From the ivory tower of a newsroom, I long ago grew critical of City Hall’s inaction. Now that I’m getting down to there in person an activist, my attitude has changed.
The corruption of democratic processes, the view of the public as second-class citizens, the ingrained subservience of politicians and bureaucrats to special interests is far worse than I thought.
On Monday, I trekked to the 10th Floor of that Palace of Greed and found myself as usual wondering what could have been achieved if they had spent half of the $300 million it cost to luxuriously refurbish City Hall on programs that benefited the people, like effective gang prevention programs, a police crime lab, street paving and other basics of civilized society.
I was there to see how Zoning Administrator Andre Parvenu handled the crowd of Echo Park residents upset over T-Mobile’s plan to put 12 cell phone towers atop a landmark apartment building, the Delmor, at 1551 Echo Park Blvd.
Parvenu, who didn’t return my landline phone calls last week, didn’t show up. And neither did T-Mobile or the landlord who stands to reap a handsome windfall profit if the cell phones towers go on his building.
Albert Landini was handling the hearing. He seemed like a decent man but officious and clearly acted like the 40 or so community activists in attendance were more an annoyance that had to be tolerated as part of the job but whose concerns were largely irrelevant.
It seemed he only had ears for T-Mobile as he asked at least 10 times if the company’s representatives were present before acknowledging in the end that the company “blew me off.” and its absence “bodes well” for the community.
The community’s case was helped by the support given by Council President Eric Garcetti who sent a staffer who made two key points that Landini took seriously: The towers would rise 10 feet above the 45-foot height limit in the area and Garcetti will see historical-cultural status for the century-old apartment building, exactly what activists are seeking to protect Griffith Park from development.
Listen to the audio atof the start of the hearing where Landini lays down tough ground rules
to the community, shows he’s eagerly looking around for T-Mobile
representatives and then happily agrees Garcetti’s staffer should go
Then, it was Echo Park’s turn. They lined up one after another and pridefully told their story: How artists, musicians, students, young professionals were creating a lively and hip neighborhood, how Echo Park was just named one of America’s 10 great neighborhoods by the American Planning Assn., how assaults on the character of the community like T-Mobile’s undermined its regeneratin.
They presented petitions from 500 people and complained the towers were a threat
to their health and the value of their property. They complained the
towers were visual bligh to the thousands of people who live above the
Delmor. They warned the leaky roof of the Delmor might collapse and
kill them from the weight of the towers. They resented the fact
T-Mobile and the landlord would profit handsomely and the community
would be trashed.
Throughout the hearing, Landini made it clear that the health concerns of all those radio waves was under federal law not an issue for his consideration and, beyond that, he repeatedly scoffed at the idea that cell towers are dangerous in any way.
He dismissed as mere hearsay worries about renters fleeing and other negative impact on property values.
What struck me most is the impression I got that cellular companies had a “right” to put towers wherever they wanted unless there was a clear legal reason standing in their way. And that’s what is so disturbing:
Why doesn’t L.A. have clear rational rules that protect community interests and define where and how the towers can be placed? Other cities do that but then other cities actually care about the people who live, work and do business in them.
Near the end, I joined the parade of witnesses to make the point that the concerns of Echo Park are the concerns of every neighborhood in the city — which is the whole reason we started the Saving L.A. Projectcellron1.wav
Finally it was Landini’s turn to sum up what he heard from careful notes he took of each issue that was raised. Given the rules he operates under and the mentality of City Hall, it seemed a fair analysis of the situation landini-end.mp3.
It’ll be interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes over the
month or so Landini needs to make up his mind and write his decision.
But you can bet T-Mobile
will find a way to tell its story in back rooms where deals can be cut
and you can be sure the city will not adopt new regulations that give the community a genuine voice in decisions.
Last year, T-Mobile paid 78,000 to a lobbyist to try to get DWP policies affecting it changes. This year, in contrast, it has contributed just $500 each this year to Council Members Eric Garcetti, Ed Reyes and Janice Hahn and paid $15,000 to a small firm called John Q. Public Affairs for help in putting cell phone towers wherever it wants around town.
If the company really wants to screw the John Q. Publics of Los Angeles, it’s going to have throw a lot more money than that around City Hall.
And even that might not work if more communities get organized like this Echo Park neighborhood and if communities around the city the issue isn’t just local to one neighborhood but affects us all.