News analysis by Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
You know the crude old saying, ‘Who put the poo in the punch bowl!”? It appears that Beverly Blvd. Associates made just such a minor social faux pas.
West Hollywood Planning Commission voted against the so-called ‘poor door’ housing development at 8899 Beverly Boulevard despite the last minute 180 degree turnabout, one that if it were played out on a stage could only do so to uproarious laughter because of its whip-saw nature.
Only days before the hearing, the developers of the property, Beverly Blvd. Associates, announced plans to deny low-income tenants access to a pool that some of their units would look out on.
They also proposed segregated entries and exits to keep the poor tenants from sullying the rich condo owners.
That changed immediately upon smelling the stink being raised about the move in tenant-built West Hollywood. The developers said, “Segregate, nah, we meant keep things nice and neat for everyone. But if you want to have everyone mixed together, so be it,” they said with a big smile.
On its face, the development is large, far larger already than anything anywhere near it will ever be, given that the ten-story height was grand-fathered in from before cityhood and the General Plan forbids new buildings this big.
The proposed project includes 64 market-rate housing units and 17 affordable units to be built at 8899 Beverly Boulevard.
The state gives incentives to developers who build low-income or affordable housing, just as the city requires developers of new residential projects to reserve a percentage of the developments for moderate and low-income housing or, in certain instances, pay a fee instead.
The partners argue that the state law allows them wide latitude in developing the property because of inclusionary housing rules, but choosing to exclude poor from the same lobby or swimming pool smacked too much of separate but equal to many West Hollywood residents, leaving an ugly aftertaste in their mouths that left them wondering, ‘If they are capable of coming up with a harebrained scheme like that here, how well will they carry out their responsibilities as community members during and after construction?’
Planning Commissioner Heidi Shink expressed her embarrassment at the world’s perception of the city – the possibility that West Hollywood would be viewed as a city that would consider a poor-door development.
“It saddens me,” she said. “That is not what the city of West Hollywood is about. “This is a city of inclusion, not exclusion… The fact that this has been course corrected is great. It should not have been on the table to begin with,” said Ms. Shink.
A West Hollywood resident who once lived in New York, Cole Ettman, said he had read about the New York poor door. “I thought, ‘Wow, New York is bad. But things like that won’t happen here in West Hollywood, in this progressive city we live in.’”
The meeting did not go so well for the developers. Residents predominantly panned the plans and the thinking that led to them suggesting segregated quarters.
Neighbor on Rosewood Doug Bernard spoke of the huge mistake the city could exacerbate with an approval of these plans. Noting that the building pre-dated cityhood by decades, Mr. Bernard said back then “it was out of conformance; I’ve only been in West Hollywood for 20 years, so I can ‘that was then; they made that mistake.’
“But now we have a chance to say no to doubling down on the error – if we double down on this – if we make error of doubling the size of the building, that error is on us.’”
Joel Ring came to the meeting to recall how he had specifically asked during the General Plan discussions if the project would be allowed to go through – and was told no, he said.
Throwing a steaming heap of distrust onto the developers’ shiny shoes, Sam Borelli called the matter a ‘bait and switch, recalling the many changes made to the plans, beginning with the promises not to put residential into any renovations plans.
“I don’t know about you, I don’t know about my fellow residents, but to me this a shell game – a bait and switch.” He listed a number of changes of consequence made by the developers, finally summing up, “I don’t know these guys, and this rich door poor door thing? It had to have come from somewhere…”
Some, though, such as Wehoan Mary Anne Collins, support the project. Ms. Collins likes the “beautiful aesthetic’ and calls its renovation a “win-win” for the area. She also noted the need for some work on the 61-year old building, saying, “anybody approaching the age of 50 in West Hollywood should consider a facelift.”
Noel Weiss, resident of Marina Del Rey and an advocate for tenants’ rights in Los Angeles came to the meeting because of his “abiding interest in SB 1818 arising from my work in the City of Los Angeles trying to make the law work as intended, not as a it is often perverted as a speculative tool of developers who want to profit off the backs of community.”
He took special note of the lack of response by the developer to questions asked about the project’s finances. “That goes against the statements of transparency and openness that the developer is supposedly proffering.”
Mr. Weiss recapped the fundamental purpose of the law the developers are using to gain expanded space. “The purpose of the law is to provide relief from zoning to the extent necessary so that the affordable units that are encouraged by the law are provided.
“Implicit in that, in fact, mandatory in that as far as I’m concerned, is that they must demonstrate why they need any concessions they’re asking for in order to provide the 17 rental units.”
Something they not only have failed to do, they apparently refuse to do so. “They’re not telling you what the rentals will be, they’re not telling you what the price of the condos are going to be. There’s nothing before this body that indicates in any way shape or form that they need any concessions to provide the 17 affordable units that they say they are going to provide,” Mr. Weiss charged.
“We come to the meeting to hear the plans for the building, since in the two years since the developers have owned the building,” she said, “they have never communicated directly with the tenants.”
Sardonically lauding the developers for working closely to disclose and respond to residents’ and neighbors’ input, she noted, “some of us have been in this building for nearly 20 years, and we feel we deserve the courtesy of transparent communication as we plan for our [business’s] future.”
Noticing that Ms. Nadelle was the first occupant to speak on the issue, Commissioner Haber asked Mr. Nadelle, a literary agent who keeps an office in the building, if she agreed with assertions made by others that the stretch of Beverly it anchors is a “dead zone.”
I own a literary agency; there are people going in and out of the entertainment agency; there are people eating lunch; there are all of us walking up and down the street getting coffee; going to restaurants…”
Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Genevieve Morrill, forcefully took issue with Sam Borelli’s charges of “shell game” and “bait and switch.” Saying that “This is no shell game.
“This is called adaption and evolvement and sometimes we have to adapt to it. General plans change, city’s evolvement; this is an evolvement. There are compelling, compelling reasons pointed out by [a speaker who preceded her].”
In the end, the development’s size killed it. The commission’s decision will be appealed to the City Council for a final decision.