Frightened Families, Vulnerable Schoolchildren and Gelson’s Good Name: The Gardner Street Fiasco
Imagine the unimaginable. Imagine this ludicrous scenario: Imagine if someone showed up at your front door and told you in the coming years he intended on using the yards in your neighborhood as his new toilet facility. Because he likes the location.
This stranger, dressed in a bespoke suit and grinning cordially, doesn’t ask permission to invade your privacy and defile your garden. He doesn’t inquire if his plan would benefit you. He simply announces his intention, with fine courtesy and coded language that sounds to you like According to the rules and regulations my good friends wrote on my behalf, I’m allowed to do this! I’m just letting you know in advance because I’d like it to appear that I care what you think.
When you tell him, “No, I don’t want you to empty your bowels and bladder in my front yard, or next door, or on the sidewalk, or, for that matter, on anyone’s lawn,” he replies. “I understand. I got it. I hear you.”
The same scary visitor returns uninvited the next month and has a new message for you. “As I announced previously, as soon as I can get the proper permits and approvals with the help of my team of lavishly-compensated lackeys, I’m planning on using your yard as my new toilet facility. But good news! You can rest assured this really isn’t a problem, because I’ll spray the best air freshener money can buy after I defecate. Oh, and maybe I’ll bring a gift certificate for your troubles. It’s a win-win!”
When you say, “No. That’s not OK. I unequivocally do NOT want your droppings in my yard – or anywhere else in my neighborhood – no matter how much air freshener you spray,” he smiles and nods. “I understand. I got it. I hear you.”
Next month: “Whatever problems my inevitable toilet use might cause you, I’m going to devise complex and costly solutions to somewhat mitigate them. So, really, there’s nothing to worry about. This will be great.”
When you point out that none of these costly and complex “solutions” are needed, that if he will simply go away and relieve himself in an appropriate place, like a proper toilet, further discussions would be irrelevant, he nods and smiles. “I understand. I got it. I hear you.”
Eventually it dawns on you that this dangerous interloper does not, in fact, hear or understand anything but his insatiable desire to take a dump in other people’s homes.
Preposterous, right? What sort of decent human being defiles someone else’s home for no good reason? “Why would you do something so aggressively harmful?” you ask. “How do you justify this behavior?”
“Money,” he replies. “Lots of it. I’m going to make buckets of money. I’m going to earn millions when I start peeing on your succulents!”
At that point, you might suspect you’re dealing with a sociopath, someone with no regard whatsoever for anyone or anything but himself. Such fellows can’t be swayed by antiquated Christian notions like the Golden Rule. They don’t think you should actually treat others the way you wished to be treated; they think you should only say as much. They’re deaf to appeals to the better angels of our nature. Their relationship to money is like a hoarder’s relationship to old newspapers and empty cat food tines: they’ll never have enough.
Meet William Rothacker, Jr.
His daddy Bill Rothacker set him up in the family business, Cadence Capital Investments, based in Colorado. Their firm develops shopping malls and medical buildings and whatever else they can construct and quickly flip for a handsome profit. Now, just because they get in and get out and move onto the next fertile field, don’t think the Rothackers aren’t totally community-minded. Don’t think they’re unconcerned with the local residents their developments affect. Because they are. It says so right on their Website: Family. Partners. People. Those three words. Family. Partners. People.
From all appearances, the Rothackers are very good and decent people, folks whose big heart is in the right place, whose guiding mantra, after all, is: Family. Partners. People. See for yourself at http://www.cadencecap.com. You’ll enjoy numerous photos of children being hugged, pets and babies being adorable, and beaming executives radiating their intense joy at bringing so much light and love into the lives of faraway strangers they’ll never meet, the people who live and work in the neighborhoods Cadence Capital profits from.
What you won’t find is any explanation for why big Bill Rothacker and little Billy Rothacker think building a shopping mall anchored by a 32,000 square-foot supermarket directly next to an elementary school playground is a good idea.
You also won’t find is any explanation for why big Bill Rothacker and little Billy Rothacker think an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) is unnecessary for a demolition and construction site directly next to an elementary school playground — other than the Family, Partners and People aren’t financially connected in any way to the Rothackers and, therefore, aren’t quite worth the additional cost of a thorough investigation. Which is kind of fortunate, because an EIR would likely turn up alarming information that could slow or cancel the site’s progress.
Years of construction pollution and noise. Overwhelming truck and car traffic on a residential street. A rooftop that obliterates afternoon sunshine from the children’s playing field and community garden.
Preposterous, right? The stuff of satire. As ludicrous as someone unilaterally announcing your front yard will heretofore serve as a municipal toilet.
Welcome to Los Angeles in the age of Eric Garcetti.
The Rothacker Family, the Rothacker’s Partners and the Rothacker’s People do not have children or grand-children that attend the Gardner Street Elementary School, K-6th grade, and never would. (It’s a public school, with more than a few economically disadvantaged kids). The lobbyist they’ve hired to grease the path through our city’s corrupted council system, Ira Handelman, does not have children or grand-children that attend the Gardner Street Elementary School. Ken McKently, Hany Malak, and Wallace Wong, partners at McKentley Malak, the architectural firm charged with shoehorning the mall into a too-small space, don’t have children or grand-children who attend Gardner Street Elementary School. Mike Smith, Director of Real Estate for Gelson’s, the upscale grocery chain touted to be the prime tenant of the proposed shopping mall, does not have children or grand-children who attend Gardner Street Elementary School. Yet, somehow, they understand. They all get it.
Now, for a large enough fee, i.e., their going rate, most professional firms, will set aside their good morals and find some comforting rationalization for why their participation in a harmful project is quite reasonable, even justifiable. They’re not concerned with retail customers staging a boycott. But for a business that relies on the goodwill of shoppers, it’s a different story.
Gelson’s, one assumes, certainly wouldn’t risk their immaculate corporate reputation by building a store directly next door to an elementary school playground unless it really was no problem, something they’ve done before with great success. This summer, when the plan was first unveiled at a highly unreceptive Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council meeting, the Gelson’s executive Mike Smith was asked how many other Gelson’s, here or anywhere, have been constructed directly next door to an elementary school playground? At the time, he said he didn’t know the answer, but that he would come back with a comprehensive list. It’s six months later, and Mr. Smith hasn’t yet been able to compile his report, which is sort of strange, since the actual number of Gelson’s – or any other major grocery chain – currently built directly next to an elementary school playground is easy to compute.
(One Gelson’s, in Calabasas, is situated next door to a high school. But the shopping center it occupies was already built out when the grocery moved there in 1996.)
When I contacted Yvonne Manganaro, Senior Director of Marketing for Gelson’s, to ask how she thought the Gardner Street project would affect their carefully maintained corporate image, she expressed surprise that Gelson’s good name was still being linked to the problematic Gardner Street site. “If the developer is unable to obtain access to the store from anywhere other than Sunset Boulevard, Gelson’s is not interested in pursuing this location.”
Since a Gardner Street driveway will bring thousands of additional cars and trucks within meters from where parents and school buses pick-up their children, building any sort of grocery store access here will be catastrophic. One day, one prays much later than sooner, a child will be killed by a distracted Gelson’s customer or beer truck driver. When that horrible, yet virtually inevitable, day comes, instead of fresh produce and prime meats, the Gelson’s brand will be associated with reckless disregard for the neighborhoods they serve.
Is this a risk Gelson’s is willing to take?
According to Ms. Manganaro, almost certainly not. “We previously had a press release announcing this project on our Website. We’ve taken it down, because we are highly unlikely to participate at this site.”
Yet, as recently as January 5, at a Planning and Land Use Management committee meeting of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, the lobbyist Handelman and the developer Rothacker, Jr. presented architectural renderings of their unwanted project that still show Gelson’s as the main tenant of the proposed mall. Indeed, the official agenda of the meeting references “the Gelson’s supermarket.” And has for many months, at numerous official meetings.
We know from several brief chats with Billy Rothacker that he gets it. He understands. He told us so himself. And, therefore, he would never intentionally deceive anyone, and certainly not an entire neighborhood.
We know from several brief chats with Ira Handelman that he gets it. He understands. He told us so himself. And, therefore, he would never intentionally deceive anyone, and certainly not an entire neighborhood.
So perhaps it’s really true what that imaginary guy who wanted to defecate in your garden claimed: there’s nothing to worry about. It’s all just a big misunderstanding, a miscommunication, a minor mistake.
There isn’t going to be a Gelson’s on Gardner Street. It’s not going to happen.
But Billy Rothacker still needs to get his money – and his company — out of the disastrous investment he made in a site directly next to an elementary school playground. He’ll build something, whether or not it’s useful and desired by the people who live here. But the next time he approaches this fragile area, the next time he asks the neighbors and the schoolkids and the parents to give him their blessing for a proposed project – perhaps one that uses the existing buildings in an architecturally brilliant way, one that does not invite mayhem into the neighborhood — we hope Thoracker keeps his father’s three-word ethos close at hand.
Because the families of Gardner Street don’t want anyone, not even a Colorado jillionaire, using their front yard as a toilet.