Pedestrians walk past high–rise buildings along Vine Street in… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
Chris Robbins could be a poster child for mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti's vision for Los Angeles.
Each morning, Robbins straps on a backpack, cues up his iPod and sets out on a short walk to the subway, which whisks him to his downtown public relations job. He and his wife share one car. On the weekends, they like to stay local, savoring their neighborhood's array of new restaurants and bars.
Over 12 years as Hollywood's councilman, Garcetti has emerged as a leading champion of "smart growth," which aims to entice residents like Robbins out of cars by densely concentrating new development along transit lines.
The councilman has helped muscle through tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for construction projects and has backed exemptions permitting developers to build bigger than zoning laws allow. The result has been an explosion of development on the streets surrounding the Hollywood Walk of Fame, including nearly 3,500 residential units built or under construction.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 12, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Garcetti's Hollywood plan: In the May 11 Section A, an article about mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti's push for "smart growth" in Hollywood included a reference to Larry Gross of the Coalition for Fair Housing. Gross' organization is the Coalition for Economic Survival.
Hollywood is "a template for a new Los Angeles," Garcetti says, "a blueprint for a city where you can live near where you work, near where you play ... where the hours you don't have to spend in your car, you can spend with your family."
But the high-density growth also has brought worries about rising rents and traffic-choked streets.
The building boom has generated dozens of lawsuits from community activists who accuse Garcetti and the city of giving away too much to developers. Garcetti's opponent, Wendy Greuel, has warned L.A. could become "a new Manhattan" under a Garcetti administration.
She also criticizes his role in helping steer a $30-million taxpayer loan to a developer whose pledge to bring a long-running Cirque du Soleil production to the heart of Hollywood collapsed after just 16 months. The show's abrupt closing last year took with it the promise of 850 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity.
The city loan is secured and not at risk, officials say, and Garcetti insists the renovation of the Dolby Theatre was worth the investment. But Greuel complains that the public money "could have been used to revitalize parts of South Los Angeles, or neighborhoods in the Valley."
That theme could resonate with voters beyond Hollywood. A USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll last month found 38.4% of likely voters viewed Garcetti as caring more about big business and developers than the city as a whole, compared with 30.6% who viewed Greuel that way.
Garcetti says he's no density hawk pushing for New York-style skyscrapers across the city: "What you do in Granada Hills is not the same thing you do in Hollywood." But he said that building more in select areas, such as along Wilshire Boulevard and in parts of South L.A., makes sense.
So does leveraging public money to spur development, he says. And an isolated bad outcome like the closure of the Cirque du Soleil show, he argues, shouldn't overshadow dozens of success stories and the positive potential of the Hollywood model.
On the campaign trail, Garcetti regularly draws flattering comparisons between Hollywood now and what it used to be, "when you saw street prostitution, drug dealers and empty storefronts."
Leron Gubler, the head of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, credits Garcetti with setting a business-friendly tone for the area and being able to forge consensus between opposing groups. "People who are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars aren't going to invest unless they think they can work with the councilman," said Gubler, whose group has endorsed Garcetti.
Hollywood's revitalization was underway long before Garcetti took office. Former Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg helped deliver the catalytic Hollywood & Highland shopping complex, which opened in 2001 with $90 million in city assistance.
Garcetti's involvement was seen as pivotal in other projects, including the $500-million W Hotel complex at the fabled corner of Hollywood and Vine. In 2006, the project was in jeopardy. Shopkeeper Bob Blue was fighting the redevelopment agency's use of eminent domain to seize his family business. According to Gubler and Helmi Hisserich, who worked for the agency, the project was close to losing its funding when Garcetti and his staff stepped in.
"He said, 'I want you to talk. I want you to work out a deal,'" Hisserich said. Blue and the agency ultimately agreed the project could be built around Blue's luggage business.
That sort of engagement wins Garcetti accolades in the business community. But taxpayer watchdogs have accused him of failing to guard community interests.
In 2006, developer Hal Katersky proposed an eight-story, $57-million office building at Vine Street and Selma Avenue.
Redevelopment officials said office space was needed badly in a neighborhood planners feared was being overbuilt with housing. They agreed to buy the land from Katersky for $5.45 million and sell it back to him and his partners at a Chicago-based investment company at a discount.