Editor’s Note: Community activist Lucille Saunders has long been in the forefront of the fight to stop over-development — projects that add to traffic congestion, strain the water and power supply and harm the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Writer Chelsea Cody of OurLA.org — the new online community-based newspaper now gearing up launch in coming weeks — covered the story of the City Council voting to approve the project. The fireworks between dead-duck Councilman Jack Weiss and Councilwoman Janice Hahn captured in this video highlighted the debate.
Maintaining Illusion of Due Diligence, the City Council Green Lights La Brea Gateway Project despite Community Objections
For 38-year La Brea-Willoughby resident Lucille Saunders, the Los Angeles City Council’s unanimous approval of the long-contested 219-unit La Brea Gateway apartment project last week was not a surprise.
Nor was it surprising that Councilman Jack Weiss who represents the area would wish to block Saunders and other area residents from voicing their opinions before the council’s decision.
Saunders has encountered a great deal of limited if not discriminatory consideration from elected leaders since her fight against the Gateway project began four years ago.
Saunders, who is the president of the La Brea-Willoughby Coalition of concerned fighting to maintain the quality of their neighborhood, has been slugging it out with developers, city officials and lawyers since 2005.
In June 2008, Saunders’ coalition sued the city for violating state law and the city’s general plan over its failure to conduct annual audits of infrastructure for a decade.
Appearing before the council Wednesday with about 75 of her fellow La Brea-Willoughby residents, Saunders sought to make a last-ditch appeal to the council to halt the project which had sailed through the planning process.
But without debate or allowing public comment, the council approved the project unanimously. And the issue would be closed right then short of filing a lawsuit if Councilmen Tom LaBonge and Bill Rosendahl hadn’t felt squeamish about not even giving the public a chance to be heard.
They were given five minutes and so were supporters.
“We have tried to work with and within the system. But this is not a planning process it is a political process,” Saunders said in an interview. “One project overrides a whole community’s health and needs in order to serve those of one well connected developer.”
Gateway developers, the Martin Group and Bomel Companies, have cited the project’s capacity to bring jobs and amenities to the area as a primary reason for allowing the development. However, the developers and their counsel Latham & Watkins land-use attorney, George Mihlsten have been short on details about these jobs and benefits.
The tipping point Saunders said is that the project will dramatically alter the zoning classification of the area, changing an industrial zoned block into a mixed-use residential/commercial area and eventually into a strictly residential block.
This change, residents insist, would dramatically alter the character and scale of the La Brea Willoughby neighborhood.
In an area dominated by narrow streets lined with one and two-story bungalow homes and a shortage of parking, the complex of 219 apartments and about 35,000 square feet of retail space would be a dramatic departure from the neighborhood’s current aesthetic.
During the council debate, there was no mention of the community’s concerns: Zoning changes, environmental impact, traffic congestion or the loss of industrial jobs. Instead, the council focused on the lack of affordable housing and got the developer to agree to set aside 10 percent of the units for affordable housing — something that was not achieved during the long process from Neighborhood Council to the Planning Department, Planning Commission and Councilman Ed Reyes pro-development Planning and Land Use Committee.
The debate climaxed with the lame-duck Weiss giving the rest of the council a lecture about how they shouldn’t get involved in development issues that have gone through Reyes’ committee.
Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the main target of his lecture, shot back with a fiery rebuke to Weiss, noting that the full council achieved what he had not — an affordable housing commitment.
The vote was unanimous 13-0 – in no small part because the issue did not come before the council until the last day for action when unanimous approval of at least 12 members was required to avoid a second vote this week which would put it past the deadline.
Saunders indicated the neighborhood coalition would continue to take steps to try to preserve their ‘modest’ community.