West Adams neighbors attended a hearing regarding the 12 4-G cellular antennas that AT&T wants to install on the former Bekins Building (now Public Storage).
AT&T insists that placing the antennas on the decorative design edging the top of the building will have no significant effect on the character of the structure. This was disputed by West Adams Heritage Association (WAHA) and also by the local neighborhood council, United Neighborhoods of the Historic Arlington Heights, West Adams and Jefferson Park Communities and UNNC a Neighborhood Council.
In 2011 the building had already been determined to be an historic resource when Public Storage purchased the building and proposed a rehabilitation and new signage. At that time, the company’s own historic consultant determined that this particular Bekins Building was the original model building for other Art Deco era/style storage buildings that Bekins went on to erect, and thus it was more important than a simple study of period architecture. About a year later, Public Storage was required to go through a second environmental process when it proposed changing the words of the iconic rooftop signs from “BEKINS” Storage to “PUBLIC” Storage.
Despite this, AT&T started a new conversation by stating the building was not historic, and it was “categorically exempt” from a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review. When a project is exempt from CEQA review, the City cannot require changes to protect the historic character of a building. WAHA argued against the exemption by pointing out that, although it is true that it is not a designated Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument, it is not correct that it is not deemed historic. It is on the former Community Redevelopment Agency’s historic resource list (thus deemed historic for land use entitlements), SurveyLA has identified it as Individually Eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and its owner’s consultant basically determined it to be a historic resource.
AT&T also said it was relying on a letter that had been issued by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), which stated that the project did not have an impact on a historic resource. AT&T asserted that it meant their project met preservation guidelines, but it turned out that SHPO had not realized the building was on a list of historic resources; once the state officials realized that SHPO reversed its earlier determination and rescinded the letter.
Before the hearing, historic consultant and Art Deco expert Mitzi March Mogul reviewed the proposed project/wireless 4G installation in detail, as did the affected neighborhood council, UNNC. In addition, neighbors reviewed the older case files for AT&T’s original underlying Zoning Administrator approval, issued in 1996, which granted AT&T the right to have cell antennas. The approval stated that: “The facades of the existing building will not be altered. The surrounding area is generally developed with structures with lower overall heights. The visibility from these properties and from the street will be minimal.”
At the hearing, attended by WAHA members Mogul, Jean Frost, and Jim Childs along with Laura Meyers and Norman Gilmore on behalf of UNNC, Associate Zoning Administrator Jim Tokunaga left the matter open until he heard from both SHPO (with an updated assessment) and the City Planning Department’s Office of Historic Resources (OHR). Lambert Geissinger at OHR, who acts on behalf of the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission, has already stated in an email that the AT&T proposal did not meet the Secretary of Interior Standards (and therefore cannot be categorically exempt from CEQA.) He prefers a facility that would be installed on the rooftop.
A final decision date was unknown at press time.