gay-oriented bars, restaurants and shops.
“West Hollywood is going to lose its character as a small city, which is a symbol of diversity,” said Block, owner of the Block Party clothing store. “We can all look forward to getting older in a city that we won’t even recognize.”
The council also expressed dismay over the scope of the plan.
Councilmember John Duran has long talked about developing the site into a public area with a community plaza and community theater with shops along the south side of Santa Monica Boulevard.
“The artists renderings that I have seen are completely inconsistent with any of the public purposes that I have mentioned in the past,” said Duran. “I haven’t lived in the city of West Hollywood for 25 years and defended the Boystown district to see it turned into a mall. That is not consistent with anything that the community needs, wants or desires.”
“I think all of us here and all of us in the community would prefer that something other than the MTA bus yard be along Santa Monica (Boulevard),” said Heilman. “So the possibility of that site being redeveloped at some point in the future, I think is a good one for the city. The proposal that I saw is certainly not what the community would like nor is it something that the city would like.”
The council urged residents to write to the MTA to express their concerns, and noted that nothing has been approved.
“We still have control over the zoning of that property and currently it is zoned for public purposes,” said Duran.
“The city is the ultimate land-use authority,” added Arevalo. “Anything above and beyond (the current uses as a transit yard and a sheriff station) is at the discretion of the city and the City Council.”
Arevalo added that the city should create a master plan for the site since it is such a “significant piece of property.”
Meanwhile, Councilmember John D’Amico, while also upset by the scope of the plan and the lack of notification, had a slightly different perspective.
“What I’m hearing (the council say) are the things the residents often say to us, ‘We never got any notice. I didn’t see this coming. I was totally shocked’,” D’Amico said. “I think as a deliberative body, we should notice this is what it feels like to be in our community sometimes.”