Councilman Wesson. The Mediator?

In the August Issue 2011 #19 we filed a report about how a group of 16th Place residents, living on top of a hill at Venice and San Vicente, woke up to find their “million dollar hilltop view’” of the Hollywood Hills blocked by a huge cement wall erected overnight for the Mid Town Crossing Shopping Center, a CIM Group Inc. development and new home to Leow’s Hardware.

This sparked understandable outrage and resulted in LA Weekly and Neighborhood News investigations which uncovered questionable measurements in the original determining documents along with clearly indicated agreements between the community, the developer and the city that ensured protected views.

The development is considered a feather in Councilman Herb Wesson’s cap and when  it comes to a choice between big developers willing to build on a site that had become a community eyesore versus a handful of residents robbed of a promised view, guess who wins?

Yet the 16th Place residents refuse to walk away. Plagued not only with the loss of views, they now have to contend with added indignities: potential billboards and lights glaring into their houses; traffic noise and pollution amplified by the canyon-like space between the hill they live on and the wall of the development; glare and heat from the wall; and of course, loss of value to their property.  All their effort to protect their community from the development, came to nothing.

The natural recourse for constituents in a dilemma is to turn to their Councilperson. It would make sense to turn to Councilman Wesson who brands himself as the Great Mediator, the one at City Hall who can “bring opposing sides together” a fact that is cited as an influence in his recent election to his new position as President of the City Council.  He often refers to his ability to bring “peace” to the council floor by bridging differences on contentious issues.

“That’s not deal making,” he claims. “I think thats called leadership.”

 

 

Unfortunately  his record for bringing peace and leadership qualities between contentious factions in his own community is spotty at best. Pastor Layne Beamer approached Wessons office asking for help in the battle between McCarty Church’s efforts to create a school and the local neighbors push back. Pastor Beamer was disappointed with Councilman Wesson’s clear lack of interest in helping them and what seemed to be full support for the residents, a few of whom had strong ties with members of his office.

In the contentious battle between neighbors fighting for and against barriers in the Western Heights community, Wesson fully supported one side over the other and the compromise he originally promised the community was never forthcoming. He effectively turned his back on those opposing the barriers, including the local fire department. No mediation or compromise offered. It’s on record that his office went above and beyond the call of duty to help the supporters jump City Hall hurdles and bypass required procedures to get barriers and gates installed in their community, despite the lack of proper investigation and initial sign offs, original and subsequent community petitions against a gate next to the neighborhood fire station and regardless of opposition from the Fire Station itself. Records show that Sylvia Lacy, one of Wesson’s top community liaisons, insisted to Fire Captain Luke Milick she had sign offs from the fire department when he complained the fire department would have never signed off on a barrier that blocked emergency access. Yet she was unable to produce that sign off in response to a records request and admitted she didn’t actually have one.

So clearly when Councilman Wesson  wants something done and when his influential community residents ask for assistance, we know he can “make it happen” or at least give it the good old college try. Yet, in initial requests for a response to the concerns about damage the Venice wall was creating for the 16th Place residents, Councilman Wesson repeatedly  claimed the city and developers had acted within their rights. When the group then sent the Council Office a list of specific issues listing the problems with the wall and defining solutions, they hoped the Councilman would help advocate for them and mediate with the developers.

In the State of the District Address Councilman Wesson provided to The Neighborhood News in the June 2011 issue, #18, he states

“Nevertheless, communication with the community is an area where we want to improve.”

And,

“Having the benefit of direct communication with constituents enables better communication and properly handled inquiries”

TNN includes an edited version of the request sent to the Council Office from his 16th Place constituents asking for help in their efforts to address the very serious problems the wall from the CIM development was creating for their community. If ever Councilman Wesson’s talent and skills as a mediator between contentious factions were needed, now would be it.  Although it took over one month and repeated requests for a response, with no acknowledgement from the Council Office, the Councilman finally sent a response. TNN received this response an hour before press time and we are pleased to include it with this article.

OCT 24, 2011

16th PLACE NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION

4546 W. 16th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90019

323-935-6868

October 24, 2011

Re: New Construction at 4550 – 4650 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019,   CASE NO. 2000-5403-CU-CUB-ZV-SPR

Dear Councilman Wesson:

Unlike any other neighborhood in the Mid-City area, the 4500 Block of W. 16th Place is now confronted with an imposing and visually offensive slab Wall obfuscating our clear scenic views of the Hollywood Hills, the Foothills, Runyon Canyon, and iconic landmarks such as Century City skyline, the Hollywood Sign, and the Griffith Park Observatory.  This slab Wall has brought blight to our community and neighborhood, as noted by 6 newspaper articles (LA Weekly, The Neighborhood News), one News Blog (LA Weekly), and two television news profiles (CBS 2 & KCAL 9).

Many of us on 16th Place bought our homes because of these iconic views; the vista being our properties greatest asset.  Now, the loss of these views is directly associated to a dramatic reduction of our property values.  The environmental impact of the CIM/Lowe’s construction site continues to negatively impact our community with a number of corollary issues and effects:

1.     Loss of views

2.     Derogation of Property Values

3.     Aesthetics: Signage - Proposed off-site advertising; Increase of graffiti and crime

4.     Noise, Air, & Light Pollution: the Wall causes an increase of traffic and pedestrian noise to reverberate throughout our neighborhood day and night; Air Pollution: we find dust and debris covering our yards almost daily.  Heat radiating off the concrete slab wall

5.     Traffic: accidents are on the increase at the corner of San Vicente Blvd. and Pico Blvd., and pedestrian safety is of constant concern

6.     Seismic: we are concerned that the residences to the south of the construction site may experience environmental impacts due to Soil strength and liquefaction which may affect the Venice embankment or from seismic activity

Remedy and Mitigation:

1.     Monetary Compensation of $300,000.00 for our loss of views, etc. for each property owner on the 4500 block of 16th Place   north and south side.  Each property owner experiences a derogation of property value, including noise and air pollution; those property owners on the north side experience more environmental impact and blight from the construction site.

2.     A tax assessment must be carried out with a property tax reduction showing up on our property taxes.

3.     The suggestion of wrapping the CIM/LOWE’S Midtown Crossing site with off-site wall signs, billboards, flatboards, monument signage or any signage that further negatively impacts and/or blights our community only adds insult to injury.  We express here our strong objection to the proposed Sign Supplemental Use District, and fervently recommend you remove the Midtown S.U.D. off the attachment, save the surrounding community and neighborhood from this added and unnecessary blight.

Allowing off-site signage, at the CIM/LOWES Midtown Crossing site, particularly on the Venice side, will only further diminish our quality of life: our property values are derogated, noise pollution reverberates through the neighborhood, and heat emanates from the building.  Considering the possibility of off-site signage would only make Venice Blvd., behind the building, look like the Las Vegas strip.  More importantly, the signage proposed is a distraction to motorists and a traffic hazard.

The signage as proposed would be staring directly into our yards and advertising beaming directly to the residents on 16th Place.  No off-site signage!  Absolutely NO visible signage of any sort; visible to our backyards from either side of Venice Blvd.  However, if permitted “by right” than no signage15 feet above the lowest point of Venice Blvd, between Vineyard Ave. and West Blvd.

Instead of signage, mitigate by beautifying and maintaining the Wall by completely covering it with greenery (and replace as needed): Ivy, Vines, Succulents, Bougainvillea.  Plant and maintain (and replace as needed) the median strip with (a minimum) 40 foot high Cypress trees blocking our view of that imposing and hideous Wall – beautify the community and neighborhood with greenery (look to the median on Highland Blvd. between Melrose Ave. and Fountain Ave for a model).

We recommend that the greening of the Wall should be done by a local landscape company.

We are already experiencing an increase of crime – vandalism, graffiti, and theft.  Criminals are no longer in the open, they are shielded from view.  We request 24 – hour surveillance cameras (accessible to 16th Place property owners through a website with a password for 16th Place residents) and security patrolling on Venice Blvd.

4.     Greening the Wall will have a multiple remedy, first it will lessen our sight of that hideous Wall, and second, it will become a sound barrier and buffer the noise reverberating into our neighborhood, and finally, it will decrease heat emanating from the Wall.

Any Wall Light pollution should not glare into our backyards and bedroom windows.  We ask that any and all lighting on Venice be turned off by 10pm.  And, any construction should not begin before 7am, M – F, and 8am, Sat. (currently construction begins at 6am – 6:20am, M – Sat).

Due to increased noise levels, we request you mitigate this environmental impact by construction of an appropriately determined wall height for a solid decorative masonry wall along the backyards of the residences of 16th Place (along Venice Blvd.) from Vineyard Ave. to West Blvd.

Additionally, due to the increase of noise and air pollution we request you install double pane windows (and doors) on all houses on the 4500 Block of W. 16th Place.  This installation should include air conditioning and heating, and insulation since we now have to keep our homes shut (windows & doors) to buffer the noise and keep out increased dust and debris.

5.     We strongly suggest that DOT begin a traffic survey for the accident prone intersection of San Vicente & Venice Blvd.  Accidents at that intersection are a weekly occurrence, and are mostly settled on site without a report.  A pedestrian survey must be included; there is no Yield sign for motorists turning right from Venice Blvd. onto San Vicente Ave. – pedestrian lives are at risk.

Additionally, we request that you re-instate the Neighborhood Protection Plan (NPP), as originally outlined.  The NPP was designed to protect the surrounding area and community from an increase in traffic through traffic mitigation – this is an important and necessary consideration.

6.     Since the residences to the south (Venice embankment) were never considered in the Plaza Pico Commercial Center Initial Study, 2000 (Draft, where is the original and who signed off on it?); was a geotechnical analysis ever initiated for the Venice embankment?  If not, we request that one be performed and the residents of the 4500 Block of W. 16th Place be notified of the results.

Finally, our quality of life is diminished by the construction of this Wall, now a big box building – our views are blocked and our property values degraded.  The increase of noise is an interference making sleeping difficult and construction at the site begins earlier than allowed adding to this interference.  Additionally, the increase in noise pollution makes it difficult to entertain family and friends as we once could.

The proposed signage only adds blight on blight – sight lines and visual impact need to be considered to lessen the Environmental impact of the Wall.  Beautify Venice Blvd. by greening the Wall and planting the median with Cypress trees and other plants as outlined.

In addition to the CRA and your (Wesson’s) claims of creating 800 – 900 jobs by the CIM Mid-City Project, we request that at least 20% of jobs go to those residents with zip codes within a 5-mile radius of the site.  We can filter applicants through local agencies as well as the neighborhood councils.  All retailers would need to access the pool as a resource and make every attempt possible to hire from it.  A check and balance system through the councilman’s office could be set up to ensure compliance.

Councilman Wesson, on June 17, 2011, we asked for your help.  Because of the Wall and the more recent articles in the LA Times a broader view of you is taking shape in the community.  This Wall issue has created many needs that need to be addressed by you as a paid representative of “the People”, especially now.

We are asking for your help again.

Sincerely,

16th Place Neighborhood Association

Cc:       Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa

Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council President

Carmen Trutanich, Los Angeles City Attorney

Linn Wyatt, Los Angeles Chief Zoning Administrator

Patricia Diefenderfer, Planning

Fabiola Vilchez, Mayor’s Representative, CD10

John Harmon, Councilman’s Representative, CD10

CIM, Kathleen Kim

CRA, Michelle Ordone-Banks; Barron McCoy: Steven Jones

Allan DiCastro, MINC President

Jill Stewart, LA Weekly

Dianne Lawrence, The Neighborhood News

Steve Lopez, LA Times

 

Response to 16 Place Neighborhood Association from Councilman Wesson Nov. 30 2011.

RE: Construction at 4550 -4650 W. Pico Boulevard - Midtown Crossings

Dear Members of the 16th Place Neighborhood Association

Thank you for your letter daed October 24, 2011 in which you gave me a comprehensive assessment of your concerns regarding the Midtown Crossings project. As I have stated in the past, the entitlement process for this project was completed long before I became your Councilmember, and I have been working with the developer, CIM and my staff to identify practical solutions to help alleviate your concerns.

While there are some suggestions made in your letter that I'm unable to deliver due to legal or practical concerns, I want to assure you that I am committeed to addressing many of your concerns and help mitigate the impacts of the project.

 

Below are the mitigations and measures I am committed to delivering for you:

1. Writing a letter to Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez to request a reassessment of property values fo the purpose of assessing property taxes on the 4500 block of 16th Place.

 

2 Ensuring that there is a public hearing process and public comment period for the proposed supplemental use district for the Midtown Crossings project

3  Working with CIM to provide landscaping and foliage along the Venice Boulevard side of the project.

4  In consultation with the Department of Transportation and Bureau of Street Services, identifying funding to beautify the medians along Venice Blvd.

5  In consultation with the Department of Transportation, identifying funding for a traffic study to look at vehicle and pedestrian risks at the intersection of San Vicente Blvd. and Venice Blvd.

6 In consultation with the Bureau of Engineering, assessing the need for a geotechnical study for the Venice Blvd. embankment and, if necessary, identifying funding for a study.

The 16th Place Association will be meeting to discuss this response and a strategy for moving foward.

TNN will keep an EYE on things as the story progress.

 

 

 

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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