When Los Angelenos Are Forced to Sue Their Elected Leaders

In the past two years, the City of Los Angeles has paid out more than $75 million to settle lawsuits brought against the municipality. Add in the expense of litigation and the total is more than $113 million.

Unsurprisingly, much of that money was paid out  to settle hundreds of police misconduct cases — more than 550 in the last fiscal year. But a large chunk of your tax dollars helped pay off the City’s other lawsuits, the dozens and dozens filed by Neighborhood Associations attempting to protect their communities from illegal building of mega-developments that contravene zoning laws. Indeed, under Mayor Eric Garcetti’s imprudent leadership, the City of Los Angeles now must now borrow more than $60 million just to pay off the lawsuits brought against it.

Some folks think that money could be used for better things — like educating our children and repairing our roads. But in the philosophy of Garcetti and his make-Los-Angeles-into-New-York cronies, settling lawsuits is merely a cost of doing business, a small price to pay when billions of dollars of real estate profits are at stake. In Garcetti’s Los Angeles, the developers (many of them from foreign countries and out-of-state) and their lapdogs at City Hall do what they wish; if local residents don’t like the law being broken, too bad! And if they really don’t like it, they can sue.

It’s a fine state of affairs for those in the legal profession. It’s miserable for those of us who live here.

Thanks to establishment mouthpieces like the Los Angeles Times and an electorate that’s more or less as engaged with reality as the American population that voted for Donald Trump, Eric Garcetti was recently re-elected by a huge plurality, many of whom genuinely believe he’s doing a terrific job. But anyone who lives in Hollywood — or anyplace in Los Angeles where construction cranes fill the horizon — knows that the Mayor and his City Council have little regard for existing laws and regulations. Indeed, last week Garcetti told the New York Times that he was prepared to make up and re-write rules as he sees fit. Who’s going to stop him?

Well, members of the judiciary, for one.

In the second rebuke in less than a week over illegal mega-developments signed off by the L.A. City Council and Mayor Garcetti, a Superior Court Judge ruled that Los Angeles political leaders illegally failed to require environmental reviews when they allowed Minnesota-based Target Corporation to build a new store taller than allowed by current zoning laws. The shell of the building, which for many months has sat unfinished at the corner of Sunset & Western, across from the Hollywood Home Depot, would have been open and operating by now if elected leaders had followed the rules and listened to the local residents, who registered their objections at every step of the planning process.

The April 26 ruling by Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin, Jr. — his second finding that L.A. leaders took illegal actions regarding the Target store — follows a similar victory against City Hall by the LA Conservancy. On April 25, Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue halted a controversial and locally reviled 178-foot tower at Sunset & Crescent Heights, at the foot of Laurel Canyon. The project, 8150 Sunset, was opposed at every step of the planning process by the local Neighborhood Council; alas, the area’s Councilmember, David Ryu, a first-term politician who campaigned on a pledge to stop 8150, abandoned his constituents and voted for the project, which would severely jam traffic and destroy the character of the low-rise, heavily historic community situated on the border of Hollywood and West Hollywood.

After his sudden reversal on 8150, his failure to eject the so-called “Friends” of Runyon Canyon from the park they almost ruined, and his absence of leadership on the controversial and reviled 7455 Sunset Shopping Mall project, it’s hard to see how Ryu could win another election in Los Angeles. But the problem is far bigger than rookie politicians.

In every neighborhood of Los Angeles, from the Valley to South LA, the City Council and the Mayor repeatedly override local zoning in an attempt to usher in enormous and often outlandish building projects. In both the Target and the 8150 Sunset cases, L.A. elected leaders and city planners ignored concerned Hollywood residents in favor of the bribes — sorry, “contributions” — made by rich men seeking more riches.

In the Target ruling, Judge Fruin found that the Council’s approval of a nakedly illegal “zone change” to erect the massive Target would negatively impact traffic, noise, air pollution and the greenhouse gas emissions. In the 8150 Sunset case, city leaders insisted that the community’s desire to preserve the site’s historic character wasn’t credible — because City Hall wanted to build another luxury condo tower. In both cases, the judges found Los Angeles in  blatant violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Robert Silverstein, a maverick lawyer who represents, among others, the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association of Hollywood in the Target case, said City leaders tried to change the zoning long after the fact, to justify their illegal approval of the Target store. “By trying to retrofit the zoning to save Target’s illegal project, the City Council committed a new string of illegal acts,” Silverstein said.

Judge Fruin agreed.

Who’s the malefactor? Target Corporation, documents show, had planned to build a new Target store that would adhere to community zoning rules. But according to court documents, the district’s then-Councilmember persuaded Target to erect a much bigger building that ignored the local zoning.

That Councilmember was Eric Garcetti.

Silverstein said that the community never opposed a legal Target store. “For years we have asked the City Council and Target to follow the law. It’s that basic. But they keep saying, ‘catch us if you can.’ That’s not how elected officials should conduct the public’s business,“ Silverstein said.

In Los Angeles, that’s precisely how Mayor Garcetti and his henchmen on the City Council conduct public business. But maybe instead of trying to “catch” the criminals, voters ought to stop electing them.

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