LA City Hall Approves Spot-Zoning Favors for Rick Caruso's Luxury Mega-Project

Planning and Land-Use Management Committee signs off on zone-breaking approvals for billionaire developer

Despite a brewing pay-to-play scandal and increasing public discontent with City Hall's troubling land-use policies, L.A. Councilman Paul Koretz flip flopped in his opposition to developer Rick Caruso's luxury housing mega-project today -- and supported granting the billionaire special spot-zoning favors. 

Koretz testified before the City Council's powerful planning and land-use management committee, where he said that City Hall should now back Rick Caruso's luxury tower at the gridlocked intersection of San Vicente and La Cienega boulevards.

Koretz announced that the luxury building would be downsized from 20 stories to 17 -- still a towering presence in the neighborhood, where the nearby Beverly Center is about 8 stories tall. The billionaire developer needs a height district change and other zone-breaking favors from City Hall.

Rick Caruso's luxury mega-project has been awash in controversy.

A recent Los Angeles Times investigation found that Caruso and his associates had contributed "more than $476,000 to the city’s elected officials and their initiatives over the past five years." That included a $125,000 donation to a nonprofit set up by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The article came after another explosive LA Times report that revealed a developer and his associates shelled out more than $600,000 in political money to LA elected officials while seeking special spot-zoning favors for a luxury housing mega-project in Harbor Gateway.

As a result, the LA Times' expose on Caruso sparked a firestorm of controversy, which forced Councilman Paul Koretz to pull his support for the billionaire's luxury tower that features penthouse rents for $40,000 per month.

The Coalition to Preserve LA, which sponsors Measure S, sounded an early alarm about Caruso's luxury mega-project in February 2016.

While some community members supported Caruso's revamped mega-project, other nearby residents were outraged.

"It's one of the most egregious examples of spot-zoning that the city has," said Beverly Wilshire Homes Association president Diana Plotkin.

She added, "This compromise is a joke...We do not need luxury housing. It's pay for play all over again."

Another resident, Rosalie Wayne, noted that the 17-story luxury tower would set "a precedent in an area that's zoned for 45-foot buildings," which could open the door for more tall buildings in a neighborhood that's not zoned for them. 

Land-use attorney Sabrina Venskus, who represents Beverly Wilshire Homes Association, said that breaking existing rules and handing out spot-zoning favors "is not a way to plan our city."

Regardless, LA Councilman Jose Huizar, chair of the planning and land-use management committee, and his colleagues handed billionaire Rick Caruso the zone-breaking favors he sought.

The luxury mega-project now moves to the full City Council for consideration.

It was another sad example of how L.A.'s planning and land-use system is rigged and seriously broken -- and why that system desperately needs reform.

Vote Yes on S on March 7. 


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