Opinion – Don’t Shoot the Messenger: How “NIMBYs” Are Not to Blame for the Target Fiasco at Sunset and Western
Editor’s note: Last week, Streetsblog Los Angeles ran an opinion piece from one of our occasional contributors, Alexander Friedman. The piece told Friedman’s side of the story regarding a controversial and currently half-built Target store at the corner of Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Friedman’s piece generated a lot of comments, some insightful, some sympathetic, some angry. We’re happy that it fostered a dialogue about what kind of development makes sense for a more walkable, more livable Hollywood. Another friend of the blog, David Bell, is a lawyer in the suit that Friedman wrote about. Bell approached SBLA requesting that we publish the following article to set the record straight on what was legally at issue with this ill-fated development. SBLA is not taking sides on this issue, but the disputes here highlight some of the difficulties in planning and developing Los Angeles’ walkable future.
A recent Streetsblog post by Alexander Friedman, Opinion – Hollywood’s Biggest Eyesore: Blame Developers? No, Blame NIMBYs, is rife with factual errors and distortions.
As the lawyer for the group called out in the article as the sole cause of the mess at Sunset and Western, I know a little bit about the facts of the case. As a former President of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, I was involved in the approval process of this project from the very beginning. When involved in a pending case – we’re currently in the Court of Appeal – I generally don’t get into these kinds of discussions. But the factual claims in Mr. Friedman’s article are so divorced from reality, and the implications so damaging to my client’s reputation, I felt compelled to respond.
Mr. Friedman begins by describing Target Corporation’s “ambitious plan” to bring the joys of discount shopping to East Hollywood. But Target’s own court filings state that its initial plan was much more in keeping with the law, and that it was “the City’s idea” [read then-Councilman Garcetti] to push for a project requiring eight exceptions to the specific plan that governs that area of Hollywood.
Next Mr. Friedman says that, while the project was met with “some opposition, … most residents supported it.” How exactly does Mr. Friedman know this? Studies? Polls? Any evidence at all? Actually, the certified Neighborhood Council for the area was adamantly opposed to the project as designed. The chair of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council at the time was Steven Whiddon – a former staffer for Mitch O’Farrell, a vocal proponent of the Hollywood Community Plan, and a booster for exactly the type of development Mr. Friedman supports. Hardly a NIMBY.
Mr. Friedman says “the only issue is the overall project height,” and that the height was “slightly above the area’s zoning ordinance.” Actually, the project required eight exceptions from the specific plan, not one, and the height of the project is more than double the specific plan’s limitations.
Interestingly, the specific plan for the area contains a provision which would allow for a project like Target to avoid the height limitation. Mixed-use projects – those which combine residential with commercial components – are allowed to go twice as high as commercial-only projects. By allowing a commercial-only project to double the height limit for the neighborhood, the exceptions granted to this project create a precedent that would nullify this important housing incentive. If upheld, the exceptions would also would set in motion a destructive domino effect that other developers would seek to imitate when the infrastructure for the area (streets, police, fire and emergency services, sewer, etc.) already are beyond capacity.
Mr. Friedman then names my clients and claims that NIMBYs are “infamous for rejecting any and all developments.” But the people I represent are not opposed to all development. These are the same people who fought for the housing incentive to be included in the specific plan. There are numerous projects which have gone up in Hollywood without opposition. More specifically, nobody in the group that I represent or the other community group that challenged Target’s violations of the specific plan ever opposed Target per se. What they opposed was a code-violating, environmentally damaging project. The original proposal by Target for a code compliant project was embraced. Mr. Friedman needs to do more fact checking, and less generalizing. Read more…