Two new lawsuits have been filed against the City of Los Angeles and one has been filed against the City of West Hollywood over the controversial 8150 Sunset Blvd. project.
As was previously reported, the Los Angeles Conservancy filed a lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court on Thursday arguing that the City of Los Angeles did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in its review of the 8150 Sunset project. But also on that date a group called “Fix the City” sued the City of Los Angeles, making a similar argument and asking that a judge order the city to reverse its approval of the project. Fix the City is an advocacy group organized by James O’Sullivan, who also is president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association. Susanne Manners, whose family trust owns the building at 1477-79 Havenhurst Drive, which is in Los Angeles and near the project site, filed a similar suit against the City of Los Angeles and against West Hollywood.
In its 115 pages, the Manners lawsuit argues a conflict of interests by the City of Los Angeles, given that it is the state’s lead agency in the process for deciding if a project meets guidelines for designation as an Environmental Leadership Design Project (ELDP) and that the Los Angeles City Council is the entity that must ultimately approve or deny the project. As the lead agency, the City of Los Angeles is responsible for documenting the project’s environmental impact and providing a study that offers reasons to support it, a decision which ultimately is made by the governor. The 8150 Sunset project received the ELDP designation in 2014. That designation limits the ability of opponents to challenge the project in court. ELDP regulations stipulate that all legal proceedings, including initial hearings and appeals, can take no more than 270 days. That is an exceptionally short period in the California legal system. The L.A. City Council approved the project on Nov. 1. Susanne Manners alleges a number of errors in L.A.’s evaluation of the project and calls out the fact that its developer, Townscape Partners, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the election campaigns of L.A. City Council members.
Manners criticized the L.A. City Council for approving the 8150 project without first considering whether to affirm or deny the L.A. Cultural Heritage Commission’s recommendation that it grant historic landmark status to the Lytton Savings Bank building, which is on the project site and is likely to be demolished or moved to construct the new project. Its decision to consider the historic designation after granting the development application is “a clear cut murder of a cultural monument,” the Manners suit says.
Manners also asked that the court block the City of West Hollywood’s plans to have Townscape fund creation of a cul-de-sac on Havenhurst Drive, which is on the eastern border of the 8150 Sunset property. That cul-de-sac would block traffic from the project from heading south on Havenhurst, a residential street in West Hollywood. West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister and Stephanie DeWolfe, the city’s community development director, negotiated creation of that cul-de-sac with Townscape at a meeting on Oct. 26 at which the L.A. Planning and Land Use Management Committee endorsed the project. As a result West Hollywood agreed to drop its opposition to the project. “The closure of it would further unreasonably and insanely delay emergency response by the Fire Department and Police,” Manners argued.
In her lawsuit, Manners alleged that the West Hollywood City Council violated the state’s Brown Act, which requires open meetings by government bodies, in holding an “emergency” closed meeting to approve the agreement with Townscape negotiated by Meister and DeWolfe. That was reportedly one of several Council closed meetings at which a proposed negotiation with Townscape was discussed.
The West Hollywood City Council’s handling of the matter has raised a number of questions among local residents. Given the controversy of the project, which sits on the northern border of West Hollywood, it is unclear why the City Council held its discussions behind closed doors instead of at open council meetings. Such meetings generally are limited to discussion of personnel matters and lawsuits filed against the city. Also, the WeHo Council earlier had secretly formed a “subcommittee” consisting of Meister and Councilmember Lindsey Horvath to negotiate with Townscape and had not revealed that to the public. Also Horvath claims that she was unaware that Meister had negotiated a deal with Townscape until she received a text message about the deal from a member of the L.A. City Council who was present at a meeting where the deal was announced. Finally, while Meister negotiated the settlement with Townscape, she joined Councilmember John D’Amico in voting against it in the closed session. Horvath and Councilmembers John Duran and John Heilman voted in favor of the settlement.
Duran and Heilman’s re-election campaigns have received major donations from Townscape Partners and its owners and their families. Both Duran and Heilman also voted in support of Townscape’s controversial 8899 Beverly Blvd. project, in which the City Council agreed to let Townscape more than double the size of a building that already was three times the size permitted for its site under the city’s general plan.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of his story erred in stating that Susanne Manners’s property at 1477-79 Havenhurst Drive is located within the boundaries of West Hollywood. It sits just outside West Hollywood within the City of Los Angeles. The story has been corrected.