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Council considers burst of developments before Weiss leaves office

Critics of some of the proposals in Weiss' Westside L.A. council district say the votes are being pushed through before his successor takes over July 1.

June 09, 2009|David Zahniser and Martha Groves

Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss has only a few weeks before he leaves office. But in the run-up to his June 30 departure, his council colleagues are considering a burst of high-profile development projects from his Westside district.

The council voted last week in favor of a 39-story tower at Westfield's shopping mall in Century City. A day later, it approved a seven-story apartment building on La Brea Avenue backed by Weiss, who recently lost his bid for city attorney.

On Wednesday, council members are scheduled to review an expansion of the Museum of Tolerance on Pico Boulevard that has been the subject of heated neighborhood debate. And at least two other projects could reach the council before July 1, when Councilman-elect Paul Koretz is slated to take office in the 5th District.

"Everything seems to be coming this month," Koretz said. "There's just a parade of projects that seem to be rushed to get done before I get there."

Although he called the number of projects "ridiculous," Koretz said he was hesitant to halt proposals that have been in the bureaucratic pipeline for a long while, in some cases years. Still, he has asked council members to delay a vote on at least one proposal: a planned 14-story condominium tower near Beverly Hills.

Koretz, who often took an anti-development stance during his campaign, said the project was much taller than allowed under the site's existing zoning, which limits new buildings to 45 feet.

Weiss spokeswoman Lisa Hansen said the council district, which stretches from Cheviot Hills to Encino, always has a large number of development projects in the works -- and June is no exception.

"Many have been in the public process pipeline for years and are now ready for a vote after a lot of community work has been done," she said.

Hansen said some district projects have drawn little if any controversy. Critics have a different take, saying that it is no coincidence that so many projects have come up for a vote.

"Across this district, projects that have been fought, and fought hard, are being rammed through," said Laura Lake, a land-use consultant who represents a neighborhood group opposed to the planned 14-story complex.

When it comes to real estate development, the 15-member council typically relies on the "Rule of 15," which suggests that members not interfere with projects in other council colleagues' districts. That concept was briefly ignored last week, when council members demanded and obtained new concessions from the developer of La Brea Gateway.

Weiss advised his colleagues that they should rely on the expertise of the council's three-member Planning and Land Use Management Committee, on which he sits. Councilman Bill Rosendahl disagreed, saying that he was willing to make changes to projects in Weiss' district if he saw a need.

"I think that's our responsibility," he said.

Rosendahl said he had an experience similar to that of Koretz when he took office in 2005, with a few development projects reaching the council in the 90 days before his predecessor, Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, left office.

Throughout Weiss' city attorney campaign, he raised money from individuals and companies pushing land-use proposals in his district.

Developer Rick Caruso, who proposed an eight-story residential building on Burton Way at La Cienega Boulevard, held an April 30 fundraiser for Weiss at his home.

Westfield and La Brea Gateway were represented by the lobbying firm Latham & Watkins, whose attorneys and family members gave at least $10,050 to Weiss' campaign, according to contribution reports.

After the election, a group that opposed La Brea Gateway -- a 219-unit apartment project -- contacted Koretz to ask him to seek a delay. The group never received a response, said Bill Christopher, the group's spokesman.

"I would have liked the chance to review the case with the incoming council person because the project, if it is built, and the traffic it produces will occur on [his] watch," he said.

Koretz also skirted the discussion on Westfield, saying that the company had made peace with the surrounding neighborhoods. Similarly, he argued that the Museum of Tolerance had forged an acceptable compromise on traffic improvements with residents of nearby Beverlywood.

"It just doesn't seem like an appropriate one for me to pull back," he said.

That statement drew a rebuke from Susan Gans, whose Beverlywood-adjacent neighborhood is next to the museum and thus would be more directly affected by its activities. In an e-mail to Koretz, Gans implored him to request a delay in the vote.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

martha.groves@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Westside buildings

The Los Angeles City Council has been reviewing high-profile projects in the development-wary district represented by Councilman Jack Weiss in the final weeks before he leaves office. Two projects have been approved, a third is slated for a vote Wednesday, and two more are waiting in the wings.

APPROVED

* June 2: Westfield Century City -- a 39-story retail and residential complex that would house Bloomingdale's on the first four floors.

* June 3: La Brea Gateway -- a seven-story apartment building on La Brea Avenue that would offer 219 apartments and stores on the ground floor.

SCHEDULED

* Wednesday -- pending: Museum of Tolerance -- The Simon Wiesenthal Center hopes to expand the museum by nearly 28,000 square feet, with a banquet facility that can accommodate 800 people.

UPCOMING

* 300 S. Wetherly Drive -- Proposed 14-story condominium building on 3rd Street near Beverly Hills, which has a hearing scheduled for today at the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

* 8500 Burton Way -- Proposed eight-story apartment building near La Cienega and San Vicente boulevards, with a hearing scheduled at the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee on June 16.

Source: City of Los Angeles

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