Los Angeles Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky was counting on Councilman Ernani Bernardi to cast the decisive vote Wednesday on Yaroslavsky's proposal to limit high-rise development along the Wilshire Corridor.
What Yaroslavsky was not counting on, however, was that Bernardi's vote would send the bitterly contested measure to defeat.
The City Council, by an 8-7 vote, with Bernardi in the majority, rejected Yaroslavsky's proposed moratorium, ending more than a week of parliamentary maneuvering and intense lobbying by the Westside councilman to save the measure from a determined bloc of council opponents.
In place of the proposal, the council approved a watered-down version--which Yaroslavsky labeled as "meaningless"--that exempts five proposed high-rise condominium developments. Both Yaroslavsky and Kenneth Topping, the city's planning director, have acknowledged that the moratorium was designed specifically to block construction of those projects, since no other high-rises are envisioned for the corridor.
The six-month moratorium proposed by Yaroslavsky would have limited new buildings to six stories from Glendon Avenue in Westwood to the Los Angeles Country Club at the Beverly Hills city line. The moratorium was intended to stop high-rise development while city planning officials revised plans governing building along the corridor.
The version approved by the council keeps the 6-story general height restriction, but sets separate limits--ranging from 12 to 27 stories--for each of the five proposed condominium projects. The council limits reduce the height of just one of the projects, from 24 to 18 stories.
"How was I to know that Ernani Bernardi, who has opposed every high-rise development in the city, would vote for this one?" a disappointed Yaroslavsky said after the council vote. "I still don't understand it."
Bernardi, who missed a fiery council meeting last week when the council deadlocked at 7 to 7 on Yaroslavsky's proposal, offered no apologies after Wednesday's vote.
He said the moratorium did not address density along the corridor, the issue he cared most about. He also said it was unfair to punish developers of the five proposed projects, who said they have already invested tens of millions of dollars in the projects. The projects are in varying stages of city approval, but all have received preliminary review.
"If someone is led to believe that they can invest in a project, and then suddenly have the money go down the drain, it is not fair," Bernardi said. "These people have spent a lot of money thinking they could build these projects."
Even with Bernardi's vote, Yaroslavsky would have faced the nearly impossible task of persuading the Planning Commission, which unanimously rejected the moratorium in December, to change its position. Under council rules, the moratorium must be reconsidered by the Planning Commission because of changes made to it by the council.
Without commission approval of a measure, the council needs 10 votes to pass it--more than Yaroslavsky has been able to muster for his moratorium. The version of the moratorium passed by the council, on the other hand, is expected to need just eight votes--a simple majority--when it returns to the council, because it is expected to receive easy commission approval.
"It was an exercise in political futility" for Yaroslavsky to push for his moratorium, Bernardi said.
Even so, Yaroslavsky did not give up. He proposed cutting the moratorium from six months to 45 days, and promised to work with the developers to come up with a compromise. "It is my hope that there will be serious and sincere discussions," he said.
His opponents on the council, led by San Fernando Valley Councilman Hal Bernson, who crafted the council's version of the moratorium, accused Yaroslavsky of playing politics with the proposal.
"All you are really doing is stalling," Bernson said. "We are just really playing a little political game."
Several city officials said privately that Yaroslavsky's maneuvers appeared to be a desperate attempt by the councilman to save face by avoiding outright defeat on the council floor on an issue of great importance in his district. Yaroslavsky has become a leader in a citywide effort to limit new development, and he is expected to emphasize his role in the so-called slow-growth movement in a bid to unseat Mayor Tom Bradley next year.
After the council vote, Yaroslavsky declined to speculate on the political repercussions of his defeat, saying only that it is part of his job to take on controversial issues.
"I have won many, and I have lost some," he said. "If I introduced legislation based on getting slam dunks, I wouldn't introduce anything."