Shocked Residents, Council Members Outraged Over Mega-Complex Plans

Tue, Feb 05, 2013   By James F. Mills    11 Comments

West Hollywood council members

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.”

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11 Comments

  1. Ed GarrenTue, Feb 05, 2013 at 10:49 am

    The end result of a “Development Agenda” gone wild, objecting to it was the core of why I ran in 2004, then realized that the development “machine” in West Hollywood was too big and too well funded to stop. The monster is now devouring the children who once fed it.

    I can’t believe they didn’t know. And has anyone moved to declare the REST OF “Boystown” “historic?” They’d better do it quick, or it will be next to get plowed under for high rises. These folks (Heilman & Land) just don’t seem to understand.

  2. Billy PollinaTue, Feb 05, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Build it but put strict restrictions on its architectural integrity. It must be beautiful and unique. Other cities have done this. We can’t stop growth but we can insist on the design on how it’s successfully going to look and flow through our cities. Include parks, residential, low income housing, theater, community space, LGBT museum, city landmark, build a aquarium, a topiary, an ice tunnel, get creative, and on and on. Have a design contest and let the residents decide. This doesn’t have to be a lost cause. This could actually be a world reknown landmark… if the city council does what it says… it’s ultimately their call.

  3. StephanieTue, Feb 05, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Quote from Duran: “That is not consistent with anything that the community needs, wants or desires.” That is PRECISELY how the neighbors felt about the City of West Hollywood’s $41.3 MILLION dollar plan for Plummer Park. Councilmember D’Amico, you are absolutely right and I thank you for bringing it to the attention of your fellow council members. I also agree with Steve Martin’s comments. Are we expected to believe that not ONE council member knew about this and yet they are leading the City? Our City Manager did not know? Our City Attorney did not know? Holy out-of-control, Batman! Who’s minding the store?

  4. JimTue, Feb 05, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Just build a movie theatre and parking, nothing else. That should not increase rush hour traffic. Get rid of that noisy car wash on Santa Monica Blvd and Palm Ave; it is out of place and too noisy.

  5. Lauren MeisterTue, Feb 05, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Council members AND City Manager were completely in the dark about this? Reminds me of that great line from Casablanca — Captain Renault says, as he’s being handed his winnings: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” City Manager didn’t look too shocked to me.

  6. Rudolf MartinWed, Feb 06, 2013 at 12:15 am

    “…not what the community would like nor is it something that the city would like.”
    so who is the city if not the community? very telling.

    and why do i feel like this whole thing is a canard?

  7. Allegra AllisonWed, Feb 06, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    City Manager, Paul Arevalo, didn’t actually say that he was in the dark.
    He said that the rollout was poorly handled from a PR standpoint.
    Yeah!
    Ann Macintosh told the MTA (according to the Weho News article) that we are interested in having the site developed.
    But, nobody kept watch?
    I wonder when we would have finally found out about this project if reporter James Mills hadn’t dug it up.
    When the PR machine was in place?

    It didn’t appear that most of Council knew but, it would seem Steve Afriat must have shared the enormity, of this project, with somebody.
    It’s such a small room & he seems to be seated in the middle.
    Steve is not only Charles Cohens lobbyist, but, used to work for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky who sits on the MTA board.
    Zev is on his client list. Steve A. also sat on the Weho Chamber board until a couple of months ago.
    He’s running the campaigns of both Jeff Prang and John Duran, who he’ll be lobbying for the project, should they win.
    He has also run John Heilman & Abbe Lands campaigns in the past. Jeff Prang used to work for him.
    I like Steve a lot personally but, talk about conflict of interest…
    Going back to the Prang quote from a Wehoville article about Steve Afriat:
    “He’s been an important part of the community,” Prang said. “He represents things that are good for West Hollywood.”

  8. Sheila LightfootWed, Feb 06, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Allegra covered a lot of fertile territory, but I will add to it with a series of quotes from WEHOville’s Jan 9 article, “Campaign Consultant Steve Afriat: Playing Both Sides of the WeHo Fence,” she references – that might be worth some additional scrutiny in light of the revelations in this story.

    … he (Steve Afriat) has worked for council members John Heilman, Abbe Land, Jeffrey Prang and John Duran. This year, he’s consulting for incumbents Duran and Mayor Prang, both of whom are seeking re-election in March.

    As a lobbyist, Afriat represents numerous companies who have business with the City of West Hollywood, such as … and the Pacific Design Center.

    Both Prang and Duran deny their decades-long relationships with Afriat have effected how they vote.

    “I have voted in favor of Steve’s clients and against Steve’s clients, so that never affects me one way or another,” said Duran.

    Prang and Afriat’s relationship goes back to around 1989, when Prang worked for him, getting paid by the hour to make fundraising calls on behalf of Afriat’s clients.

    “He’s been an important part of the community,” Prang said. “HE REPRESENTS THINGS THAT ARE “GOOD” (emphasis mine) FOR WEST HOLLYWOOD.”

    Lauren put it perfectly recalling Casablanca, oh, yes they’re …Shocked. Shocked, indeed?!?! At least Arevalo had the good manners not to deny it. Being the fall guy isn’t such a bad gig for the enormous salary he’s paid for it.

  9. WeHo ObserverThu, Feb 07, 2013 at 12:53 am

    So is this why a Westside Specific Plan was never undertaken, despite promises from the city to the contrary? So Boystown could be plowed under and sold to the highest bidder? Little by little the city is selling out. De-gaying this part of town would be the final blow. Is that what WeHo has become?

  10. Ed GarrenThu, Feb 07, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Of course, many, many people HAD to know, but they probably all kept the “code of silence” about it. The legacy of the Heilman dynasty is one of property pimping, the invasion of the elite of West Los Angeles taking over West Hollywood, the “de-gaying” of the city, and selling out grandmothers and other moderate income people, not to mention the creative and artists who created West Hollywood to be a haven in the face of greed.

    Who CARES about all the progressive laws and such if a person can’t afford to live there? And yes, someday, probably soon, “Boystown” will go the way of Movietown Plaza.

    If anyone on this council actually cares, they aren’t saying much. But, hypocrisy is rampant in American politics and government, why should West Hollywood be any different. Money talks, everyone else walks. Enjoy it while it’s here, it won’t be around much longer.

  11. Woody McBreairtySun, Feb 10, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    To Johh Heilman, I ask what he thinks is the difference between “the community” and “the city.” I gather that in his way of thinking, the residents are the community & elected politicians & city employees are “the city”.

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