Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter • January 2015

Miracle Mile
Residential Association

Newsletter • January 2015 • Los Angeles, California                                                                                                    

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Strong Community Support for Miracle Mile HPOZ
The CD 4 Players Guide • A message from James O'Sullivan
Now Playing on the MMRA Channel on YouTube
Density Bonus Law...City Hall's Hidden Nightmare • by John Schwada
Miracle Mile Real Estate • December 2014 Sales

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Strong Community Support for
Miracle Mile HPOZ

Large Turnout at January 10th Meeting

Approximately 100 residents attended the Miracle Mile Historic Protection Overlay Zone [HPOZ] Meeting on January 10th at Candela/Leonardo’s Night Club. Sponsored by the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] and hosted by Mark Zecca, MMRA board member and chairperson of the HPOZ committee, the meeting featured a panel composed of Shannon Ryan from the L.A. Office of Historic Resources-HPOZ Unit and Robbie O’Donnell, a founder of the Wilshire Park HPOZ.
Last May the MMRA board of directors created an HPOZ committee to do fact-finding, gather the input of residents and property owners, and report on how an HPOZ might be designed and implemented. The board’s action was sparked by the spread of mansionization into the Miracle Mile.
The HPOZ committee conducted a series of informal meetings with residents and consulted with experts – including Michelle Levy, head of the HPOZ Unit at the Department of City Planning, and Katie Horak, Senior Associate with Architectural Resources Group, Inc.

From left: Shannon Ryan, Robbie O'Donnell, Mark Zecca
The committee also launched an online poll [MMRA Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ Survey] to gauge community support. At the November 2014 MMRA Annual Meeting, which was attended by over 130 residents, a large showing of hands demonstrated interest in pursuing HPOZ protection for the Miracle Mile.
After months of research, outreach, and preparation, the HPOZ committee presented its findings to the community at the January 10th meeting. The advantages and disadvantages of an HPOZ were discussed in detail in a question and answer session following the opening presentation.

The meeting was videotaped and posted in two parts on the MMRA Channel on YouTube. Residents who did not attend the January 10th meeting are encouraged to view the meeting on YouTube. It offers a comprehensive examination of the benefits of HPOZ to our community and honestly examines the impact on property owners – and does so at greater length than can be recounted in this newsletter.

Click on image to view video.
The residents attending the January 10th meeting demonstrated nearly unanimous support for seeking HPOZ status. This support is also reflected in the results of the online survey. As a result, the HPOZ committee will recommend to the MMRA board of directors at its February 5th meeting that the HPOZ application process be initiated and a motion to that effect will be introduced for adoption by the board.
The HPOZ committee will be holding a series of future community meetings to iron out the many details involved in creating an HPOZ: boundaries, design guidelines, financing the required architectural review, etc. For the latest updates and additional information visit the “HPOZ & RFA Info” page on the MMRA website:
MMRA Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ Survey
Participate in the survey
View the results


The Council District 4 Players Guide
• A message from James O'Sullivan, MMRA President

The Council District 4 Players Guide
A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

  • Abbott: Strange as it may seem, ballplayers nowadays have very peculiar names.
  • Costello: Funny names?
  • Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the St. Louis team we have Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know is on third.
  • Costello: That's what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the St. Louis team.
  • Abbott: I'm telling you. Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know is on third…

Don’t look now but we are less than two months away from electing a new Councilmember for Council District 4, which includes the Miracle Mile. Do you have any idea who you will vote for? How many of you reading this right now can name more than a couple of the 14 certified candidates? To be honest with you, having followed this stuff closely, even I am challenged to name more than a handful. That should change soon as yard signs start popping up and our mailboxes are stuffed with campaign flyers.

Conventional wisdom has it that none of these candidates for CD 4 will win a majority of votes in the March 3rd primary – resetting the clock for a May 19th runoff between the top two contenders, but I’m not sure about that. Several candidates have already raised some serious money and more will be collected before the primary ends. City matching funds will add $50,000 to $100,000 to each candidate that qualifies, but someone could decide to self-finance – which would blow the lid off and throw conventional wisdom out the window.

Trying to find the best candidate by reading their comments and pledges in newspapers (the few statements that can be found) hasn’t been very helpful so far. Even a search for their positions on their websites (which many don’t have yet) is an exercise in frustration. Candidates know that the average person wants their streets and sidewalks fixed, their trees trimmed, and adequate police and fire protection, so they promise to deliver those things. The obvious, boilerplate promises; there’s nothing new here.

The problem is that most of their promises – boilerplate or otherwise – are beyond their ability to deliver. Most of the things being promised – protecting neighborhoods; alleviating traffic congestion; solving pension and healthcare issues; bringing film and TV production back to L.A.; adding more bike lanes; and a whole laundry list of other items – require the approval of 14 other council members to get done.

Once elected, our new councilmember will be introduced to the odd and uniquely L.A. political process that delivers unanimous council votes almost 100% of the time. Individuality is not encouraged on the City Council. It’s a go-along-to-get-along sort of place. But each Councilmember does wield considerable control over their district and related funds. This is where real issues arise and hard questions need to be asked.

Recently, a hubbub arose when the LA Times reported that Councilman Tom LaBonge was sponsoring an 80th birthday party for Elvis Presley at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood. Unsubstantiated rumors quickly went viral about funding attached to this sponsorship, prompting many to wonder if those funds couldn’t be put to better use – like repairing a root-damaged sidewalk?

My interest in this issue led me to do a search of funds controlled by CD 4. That search yielded results that were as clear as mud.

A question I would like each CD 4 candidate to answer is this: Will you frequently post online simple-to-read reports detailing where the money under your control comes from, where it is goes, and who it benefits?

Many hundreds-of-thousands of dollars are transferred into – and out of – these funds to pay for a variety of things and I can’t figure out what the hell is going on. Many of the expenditures may well be for things that really benefit the community, but it would be nice to know that with some certainty.

The well-worn issue of accepting campaign contributions from real estate developers recently took a turn toward the ludicrous with the candidates parsing which are the good developers (the small ones) and which are the bad developers (the large ones) – as if virtue could be measured by square footage. One candidate even made the classic error in a debate by saying he would never take money from a developer…after he already had. Of course, he then returned the contribution post haste.

While campaign contributions are not a big issue for me, I understand why many voters are concerned. For years we have watched money from developers flood political races while noticing that the doors to City Hall are held wide open to every real estate project that crosses the threshold. Conversely, many residents who feel that their neighborhoods are under siege find the welcome mat is not rolled out for them.

It would help ease the perception of impropriety between political contributions and project approvals if the playing field were leveled. One key means to achieve this would be for each candidate to pledge complete transparency. If elected they would:
  • Immediately disclose whenever their office is approached about a development project in CD 4, whether by the developer or any person or group representing the developer. This information should be posted on the council website and the Neighborhood Councils and homeowners/residential groups should be promptly notified about the project, from its conception.
  • Disclose any follow up meetings with the Councilmember or staff regarding the project. All too often projects gallop out of the starting gate without the community’s knowledge.
And speaking of knowledge as power:
  • Advocacy groups are constantly meeting with the Planning Department and LADOT on issues – from bike lanes to rewriting the zoning code – and the public is left out in the cold. Any changes contemplated in CD 4 should be clearly and concisely posted on the Council website. There should be full disclosure in real time so that everyone is informed. 
Would a CD 4 candidate who agreed to do all of the above get my vote? Yes, if they also agreed to:
  • Faithfully follow the policies for decision makers as outlined in each Community Plan in CD 4, as well as in the Framework Element.
  • Require the City to officially document and demonstrate that the infrastructure in the area of the contemplated project is not threatened in relation to user needs. This would include particularly critical services, such as water and sewerage, as well as public schools, police and fire services, and transportation infrastructure.
My point is, I don’t want promises, I want answers – and so should you.
Now Playing on the MMRA Channel on YouTube


Now Playing on the MMRA Channel on YouTube

The recent acquisition of an HD video camera and lighting equipment has allowed the Miracle Mile Residential Association to expand production and add a variety of content to the MMRA Channel on YouTube.

We now also have the expertise to edit and post videos shot by residents on their smartphones [see below]. So, if you spot something you think we should post, use your cellphone to get it on video and send it to us:


Here’s a program guide:

Noise from Nighttime Subway Utility Construction • January 11, 2015Cellphone footage of work at Wilshire and Fairfax along with an audio interview with a Metro noise monitor by Jessica Terr, a nearby resident. This video documents how Metro contractors take advantage of noise ordinance rules that are supposed to protect residents from nighttime disturbances. You have to see and hear this to believe it. (Our thanks to Jessica for submitting this.)
Miracle Mile HPOZ Meeting • January 10, 2015 A two-part recording of the presentation of the HPOZ Committee to the community [see article above].
Melrose Community McMansion Protest • December 14, 2014Residents of the Melrose area gather to protest at an open house for a McMansion built on North Vista Street. An interview with Joe Pearl, an elderly longtime resident, conveys the impact of living next to a McMansion in very touching and real terms.
Nighttime Subway Utility Relocation Work at Wilshire and Fairfax • December 9 & 10, 2014 An example of the sort of work involved in relocating underground utilities in preparation for the tunneling of the Purple Line subway extension.
Mid City West Community Council Academy Museum Project Meeting • December 1, 2014Let’s be honest: Meetings can be pretty boring, but they are important. The MMRA will be posting community meetings from time to time so that residents who are unable to attend can be kept in the loop. Hopefully, the ability to fast-forward will eliminate some of the tedium. This is a video of a MCWCC meeting regarding the proposed Academy Museum project.
The Miracle Mile in Three Tenses: Past, Present, and FutureA conversation with Ruth Wallach and Greg Goldin. Recorded in September 2013, the three-part program features an engaging discussion exploring the history of the Miracle Mile area and how it relates to its future. Wallach and Goldin delve into a wide range of topics: the Miracle Mile as a destination; high-density development; the obstacles to becoming a thriving retail district; and the potential impacts of the Academy of Motion Pictures Museum and the Peter Zumthor designed re-do of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.



Density Bonus Law...
City Hall's Hidden Nightmare • by John Schwada


Density Bonus Law…

 City Hall’s Hidden Nightmare 

by John Schwada

[Editor’s note: A 45-unit apartment building under construction on the 700 block of South Ogden benefited from a state law (S.B. 1818) that allowed for increasing the number of units without any input from the community. The project was originally approved for 36-units. As described in the article below, S.B. 1818 has become the favorite tool of apartment developers looking to increase density without public input or fear of monitoring by the City.]
The LA Times recent reports about City Hall's lax enforcement of land-use restrictions on developers were unsettling. But the paper may have only touched the tip of the iceberg.
Troubling signs also exist that City Hall may not be doing a forceful job at all of policing how developers comply with the state-mandated Density Bonus Law; that nearly-revolutionary law effectively allows developers to over-ride community planning priorities and super-size their projects – if they also “give back” to the community. That’s the big “if.” 
In effect, the Density Bonus Law (SB 1818) has allowed hundreds of apartment house developers – with very little oversight – to significantly boost the size of their projects in return for their promise to “give back” by adding low and very low income housing units in their projects.
SB 1818 allows developers to super-size their projects beyond their “by right” entitlements in two ways: 
  1. By adding extra “affordable” apartment units to their projects that are supposed to be set aside and rented exclusively to eligible low-income tenants; and, 
  2. By adding extra market rate units to their projects that can be rented to the rest of their tenants. 
A case in point: The BW is a luxury apartment complex for young millennials at the northeast corner of Wilshire and Barrington in West Los Angeles [photo below]. By right, the developer (California Landmark Group-Barrington LLC) was entitled to build 50 units on this site according to the Brentwood-Pacific Palisades community plan. 
But because it promised to provide five low-income units under SB 1818, California Landmark Group was entitled to build 23 additional market rate units – in spite of what the community plan allowed. Bottom-line: instead of 50 units, The BW has 78 units, a whopping 56 percent increase. 
Another example: The developer Townscape Inc. is proposing to build two high-end apartment buildings across the street from the landmark Hotel Marmont on the Sunset Strip. Thanks to SB 1818 and Townscape’s commitment to build two-dozen affordable units, the project is seeking permission to build 228 units, about 100 more market rate units than it would be normally entitled to build by right, not to mention the two-dozen affordable units. Amazing. 
Add up all these SB 1818 projects citywide – and you can quickly see how the law’s super-sizing incentives have created a torrent of environmental impacts not envisioned by neighborhoods and their community plans. 
The theory behind the density bonus rules is simple: developers need to be incentivized to build low-income units. And this encouragement is provided by allowing developers to build additional market rate units to subsidize their profit margins and make it financially feasible to afford providing the low-income units. 

Obviously, there is a "social good" behind all this – ensuring that the city provides a balance of housing opportunities to persons of all income levels, including low-income persons. 
The trade-off is heightened growth and its impact on the city's infrastructure from overburdened roads and schools, stretched sewer and water delivery systems and potential declines in police and fire services. 
Now arguably the trade-off could be worth it. It is important to have heterogeneous neighborhoods with income diversity. 
But are we really getting that? 
Hard to tell. In fact, this author as a result of research for a client who was fighting a large neighboring project, delved into the issue of whether developers who were obtaining the benefits of density bonus rules were actually renting their low-income units to low income persons. 
Here’s what I found: 
A 2011 study showed that between 2005 and 2009 (well before our recent housing boom) a total of 161 Density Bonus projects were built – creating a total of 6,023 new units, of which 2,333 were affordable. The study does not say how many of the remaining 3,690 market rate units in the survey were “bonus” units – built beyond what the developer was entitled to build by right. I think it’s safe to say that at least 1,000 to 1,500 fall into this category. 
The city’s Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) is supposed to audit the density bonus projects to ensure that the units set aside by the developers for low-income tenants are actually rented to qualifying tenants. The city has hired a private contractor, Urban Futures Bond Administration Inc., to perform these audits. 
The city’s 2014 contract with Urban Futures said the city’s inventory of affordable housing had grown to 334 density bonus (“land use”) projects and 5,240 affordable units (from 161 projects and 2,333 units in 2009). 
The city is paying Urban Futures $14 per unit per year to audit those 5,240 affordable units.
Now, this would be a terrific deal if – for a mere $14 per unit per year – Urban Futures auditors actually went into the field, inspected and eye-balled these units to verify that the developers’ paperwork claims about who is renting their affordable units were accurate. 
I would willing to bet (I do not know this for a fact) but I think it’s fair to assume that for $14 per unit all the city is getting is a desk-top audit: a review of the developers’ annual reports to determine that all the right boxes have been checked. 
I asked HCID for data about how many non-compliance cases their auditors turned up; they are still trying to develop this information. 
My suspicions about this whole auditing process were exacerbated when I compared two city databases: one was comprised of the 161 density bonus projects (with their addresses) from the 2011 report, performed by the city’s Planning Department; the other was a registry of all affordable units – including ones created by the density bonus law – in the city compiled by HCID. This registry is supposed to assist low-income folks find affordable units (which may or may not be available for rent – but are affordable nonetheless). 
I found that of 69 density bonus projects in West LA and Hollywood and parts of the San Fernando Valley only four (possibly five) were listed on the registry.  A less rigorous review of similar projects in South LA and East LA, for example, found that all these projects were on the registry. 
Question: why were all these apartment buildings with affordable units in West LA not showing up on the registry? Is this an innocent oversight? Are these upscale projects not listing their affordable units because they don’t want to encourage “poor” people to really have a shot at renting their units and “dragging down” values? If that’s the case, who are renting these units? What are these owners hiding – or gaining – by keeping their units off the registry? 
Honestly, I don’t have an answer. Yet. Maybe the LA Times will get around to filling in some of these blanks. 
I also asked the property managers of three density bonus buildings in Brentwood if they had affordable units for rent – when city records said they should have. I drew blanks. They didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. To be fair, when I later visited two of these buildings (yes, under false pretenses) I got different – but still not satisfying – answers. Frankly, I don’t have the time, nor the authority to fully check this out as a private citizen. 
But I also have the sinking feeling that at $14 per unit per year, the city’s auditors are unlikely to be fully checking these issues out either. 
In fact, I fear that the public could be getting badly hoodwinked – we are allowing the developers to super-size their projects, to work-around our community plans, to create new environmental impacts and yet we don’t have a very firm fix, I believe, on whether we’re getting the benefit of low-income units being rented to eligible tenants. 
I am not the only one who has raised concerns about these matters. 
Three councilmembers, led by Paul Koretz, introduced a motion in April, 2009 to fix their concerns about the density bonus law; in particular, they wanted to require that developers “provide written financial proof that any incentive [granted under the density bonus law, i.e. all those extra units] is financially necessary” – in other words, that they could not provide the affordable housing without the incentives. 
The trio also wanted to increase the number of neighbors who would have to be notified that the city’s Planning Director was considering a developer’s density bonus application; as it stands, the notification is now limited to adjacent property owners only. As far as I could ascertain, the planning director has never turned down a density bonus application; nor has the director ever held a public hearing to witness his review of such an application. 
That motion went nowhere. 
Two similar motions were introduced in May 2014 by Councilman Mike Bonin. Here’s the language from one of those motions: 
“If our neighborhoods are going to be asked to absorb the additional density, traffic and development impacts from density bonus projects, the City must ensure that the affordable units being produced are being operated as affordable units, are being maintained at affordable rent or sale levels, and are occupied by residents who truly qualify for the housing.” 
Here, here! But Bonin’s well-meaning motion is still sitting in the Planning and Land Use Committee and I doubt that there are many councilmembers who want to rock the density-bonus boat. All the more reason for the media to start digging.
John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner. He is a contributor to CityWatch, where this article was originally published. We are grateful to Mr. Schwada and CityWatch for permission to republish this article.
For additional information:
Los Angeles Times (Jan. 6, 2015): In L.A., conditions placed on Developers go unheeded

Miracle Mile Real Estate • December 2014 Sales

Miracle Mile Real Estate

• December 2014 Sales •


940 S. Cloverdale Ave.

5 bdrm, 3 bath
2,688 sq. ft.
lot: 6,888 sq. ft
listing price: $1,395,000
sale price: $1,310,000
  sale date: 12-31-2014

808 S. Dunsmuir Ave.

5 bdrm, 4 bath
2,605 sq. ft.
lot: 8,321 sq. ft.

listing price: $1,499,000
sale price: $1,350,000
sale date: 12-29-2014

1137 S. Ridgeley Dr.

4 bdrm, 4 bath
3,377 sq. ft.
lot: 6,344 sq. ft.

listing price: $1,000,000
sale price: $1,082,700
sale date: 12-24-2014

952 S. Cloverdale Ave.
3 bdrm, 2 bath
1,528 sq. ft.
lot: 5,641
listing price: $895,000
sale price: $955,000
sale date: 12-26-2014

750 S. Spaulding Ave. #302
condo: 2 bdrm, 2 bath
1,330 sq. ft.
listing price: $619,000
sale price: $610,000
sale date: 12-17-2014


750 S. Spaulding Ave. #239

condo: 2 bdrm, 2 bath
1,368 sq. ft.
listing price: $579,000
sale price: $570,000
sale date: 12-12-2014

818 S. Detroit St.
duplex: 3 bdrm, 2 bath units
3,982 sq. ft.
lot: 6,458
listing price: $1,399,000
sale price: $1,253,000
sale date: 12-31-2014

816 S. Curson Ave.
duplex: 3 bdrm, 2 bath units
4,387 sq. ft.
lot: 6,478 sq. ft.
listing price: $1,600,000
sale price: $1,400,000
sale date: 12-03-2014



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MMRA Board Meeting
February 5, 2015
@ 7 PM

Board meetings are held at
the Berch Lounge
Westside Jewish
Community Center

5870 Olympic Blvd.

All are welcome.


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Miracle Mile
History Quiz

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Wilshire Courtyard

Miracle Mile
Residential Association

James O’Sullivan, President

Alice S. Cassidy, Vice President

Joseph Steins, Treasurer

Ken Hixon, Vice President/
Director of Communication
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Miracle Mile Residential Association
P.O. Box 361295
Los Angles, CA 90036-9495


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