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Hollywood population density at issue in development fight

The plan would enable developers to build high-rise skyscrapers, but residents say the neighborhood's declining population doesn't need more apartments.

June 17, 2012|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • The proposed site of a skyscraper, across the street from the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood. Development advocates say new high-rise skyscrapers and apartment buildings could provide more living space, but Hollywood residents say they're unncessary because the neighborhood's population is declining.
The proposed site of a skyscraper, across the street from the Capitol Records… (Katie Falkenberg, For The…)

Finding a peaceful resolution to this Hollywood feud is one tall order.

Hollywood "flat-landers" and development advocates are urging Los Angeles officials to increase density guidelines in Hollywood, paving the way for glitzy new skyscrapers and apartment buildings they say are necessary to house tens of thousands of future residents.

But Hollywood's hillside dwellers are fighting the move. They say high-rises are unnecessary, because the population there is shrinking, and contend that new towers will only ruin the area's scenic and world-famous skyline.

The dispute is scheduled to come to a head on Tuesday, when the Los Angeles City Council considers approval of the proposed Hollywood Community Plan. Drafted by community representatives and city planners, it would set guidelines for new construction in the neighborhood.

At issue are two very different forecasts of just how many people are likely to live in Hollywood between now and 2030.

The plan predicts a sharp increase in population that will trigger the need for 13,000 additional residential dwelling units over the next 18 years.

"Hollywood has the great capacity to be a livable, urban city. We envision a place you could live, conceivably, without a car. It's intended to be a land-use plan that unites the neighborhoods," said Kerry Morrison, who for 16 years has led the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance and managed a pair of Hollywood business improvement districts.

But opponents contend the development guidelines are flawed because they fail to recognize that Hollywood's population is declining, not increasing. Since 1990 the population has declined 7.3%, from 213,883 to 198,228, opponents say.

Lawyer Richard MacNaughton, a 42-year resident who lives north of Franklin Avenue and is critical of the plan, said the city's population projections for 2030 are out of whack because they are based on outdated estimates.

Instead of a projected population of nearly 250,000 people in 2030, Hollywood is more likely to have fewer than 190,000 residents, he said.

(An accurate Hollywood head count is difficult to calculate because the community's boundaries do not precisely correspond with area ZIP Codes. Using 2010 U.S. Census figures, the Southern California Assn. of Governments estimates the current population to be 184,829, while Los Angeles city planners have pegged it at 198,234.)

Despite discrepancies in population forecasts, both sides have dug in.

Lawyer David Ambroz, a 10-year Hollywood resident and a neighborhood activist, said thousands of hours have gone into drafting the proposed master plan since public workshops began in 2006.

"We're not coming to the end of the game for a heckler's veto," he said of hillside residents' opposition. "Density is the wrong lens to look at this with. Change your glasses and look at it as open space. This plan allows elegant density in the right areas."

Building taller structures will free up ground-level space for public use, said Laurie Goldman, a Hollywood resident and small-business owner who serves as president of Friends of the Hollywood Central Park. The group wants to build a suspended park over the 101 Freeway.

But opponents of the plan warn that its concentration of future high-rise buildings along Vine Street and Sunset Boulevard will block homeowners' view of the Los Angeles basin and interfere with tourists' view of the Hollywood sign.

MacNaughton said skyscrapers like a planned 55-story tower next to the Capitol Records building will drastically change the look and feel of Hollywood. Developers could be eligible for incentives that would allow them to build as high as 75 floors if low-income housing is included in the project, he said.

Sarajane Schwartz, president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn., warned that hillside residents who already face clogged streets when they leave their neighborhoods will face greater problems if the towers attract new residents. "Traffic is already gridlocked on many streets. Hollywood already has more street closures than other areas because of movie premieres and other events," she said.

She also voiced concern over the impact more development would have on the area's infrastructure — its police and fire services, street maintenance and aging, rupture-prone water lines.

City councilmen Eric Garcetti and Tom LaBonge, who represent portions of Hollywood, said they intend to vote in favor of the community plan.

LaBonge said he has worked with city planners to fine-tune the plan by lowering zoning along Franklin Avenue and protecting neighborhoods containing historic homes. He acknowledged having "real concerns about the super high-rises" proposed for Hollywood, however.

Yusef Robb, Garcetti's deputy chief of staff, said city planners are prepared to update the draft version of the plan to include 2010 census figures. "This plan doesn't drive growth, it's about being prepared if growth comes," Robb said.

Nonetheless, Fran Reichenbach, a 28-year Hollywood resident who heads the Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Assn., and other opponents say they will go to court if the council votes to adopt the plan.

"The minute the council approves this, if they do, then we will unfortunately have to file the lawsuits," she said.

"Why are we as citizens forced to launch a fight against something so ludicrous? If we allow this kind of backwards city planning, the entire city of L.A. should just pack it up and become another Manhattan."

bob.pool@latimes.com

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