Selling 7500 Sunset to a Skeptical Public
This past Friday morning, around 8AM, yet another person was struck by a car on Fountain Avenue, one block south of Sunset Boulevard. Fountain has steadily become a notorious street in Hollywood, where several pedestrians and cyclists have been killed and maimed by cars. Today, a woman, 25, was walking with her husband and was hit by a car at the corner of Fountain and Gardner, not far from the last Fountain fatality on Formosa.
This intersection, Fountain & Gardner, is precisely one block from Sunset & Gardner, where a local landlord is proposing to demolish two blocks of Sunset Boulevard storefronts he’s allowed to deteriorate over the decades. In their place, the landlord, Jack Illoulian and his son Jason (operating as Faring Capital), propose to build a six-story “multi-use” complex, one giant building per block, with high-end retail on the ground and luxury apartments above. Never mind that zoning regulations do not allow such tall building at this site. According to the fanciful narrative being invented by the Illoulians and their lobbyists, building in violation of community standards and ordinances will be a big win for the neighborhood.
What they can’t explain is how their giant buildings, with more than 200,000 square-feet of apartment space and 40,000 of retail and restaurant space, will avoid creating more local traffic and more traffic fatalities. According to the latest estimates by expert engineers, the 7500 Sunset project and the proposed 7445 Shopping Mall across the street, will add more than 8,000 daily trips to the streets surrounding the oversized buildings. This, again, is one block from where the latest pedestrian was mowed down by an automobile.
At a recent Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood PLUM committee meeting, the developers and their representatives made a power-point presentation that invoked evocative catch-phrases like “community engagement” and “responsive to your concerns” and “it’s a moral issue for us.” For those of us into poetry and fiction, the presentation had some professional appeal.
Community Engagement: Faring sponsored a private cocktail party to sell their vision to wealthy locals hosted by John Gile, the disgraced ex-President of the Orwellian-named Friends of Runyon Canyon.
Responsive to Your Concerns: Based on complaints from local residents and HHWNC Board members that the buildings were far too large and impactful, the developers reduced the original size of their rentals space. Not by 50%. Not by 33%. By 3%.
It’s a Moral Issue: The project originally offered 20 “affordable” rental units. After community engagement and responsiveness to our concerns, the developers presented new plans that include 20 “affordable” rental units.
This is all part of the doublespeak and keeping up appearances that unrighteous businesses resort to when the truth – “we want to make more money, no matter who it hurts” – doesn’t sound so good.
But when it comes to the non-fiction version, where real lives are at stake, the story isn’t so cheerful. The problems with 7500 are similar to those of the 7445 project: proximity to an elementary school, proximity to the local Fire Station, and a dramatic intensifying of impact on the neighborhood.
At their presentation, the representatives told a tall tale about visiting the Captains of Fire Station 41, all of whom, they assured the Board, saw absolutely no problem with adding 8,000 new vehicle trips a day to the one and only street the ambulance and fire engine use to service the community. Perhaps at the next meeting these Captains could testify. Having spoken to some of these same Captains off the record and not for attribution, I was told the exact opposite – that, in fact, these two monster projects next door to Fire Station 41 will undoubtedly slow down emergency response times and that the firefighters were very concerned. So someone is lying to someone.
Someone is also abdicating any pretense to common sense and credibility. Ah, well. This is all part of the lobbying game, you might say. All in good fun.
Except lives are at stake. Both the 7500 and 7445 projects violate the letter and spirit of Vision Zero, which calls for zero traffic-related deaths by 2035. Both of them violate elements of the Hollywood Community Plan. Both of them are unwanted by the majority of us who live and work here.
They have one other sad similarity: both projects have yet to be disavowed by Councilmember David Ryu, who was elected to represent those of us who live and work here, not Colorado-based multi-millionaires who want to build in our neighborhood. His planning deputy, Julia Duncan, attended hearing after hearing on the 7445 Sunset project, all of which sent a resoundingly clear message: Our community doesn’t want this project. Yet neither she nor Ryu ever withdrew their support for the developer, with Duncan dutifully delivering CD4’s tacit blessing at the zoning hearing, where she was last to speak, and where she outlined all the ways the developer had played ball (appearing “responsive” without actually responding to concerns) with us poorly informed residents. The final appeal on 7445 Sunset is on Tuesday. Whose side will our Councilmember be on then?
If 7445 is a harbinger, then all the hearings and hand-wringing over 7500 will be another colossal waste of time. The developer will get what he wants. And our elected representatives will be glad to tell us why it’s all for the best.
Meanwhile, another pedestrian was struck by a car today on Fountain Avenue…