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.
“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.