WeHo City Council Meeting Centers on Controversial Townscape Developments

Architect's rendering of the north side, facing Rosemont, of the proposed 8899 Beverly project.
Architect’s rendering of the north side, facing Rosemont, of the proposed 8899 Beverly project.

A significant part of the West Hollywood City Council’s five-and-a-half hour meeting last night was focused on controversial developments by Townscape Partners that are likely to be an issue in the March 2017 City Council election.

The council postponed a vote on whether to move ahead with a plan to install a cul-de-sac on Havenhurst Avenue to block traffic from Townscape’s proposed 8150 Sunset Blvd. project from flowing down that residential street. Deputy City Manager David Wilson, who was filling in for City Manager Paul Arevalo, asked that a decision be delayed until the city could examine a new lawsuit against the city over the matter.

However many members of the public did go ahead and speak out against the 8150 Sunset project and its potential impact on traffic in West Hollywood, on whose northern border the project sits. Among those expressing concern about traffic on Havenhurst was the noted actress Marisa Tomei.

Several speakers also criticized the City Council for its decision to drop opposition to the 8150 Sunset project in exchange for Townscape’s agreement to lower the size of the tall building on the site and give the city $2 million for traffic improvements and $500,000 to enhance the city sewers, with the project will use.

“You guys settled for $2 million, a paltry $2 million …. ” said Sherry Woods, a local resident. “I’m going to look up all the campaign contributions that Townscape has made to you. I’ve already looked at some. I know that they’ve made them, whether it’s for 8150, whether it’s for the one on Beverly … It doesn’t feel good to us. We don’t feel like you’re protecting us.”

Allusions to donations to the election campaigns of council members from Townscape and its owners also emerged in a later council discussion about whether to grant Townscape an easement of roughly 5,000 square feet of land on Rosewood Avenue, behind its 8899 Beverly Blvd. project.

“Townscape has essentially bought this easement fair and square,” said Steve Martin, an attorney and former City Council member who is expected to run for a council seat in March. Council members John Duran and John Heilman are up for re-election.

A model of the 8150 Sunset Blvd. project as seen from the north (Gehry Architects LLP)
A model of the 8150 Sunset Blvd. project as seen from the north (Gehry Architects LLP)

“They may not have bought the easement, but they’ve bought the council members,” Martin said, calling out council members John Duran, John Heilman and Lindsey Horvath. “The developer never had to compromise because they knew they had three city council members in the bag.”

Duran, Heilman and Horvath voted in August 2015 to grant Townscape permission to convert the office building at 8899 Beverly into 52 condominiums and 15 apartments for low- and moderate-income people. Mayor Lauren Meister and Councilmember John D’Amico voted no. The development is controversial because it will almost double the size of the existing 90,000-square-foot building and change the use of a building that already doesn’t conform with the city’s General Plan or the zoning for the site. The project also includes construction of nine single-family houses behind the building.

Ivy Bottini, a long-time activist, also criticized Duran, Heilman and Horvath at last night’s council meeting. “People are starting to have this phrase, ‘the gang of three’,” she said. “Do you realize that John Heilman, do you realize that John Duran, do you realize that Lindsey?

“There is a revolution coming. The residents are really getting pissed, and it’s happening all around the city. I’m now in an adversarial position with John Heilman and John Duran and, on building, with Lindsey.”

Bottini’s “gang of three” remark was a reference to a social media campaign against the 8150 Sunset project by an unknown person who has dubbed Duran, Heilman and Horvath the “Townscape Three.”

In response to Martin’s criticism, Councilmember Duran noted that Martin is likely to run for office against him in March. Duran acknowledged that he has received donations of $500 each from Townscape owners Tyler Siegel and John Irwin. That is the maximum donation allowed to a candidate, although donations to “independent expenditure committees” backing a candidate can be much higher. “That’s not significant,” Duran said of the Townscape partners’ donations.

Siegel, Irwin and family members also donated $8,000 to Duran for his last City Council race and for his unsuccessful race in 2014 for the 3rd District Seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Townscape has donated tens of thousands of dollars to other campaigns. For example, it donated $20,000 to WeHo United for John Heilman for City Council 2015. It also donated $9,950 in 2015 to a “Friends of West Hollywood” independent expenditure committee that helped finance a campaign supporting John Heilman and Lindsey Horvath.

The City Council last night also voted 4 to 1 to yield to Townscape a 10-foot wide easement along Rosewood Avenue behind the 8899 Beverly property in West Hollywood. Mayor Meister voted against granting the easement to Townscape.

The easement, which contains several dozen trees, effectively serves as a buffer between the neighborhood of single-family homes to its north and the parking lot on the 8899 Beverly property.

Los Angeles County in 1967 required the then-owner of the property to dedicate the 10-foot wide strip of land for a possible future widening of Rosewood. However the City of West Hollywood, in whose jurisdiction that property now sits, has no plan to widen Rosewood.

Area residents described the easement as being like a neighborhood park, where people walk their dogs and run into one another and talk. Larry Shambling, speaking on behalf of West Hollywood West Residents Association said, “There is no justification for destroying an existing green space and handing it to the developer for free.”

Meister argued that the easement was intended to be a public benefit to the neighborhood. “The easement had that landscape buffer for over 50 years,” she said. … “I don’t think New York City should be giving Trump Towers Central Park. We shouldn’t be giving this away either.”

Horvath, however, noted that the city doesn’t actually own the easement and only has the right to use it to expand Rosewood, which it doesn’t intend to do.

On a motion by John Heilman, the council agreed to cede the easement to Townscape but asked that it work to remove the existing trees to a the parkway bordering Rosewood or another park and that city staffers attempt to negotiate additional benefits in exchange for conceding the easement.

Jeff Haber, the attorney representing Townscape on the project, said it was important that the matter be decided quickly because the developer needs to install underground power lines so that it can begin work on a subterranean garage.


4 Comments
  1. West Hollywood is a microcosm of what is happening all over the country: the rich get richer colluding with corrupt and power hungry political hacks like John Duran, John Heilman, and Lindsay Horvath. These rather dreary local level politicians, aka “The Townscape Three,” couldn’t make it past one week on “The Apprentice,” although they have managed to brand themselves into minor local “pay-to-play” celebrities as seen Monday night at the WEHO City Council meeting.

    Monday’s meeting were not fans of “The Townscape Three,” applause was minimal. Many, during the public comments, confronted Duran, Heilman, and Horvath for grandstanding with their typical self-promotion instead of taking responsibility for letting West Hollywood get screwed by Townscape, a “shell company” for New York developers Angelo, Gordon. The three council members have backed 8899 Beverly and 8150 Sunset projects without reservations, guaranteed to provide the majority votes.

    A WEHO taxpaying group tired of “The Townscape Three” is planning on filing a complaint with the FBI regarding the blatant “pay for play” political corruption of these third-rate “elites.” The filing will happen after January 20, 2017, believing the FBI will be far much more aggressive under the new administration in exploring complaints of corruption in Southern California cities in the post-Bell era as they recently did with the mayor in Palm Springs.

    It certainly won’t help that Lindsay “Queen Mayoress” Horvath in her attempt at cheap publicity, when she went after Trump. The councilwoman didn’t realize, or bother to research; the president-elect is an investor in Angelo, Gordon, the multi-billion dollar hedge fund that indirectly contributed to her campaign through Townscape and Duran’s sham Friend of West Hollywood PAC.

    Trump, despite his Angelo, Gordon investment, had nothing to do with Townscape’s choice of Frank Gehry as the architect. Trump wouldn’t have hired him, too risky. The president-elect has cited many times the MIT’s lawsuit against Gehry for the Strata Center because of design and construction failures that resulted in pervasive leaks, cracks and drainage problems requiring in millions of dollars in repairs.

    As for Duran and Heilman, having been Townscape’s “pay-to-play” cheerleaders, isn’t it time for the “two John’s” to face political oblivion? They are so “20th Century,” as President and Mrs. Obama described Hillary Clinton.

  2. It’s not clear that Townscapes has sold the building. It’s not uncommon to sell in advance of construction, to a builder or developer who needs a shovel-ready project, if the price is right. Their own cash flow needs on the Sunset project might require this, for example. They have made comments about doing the construction themselves.

  3. I love that Duran is going after the low information voters by claiming he only received $500 from each Townscape owner, when he’s received tens of thousands from them via the usual legalized bribery vehicles. By omitting the elephant in the room he doesn’t exactly help his reputation of being ethically challenged.

  4. Somewhere I thought I’d read that Townscape had sold the 8899 Beverly project. Does that mean it no longer owns it but is still being paid to develop the property? Nothing about Townscape seems above board. There is always some back room deal combined with campaign contributions that pushes a project forward.

    As far as the 8150 Sunset deal goes, settling for $2 million is nothing in the scheme of things. The whole project is far too big. Townscape knew it would have to be reduced, but that’s why you (as a developer) always propose something far to big so when it’s scaled back to just “big” it seems like a concession. Townscape even picked Frank Gehry to scribble something onto a sketch pad and then had a minion make a model of something that will probably never look like what’s proposed. Gehry was used as irresistible bait for the LA City Council to approve the project in record time and hopefully get away with destroying the outstanding Lytton Savings building. Once these beautiful MCM buildings are gone, we will regret it and the classic pictures are all that’s left in books about lost architecture treasures.

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