Koreatown Activists Win Lawsuit Against the City

Apr18koreaPhoto courtesy of CityWatchLA

 On March 28, 2018, the Environmental Justice Collaborative and Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, represented by LTL Attorneys, LLP, won their case against the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Council, and Real Parties in Interests Colony Holdings, LLC, and developer Michael Hakim.  This matter was consolidated with the lawsuit brought by Fix the City against the City of Los Angeles, et al. 

The plaintiffs in the case, Environmental Justice Collaborative and Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative believed that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not requiring an environmental impact report (EIR) for the ridiculously out of scale 27 story luxury skyscraper.  The tallest building on the 800 block of residential streets Catalina and Kenmore is a mere three stories.  

The developer Michael Hakim and Colony Holdings have attempted to build on the site for more than a dozen years since the mid-2000s.  Initially, it was, 22 stories, then it became 35 stories, and then back down to 27 stories.  Do not be impressed with the 35 stories being shortened to 27 stories, as the number of units only decreased by one unit from 270 units at 35 stories to 269 units at 27 stories.  Each and every time the developer sought approvals to build this “wildly inappropriate” project as termed by Commissioner Maria Cabildo, the project was denied unanimously each and every time by three separate sets of Planning Commissioners over the years.

However, in 2015, after the third unanimous denial by the City Planning Commissioners in 2014, Mayor Garcetti made a highly unusual - almost unheard of move, and overturned the decision by his appointed Planning Commissioners.  This unusual maneuvering from the Mayor came after Hakim agreed to contribute $1 million to the city's affordable housing trust fund and $250,000 to a “discretionary fund” for community projects in Council President Herb Wesson's district. [FYI- affordable housing in the City of LA costs approximately $450,000 a unit to build, and thus we are talking less than 3 units of affordable housing to be built with monies received from Hakim.]

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and found that there was a violation of CEQA and ordered an EIR. This ruling, overturned the City’s approval of a planned 27-story luxury skyscraper development in Koreatown, agreeing with concerns expressed by many residents that traffic congestion and first responder times would be affected.

In her ruling, Judge O’Donnell found that neither the LAFD nor the LAPD were consulted about the need and capacity of services to future residents. The documents provided by the City did not adequately analyze response times for first responders. The judge also noted concerns from the LAUSD, Caltrans and other agencies regarding additional vehicle traffic and spillover  onto nearby streets that would be generated before, during and after the development.

This is a major victory for the people of Koreatown and all Angelenos because we fought against the powerful elected officials who completely disregarded the safety and good health of its citizens in favor of developers who only see dollar signs without concern or care of good planning for the City. 

Sweet victory, but what a huge waste of time because the City chose to ignore the law requiring an EIR when there are land use impacts and discrepancies with the Community Plan Guidelines. It is comforting that ordinary citizens banding together, with the help of a great pro bono law firm- LTL Attorneys, LLP, can defeat City Hall in the fight for environmental justice.


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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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