04/10/2015 12:45 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2015

The Elephant Is in Los Angeles

According to Eric Garcetti when he took office as mayor of Los Angeles, L.A. cannot be the "big elephant" in Southern California with all its neighboring cities. Well is it. Starting before Garcetti was elected mayor, a project was being considered from JMB real estate corporation in Chicago to build a building on the land that it owned and controlled in Century City which would be three times the size of the twin towers already there in Century City and under regulations for height, traffic and infrastructures set four decades ago between L.A. and cities in the region. The new JMB building would also be the subway station for the Metro subway, which had changed its original route, approved in an election by over 74-percent over of the voters next door in Beverly Hills, that went from downtown L.A. on Wilshire Blvd through L.A., West Hollywood and Beverly Hills to the Pacific Ocean past UCLA and the Veterans Administration facilities and ending in Santa Monica.

Former Mayor Villaraigosa (2005-2013) said: One of Villaraigosa's main transportation-related goals is to extend the Purple Line subway down Wilshire Boulevard to Santa Monica. His supporters have repeated what he said as the "Subway to the Sea."

Soon after the public vote of over 67% to approve a ½ cent tax increase by Measure R in 2008, however the L.A. Planning Commission approved the Metro Commission redirection directly through Century City (the location of the JMB property). Several local cities and communities in L.A, along with companies and landowners complained about the route through Century City including public comments to the L.A. City Council and filing legal complaints. In the end JMB won the support of the L.A. Planning Commission by "donating funds" to communities nearby, except Beverly Hills City Council and Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) who have teamed up to stop the Metro from its route change into Century City by going under the BHUSD High School.
The L.A. Elephant won.

This is not the only elephant in L.A. There are others. Another building on 10000 Santa Monica Blvd (in Century City) next to Beverly Hills High School will be 42 stories high when completed in two years. The Metro subway under BHUSD's only high school is one thing that concerns everyone, as almost all the residents in Beverly Hills want the subway but just not under their high school. Over 74% of them voted for Measure R in 2008. However, this "new route" of the Metro would be the first such dangerous construction and transportation system through (under) a public school building ever done in the state of California.

Now the elephant has gotten bigger and multiplied as it continues to bounce on other local communities.

On March 16, 2015, the Los Angeles Central Planning Commission denied an appeal (Case # VTT-70499-CN- 1A) in a two to one (2-1) vote, from members of nearby L.A. and Beverly Hills communities. The appeal was to examine further the destruction of three two-story historical buildings at 332-336 N. Oakhurst Dr. in L.A. Councilmember Paul Koretz' District #5, which is 30%percent in Beverly Hills and 70% in Los Angeles. The current debate and decision is only for three buildings (332-336) that would be 31 Units and six stories high. Yet the report from the L.A. Advisory Agency notes that there are a total of 11 buildings in the same area, which borders Third Street and Arden Way on North Oakhurst Drive. In short, the decision by the L.A. Central Planning Commission to reject this appeal is now a blank check to the other eight building owners to sell their building for more 5-6 stories, 31+ units built very soon.

The legal claim will be that the approval of 332-336 is applicable to the other buildings. Some local residents in both L.A. and B.H. now refer to this as "The Great Wall of Los Angeles."

Hello, Mayor Garcetti, your ONE elephant is not big enough. You need more elephants for the Great Wall of Los Angeles. And from what can be seen with the Metro line going under the Beverly Hills High School in order to accommodate the JMB elephant building in Century City, which is three times the size of any other building in that area, the elephant has given birth.

Consider the actual appeal process before the L.A. Central Planning Commission about 332-336 N. Oakhurst Drive. The decision is full of false, erroneous and debatable conclusions. However like at the appeal hearing, the opposing side (appellant) was not allowed a rebuttal nor give counter evidence. Below are just some of the proven validated evidence that contradicts the L.A. Planning Commission:

First, there are many disturbing and factual errors in the 30-page report from the L.A. Advisory Agency from misquotes and lack of data ranging from traffic, water, waste, energy and other infrastructures to repeating statement that always say "satisfactory arrangements" and "suitably guaranteed" to statements about recommendations and in reference to the actions that Beverly Hills did or did not do. For example, three factual errors deliberately appearing in the denial of the appeal are seriously in question.

The Report itself and then statements by the L.A. Planning City Staff Advisor about the first woman architect in Los Angeles, Edith Mortensen Northman. In the 1930s, Ms. Northman designed a "Spanish Colonial revival style 334-336 N. Oakhurst buildings. The Staff Advisor then stated Ms. Northman "moved onto designing and building commercial, institutional buildings and factories, including over 50 service stations for the Union Oil Company and military engineering fortifications for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers." Her report and tone was very negative about Ms. Northman doing this as part of her career.

The testimony to the L.A. Central Planning Commission was stated in public to the commissioners in a negative, false and demeaning manner. How could that Staff person do that? Here is the first woman architect in L.A. and in the 1930s, during the Global Great Depression. And then, like most American women during WWII, she took on work that men had been doing and gave their lives in WWII so that women were needed at home in America for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Union Oil and fortifications. Ms. Northman was a hero then and is now. She needs to be respected and given that tribute today for her work then in the 1930s.

Her buildings are historical and need to be protected. To do that would mean that the L.A. Central Planning Commission needs to require both a CEQA and EIR analyses, which it now has now denied, based upon the false, misleading documentation and testimony from the L.A.'s commission staff. There is more. But given space and time, the other items can be given more in court where this entire case is going.

Two other points of false and misleading information were given in the Report by the Los Angeles Central Planning Commission states that: 2) the Beverly Hills City Council did not vote for an appeal the day before it was due in February. That is another incorrect and misleading statement presented to the L.A. Central Planning Commission. The B.H. City Council held an emergency meeting and then voted 2 to 2 -- which is NOT a decision. Certainly it is not a vote against the appeal. Why? The fifth B.H. Council Member was at home, since her mother passed away that week.

3) Mayor Garcetti is both a good friend and concerned environmentalist. He has advocated the need for more LEED (Leadership in Engineering and Energy Design) standard buildings in L. A. However, his concern appears to be for taller buildings and hence far less in need of land and less emissions with pollution. While this is a good strategy, the destruction of historical buildings and the extended threat of tall buildings in an area already overbuilt, violates both his values and policies for sustainability in L.A. See the recent L.A. Sustainability Report which is the first for the City of L.A. and just released. Mayor Garcetti's legacy is at stake here on many levels. His attention is needed immediately in both the Metro problem through Beverly Hills and into Century City as well as the six story (31 Unites) at 332-336 N.Oakhurst. How many other cases are out there also? The Mayor needs to curb and stop the Great Elephant Wall around his City.


Dr. Woodrow Clark is the former chair (five years) of the Beverly Hills Unified School District's Bond Measure E Bond Fund, Citizens' Oversight Committee (COC). And former energy advisor for the L.A. Community College District.