It was enough to make our forefathers weep…
Here was the city’s political leadership, the fabulous 15
who rule over 4 million people in the entertainment capital of a world of seven
billion, cheered on by the business community as they groveled before Maria Elena Durazo and other union
leaders who represent barely one in six workers – even less if you add in those
out of work.
The occasion was approval of a deal to tear down the
Wilshire Grand Hotel and, with the gift
of more than a million square feet of city-owned land, rebuild it as a 45-story
luxury hotel and maybe someday a 65-story office/condo complex.
The beneficiary of this sweetheart deal was developer Jim
Thomas, the king of downtown skyscrapers, and the property owner Korean Air,
which gets to keep half the hotel tax, a second gift worth up to $79 million
over 20 years
To a man and a woman on the nation’s highest paid, highest
perked and highest staffed City Council, there was nothing but hyperbole in
praise of this development as if it will erase the city’s 14 percent
unemployment rate or the 14 percent unemployable rate.
Gift No. 3 was the creation of a “special sign district”
solely for this project to allow the buildings themselves to have millions of
energy-wasting LED lights embedded in their structures to sell advertising
worth millions of dollars a year.
Not just advertising but artistic displays of flashing
lights all the way to the top of the buildings for our visual pleasure. Yes,
this is about art for art’s sake, or so said Ed Reyes, the Council’s planning
expert who never saw a development he didn’t like. It’s just like the plan to
plaster the city’s parks with advertising signs in the name of beautification
The Ban Billboard Blight folks objected to the
buildings-as-digital-billboards concept as nothing but visual blight and warned
they will distract freeway drivers but even they shied away from criticizing
the gift-laden deal itself.
No one said a word about the incredible waste of electricity
in a city that has appalling record of resisting in-basin solar energy and
faces billions upon billions of dollars in costs to rid itself of its
dependence for nearly half its power on cheap, polluting coal plants – costs
will send bills soaring for all those ordinary folks who matter so little.
Only one Council member questioned even a single element of
this $1.2 billion project, Bill Rosendahl., the same Council member who has
raised questions about the even more outlandish NFL stadium gift-giving plan
for AEG’s benefits.
Rosendahl wanted to know what the city’s cut will be from
the digital billboard display on Korean Air’s grand hotel at 7th and
Figueroa much as he wants to know what the city’s cut will be from the $700
million naming rights for the football stadium and all the digital billboards
AEG will reap huge profits from as part of the stadium/Convention Center
Those are good questions.
Rosendahl pursued the profit sharing angle with persistence
but his timing was bad.
After years of bungling on billboard policy to the benefit
of the companies that have profited handsomely by blighting the visual
landscape, the Council has still not gotten around to even considering taking a
cut of billboard revenues.
Noting he gets a lot of heat over billboard blight from
constituents, the city’s wealthiest, Rosendahl even sought to reconsider Friday’s
approval as a matter of urgency of the project itself as part of the billboard
He couldn’t even get a second to his motion, showing just
why there is no reason to hope these city leaders will ever do the job of protecting
the public interest.
Rosendahl’s performance did not sit well with his
colleagues, the dangerously ambitious Dennis Zine even mocking him and glossing
over the fact that the Planning Commission itself rejected this billboard plan
only to have Reyes bring it back to life in committee.
And when the Westside Councilman actually broke the
unanimity of the Council and voted against the billboard plan, you could hear
the groan throughout the Council chamber packed by union members because it
will take a second vote next week for final approval.
Jan Perry who rests her case for her campaign for mayor on
what she has done for downtown developers in the last decade was fit to be
tied. She has set an April 1 deadline to hand Jim Thomas and Korean Air a
signed and sealed deal – an appropriate date for such a foolish deal.
Poor Bill, he was standing in the way of this train and got
out of the way just in time by taking a walk out of the Council Chamber so a
second vote on the sign district could be held with unanimous support and it
could be rushed to the mayor’s desk for a signature, forthwith.
LA Times columnist Steve Lopez writes today about Rosendahl’s
campaign of questioning the stadium deal, noting: “Rosendahl isn’t always as
good at following through as he is asking the questions, so we have to hope
he’s willing to knock some heads, so to speak…”
Rosendahl is “a pest” with all his questions, Lopez writes,
ending his column: “Let’s hope he doesn’t stop.”
Right Steve, not much of a hope, is it”
Expecting a good-hearted fellow like Bill Rosendahl to put it all on the line, be shunned by his colleagues and commit political suicide is above and beyond the call of duty even for the nation’s highest paid city official.
Questions is all you will get, questions that get no answers.