Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why Does New York Have TWICE As Many Foreclosed Upon Homes As Los Angeles? And Then In Chicago....

New York? With more lender owner - as opposed to just in foreclsoure homes - than... Los Angeles? Hell, according to the Wall Street Journal - the greater New York area is in worse shape than even San Bernardino Riverside - both in absolute numbers AND in percentage of homes owned by lenders!

Los Angeles - Long Beach-Glendale - .6%
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario - 1.1%
New York-White Plains-Wayne - 1.2%

And now for the really bizarre stats. Granted Detroit is almost at the bottom (with the average sale price now at - but look what city city ties Detorit (with the average Detroit home now selling for... $22,000 - and I'll have frie with mine) - and look what city has both the most lender owned homes AND the highest rate of lender owned homes in the nation:

Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn - 2.4%
Denver-Aurora - 2.4%

And... the biggest loser is...

Chicago- Naperville-Joliet - 2.5%

Chicago has almost as many foreclosed upon homes than the next runner-up.... Atlanta. Yes, Chicago has 46,000 lender homes while LA has only 11,000 and Riverside also only 11,000 - over twice as many as both areas put together.

And the lowest foreclosure rate - by far - of any of the cities on the chart is... Los Angeles!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cool Article About LA By Cara In LA Times!

The impending demolition of the infamous 'erector set' parking garage across Grand Avenue from Disney Hall for the Related Group's Grand Avenue Project has awaken an unsuspected poetic muse in Cara Mia DiMassa. Her Column One musing about the intemperate temporariness of Los Angeles is worth reading:

Built not to last -- yet still standing
In a city known for the fleeting, downtown's 'Erector set' parking lot is one of the civic pieces that've lasted for years. But its time is near.
By Cara Mia DiMassa
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

March 25, 2008

Even before it opened in 1969, the "Erector set" parking lot at the corner of 1st and Olive streets downtown was one of Los Angeles' most reviled structures.

Richard G. Mitchell, head of the Community Redevelopment Agency, complained that it was just another monolith of concrete, asphalt and steel atop Bunker Hill. The mass of girders and slabs, perched atop what look like stilts, "fights you," Mitchell said. He predicted it would have a "depressing effect" on downtown.

Robert Bolling, president of the Southern California chapter of the American Institute of Architects, agreed, warning that the structure would have a "deleterious effect on the fabric of the city."

At the time, the 1,062-car structure's saving grace was that it was temporary. Planners promised the "portable parking structure" would be dismantled and moved somewhere else, replaced by a more fitting form of architecture.

But as with so many pieces of the L.A. landscape, it wasn't that simple. The fact that it is still here "does say something about the mythology that all of Los Angeles is temporary," author D.J. Waldie said. "Even something that is supposed to be temporary has hung around longer than many residents of the city."

The city is full of examples of how Angelenos tend to take the impermanent and make it endure for the ages. The Olympic rings were meant to hang on the Coliseum only for the 1932 Summer Games -- but still adorn the structure. The Hollywood sign was erected to boost sales for a housing development in 1923. MOCA opened the Temporary Contemporary in 1983 as a provisional exhibition space at a downtown warehouse; it's still in use. We end up relying on those symbols as pieces of our civic fabric, evidence of the fact that we have history and permanence.

The parking structure is officially known, in the bureaucratic parlance of Los Angeles County, which owns it, as "Parking Lot 17."

For a generation of Southern Californians, the strange convergence of steel and asphalt has been the place where citizens parked before filing over to the criminal or civil courts nearby to serve jury duty. Over and over, proposals were made to replace it with a skyscraper -- only to have the plan fizzle and the structure remain.

Looking at it perched atop Bunker Hill, some confused it with a half-finished office building. And as the hill became populated with true architectural gems -- MOCA, the Cathedral and then Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall -- the "Erector set" became even more of a blight.

"It's been such an eyesore, such a blot on the landscape," said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA and an expert on parking.

In a few weeks, workers will finally begin removing the structure. As planners originally promised, it will be replaced by something more architectural: a Frank Gehry-designed condo and shopping complex clad in glass, concrete and limestone.

The structure went up in a matter of months in 1969 as a quick fix for a pressing problem. A survey conducted in 1966 showed that more than 250,000 cars were entering the city center each day, but there were only 81,000 parking spaces.

The designer, engineer Charles Bentley, was marketing what he called a "revolutionary concept": a low-cost portable parking structure that could be erected in a matter of weeks over an existing lot and taken down and moved as land uses changed. His $850,000 edifice was put together much like a child's Erector set. Concrete floors had connectors embedded into them so that they could be easily joined to the support columns and beams.

"I was kind of fascinated by the whole concept," said Samuel Wacht, the architect Bentley tapped for the project. "In some ways, it's like a tract house: If you get one floor plan, you perfect the economic design of that . . . and you can repeat it and effect the savings."

L.A. turned out to be the first major American city to try temporary parking buildings.

The county tapped Bentley to build the structure on the block between 1st and 2nd and Olive and Grand after watching his company, Portable Parking Structures Inc., build a similar edifice on the corner of what is now Temple and Judge John Aiso streets. (It too is still in use.)

L.A.'s cutting-edge parking concept won attention from futurists, who saw only one flaw. "Their appearance -- which is most charitably described as functional -- does not do much to improve the aesthetics of a neighborhood," Time magazine wrote in 1969.

Criticism of the building's austere design, Wacht said, is "probably a fair statement. . . . I guess in those days colors were not as important as they are today.."

But what's important to remember, Wacht said, is that the structure wasn't meant to be pretty; it was meant to be temporary. And as it turned out, the buildings were the product of a rather abbreviated era. Portable Parking Structures built only about two dozen of them -- none of which was relocated anywhere but the trash heap.

"The truth was, they tended to be somewhat ugly," said Gerald Katell, a former president of the company.

And.... more at the above link....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

If Waytt Earp Was Still Alive...

... he's be 160 years old today.

Happy birthday, Wyatt!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Affordable Housing In Los Angeles - A Real World Solution

Below is my essay on a plan for financially sustainable affordable housing in Los Angeles. It is written as a response to the head of the City of Los Angeles Planning Commission - Jane Usher - who wrote me a very complimentary letter to me about my article on the evils of SB181. Below are the links to those to stories and below that - is my article this week:

My first article:

Jane's Response:

My SB1818 Solution:

Affordable Housing-A Real World Solution

By Brady Westwater

Dear Jane,

First, thank you for your kind response to my CityWatch essay on the Density Bonus Bill (SB1818).

While we have on occasion disagreed on the way to preserve the character of our neighborhoods while we build new affordable housing, we have always agreed on what we want our future city to be; a place where everyone can be adequately housed. Unfortunately, the way in which we chose to try and do this has divided us – and everyone else in LA – and this has created the disconnect that has prevented that goal from ever being achieved.

I also know we equally strongly agree it is no longer sufficient to say simply what we are against – but what it is we support. I equally strongly feel that someone such as yourself, who has in the past supported a government mandated solution, can help bridge our mutual divide by joining with neighborhood councils to support a new post-ideological solution; a solution that even free market, libertarian Angelinos who instinctively oppose any type of inclusionary zoning, might not just accept, but even embrace; a true solution to build meaningful amounts of affordable housing for the first time in our city's history.

In that spirit of radical pragmatism, I propose we create an overall
housing initiative that respects the free market and follows our community and specific plans. It also, though, must provide the necessary funding to allow not just a handful of affordable housing units to be built (which is – at best - all that any of the current proposals will provide) - but is also must be a long term meaningful solution that addresses the root causes of our housing crisis. We must work together to make housing more affordable for all Angelinos and not just a lucky few.

Now before getting into a more detailed examination of a possible solution, first a few bullet points about our present situation and about some potential solutions:

1. Increasingly, study after study demonstrates the lack of affordable housing in any city is tied to the overall lack of all kinds of housing, i.e. – if not enough market rate housing is built – then all housing will eventually become unaffordable.

2. Since it is unacceptable to have affordable – or any - housing that overrides the community and specific plans - or destroys environmental safeguards without any community input or control, we must develop a financial plan that will allow more affordable housing – and all housing in this city – to be built without unacceptable density bonuses.

3. To do that, we need to speed up the process of updating community and specific plans so we can create community approved plans that will allow housing providers the knowledge of what they can build on their land. We also need to streamline the permitting process so that projects that meet the community approved plans can be built without being tied up for years of red tape and political maneuvering.

4. We need to realize the only way to maximize affordable housing is to remove the burden from private developers. But that can only be done if we at the same time provide a new financial model for professional affordable housing developers to build far more housing than they currently building. We need to concentrate on real world solutions and not ideological posturing.

5. This new financial model can begin by turning the existing housing trust fund into a land buying trust to acquire distressed properties for resale to affordable housing developers. This trust, though, needs be precluded from buying any projects in which more affordable housing is destroyed than is being built – and their emphases should be on buying undeveloped – or severely under-developed sites.

6. All these housing developers should then pay back into the revolving fund all the money for the land either at close of escrow or upon the recording of either the construction loan or the permanent financing. The fund or a related entity should also develop a mechanism to help finance the housing projects in a way that would
have no net cost to the city.

7. Lastly – each of these projects has to be a combination of affordable housing and market rate workforce housing – with a retail
and commercial component when possible – to 100% fund the affordable
component. This then frees up the capital to build more such
mixed-income projects, just as the land trust would be paid back to
buy more land.

8. The goal of this program is to develop financially sustainable
affordable housing while also creating enough market rate housing to
bring demand and supply into balance in this city. All such projects
would be required to meet community approved plans.

Now, needless to say, making any of these proposals work in the real
(as opposed to the theoretical) world requires considerable thought
and debate. And for a more detailed consideration, we need to examine
the two major sets of subsidized housing initiatives that exist today
in the City of Los Angeles.

The first program is the existing housing trust fund and the second
programs are initiatives such as the existing and the new proposed
inclusionary-zoning (IZO) plans, including the just passed …
and now infamous … Density Bonus (SB1818) ordinance.

The existing trust fund is/will be $100 million dollars in city funds to help build new subsidized housing. It is well intentioned, but it will build comparatively few units since it calls for enormous public subsidies per unit and that will automatically dramatically limit the number of units that can be built. By definition, it will not begin to cover the shortfall of needed new affordable housing, even with its multiplier affect due to leverage and matching funds.

The second set of initiatives, the yet to be passed mandatory city wide
inclusionary zoning plan, along with some other existing inclusionary
zoning plans – including the now iSB1818 enabling legislation – will
also provide very few new units compared to the size of the demand. In addition, all these inclusionary zoning ordinances have the potential danger of having the reverse of their intended affect.

Mandatory inclusionary could easily limit the building of new housing
(thus creating city wide increases in the costs of existing housing), plus it will make the non-subsidized portion of the new housing more expensive as the developers have to recover the cost of subsidizing the 'affordable' units, particularly as the proposed density bonuses to make these projects fiscally feasible face considerable opposition from the neighborhood councils – even among councils willing to accept
subsidized housing. And with the current downturn in housing construction, it could stop almost all new construction – thus creating a far greater housing crisis in the future.

Government mandated inclusionary housing programs ignore the reality
that report after report has discovered; the more barriers a city puts in the way of housing being developed – the more expensive housing is in that city. So the irony is, the efforts made in this city to make housing more affordable, will only result in making it more expensive.

We have met the enemy of affordable housing – and it is us.

What these reports have convincingly demonstrated is that no program
which makes it both harder and more expensive to build housing (and more difficult to get financing) will create an increase in overall housing. This will, unequivocally, have the end result of less housing being built, rather then more, unless the entitlement process and rules are dramatically changed. And changing the rules to overrule our community and specific plans simply is not acceptable.

Therefore, understanding this, the current inclusionary zoning proposals - all allow for density bonuses for developers, lowered parking requirements, taller buildings than the land is currently zoned for, and reduced amounts of open space for each project – and most of these options are unacceptable.

And, if that is not bad enough, all of these proposals will also completely strip the local neighborhoods – and the neighborhood councils – of the right to have ANY say in what is being built in their neighborhood.

This demonstrates the danger of having city policy written by single issue, special interest groups and their lobbyists and lawyers.

Special interest groups invariably see their own private goals as being so important that no matter how devastating their projects or proposals have on the rest of society, they see their way as the only morally correct way.

NC's, however, should not allow any one single special interest group to dictate the future of our neighborhoods – whether it be the subsidized housing developers or market rate developers who are not dealing with the actual needs of the communities they are building within.

But we need to not just oppose bad legislation, but to also provide real world solutions when the city will not – or can not.

The first solution is to speed up the process of developing new community plans. We need to create the real zoning that Gail Goldberg has proposed and then remove politics from zoning and allow housing providers to get building permits within the community plan's guidelines in a fraction of the time it currently takes.

More than anything else, that will bring down the overall cost of housing in our city and it will make it easier to build housing that conforms to community endorsed community plans. That is the one – and the only – way to make housing overall more affordable in this city for the average person.

Housing providers should to be able to easily get building permits if – and ONLY if –they meet pre-existing community vetted community plans. Unfortunately, we are a long way from being able to do that. But that is exactly why new, enforceable community plans need to be one of our top priorities; both to protect our communities' integrity and to keep housing prices in check in Los Angeles

But while this will still not address the need to create more low income and workforce housing that will not be built by free market developers.

Fortunately, though, there is a way we can get that housing built, too.

The concept is two fold.

First we need to take the existing housing trust fund and turn it into
a revolving trust fund that buys land and resells it to affordable housing developers. And, strictly by chance – with land prices about to decline even
faster than housing prices - now is the perfect time to create this program.

As banks foreclose on unbuilt – or partially built projects – and
developable land becomes harder and harder to sell – we are at the
very beginning of a major buying opportunity for affordable housing
developers. And the best buys will come from sellers – and banks
– who need to sell a property – today.

I can think of no better time to create a 'vulture' fund to buy distressed properties.

However, to do that, there is one major obstacle in this process. The city moves at a glacial pace when it comes to doing… anything.

Therefore, a non-profit public private organization should be set-up
to buy land expeditiously whenever developers and/or owners have to
sell their property – immediately. And by being a non-profit, it will
be able to give tax deductions for full or partial donations of the
land. But more than anything else, this land trust needs to be created
with the sole mission of finding and buying bargain priced land anywhere in this city – the second it becomes available.

This land trust – since its sole job is to buy property - should be
run by hard-headed ex-businessmen who know how to buy land. No
politicians, no non-profits who might be re-buying the land the trust
acquires. We need people who live and breathe getting the best possible
deals on dirt. And they will be mandated to only buy undeveloped or
dramatically under developed properties – thus removing existing rent controlled apartment houses from their menu, which will remove the
unintended negative consequences of SB1818

But it is the second part of the program that makes the concept work.

Each project in this new program would be required to build a combination of subsidized (at varying rates and for varying income levels) AND market rate housing (which can be either for sale or for lease or mixed), along with retail and commercial components – when appropriate.

And if the land is industrial-zoned, part of the project could be used to create new jobs and if the parcel is large enough, part of the land could be reserved for park space.

The density for the project would depend on community plans and the nearness to appropriate transit (an upcoming essay on how to create a workable jobs/housing/transportation matrix will further address this).

But – again – any and all of these benefits will only be possible if the land is bought at the right price, hence the need for the land trust run by professionals in land acquisition.

And once the trust buys the land – it will put the land – or a portion of it – out to bid to housing developers who will then make proposals that need to go through a community review process. But since the project will need to meet the existing community plan and since a basic framework will need to be adhered to – there needs to be a limit on how much time that process could take. That way both the needs of the housing provider and the community can be met.

The basics of the community plan need to be followed; after that – it's whoever has the best track record at providing quality housing at the best price with the best overall result for the community. This gives the developers an incentive to create community acceptable projects so they can remain eligible for future land purchases.

Now why has this type of land trust and this type of development not
been done in the past?

There are several possible reasons.

First, it has been felt by some not be a proper use of public funds. to build market rate as well as subsidized housing. But by thus being able to build far more housing of all types in financially self-sustaining complexes, the greater supply will eventually act as a brake on the increase in housing prices, along with, in the long run, creating far more new affordable housing. This creates a far greater public good than just the building of subsidized housing projects. And even the market rate housing in these projects should emphasize workforce rather than luxury housing.

And, remember, LA has a huge supply of affordable housing units. They are just being presently priced out of many tenant's range by the lack of enough market rate housing being built.

Ironically, that market rate shortage is the biggest housing problem this city has right now. The lack of enough true market rate housing being built – and the inability for builders to build cheaper market rate housing due to all the red tape the city requires, even long after the appropriate zoning has been agreed upon – is what is destroying our affordable housing supply.

The second reason given by non-profit housing developers is that
lenders tend to shy away from this type of mixed income project,
particularly when very low-income units pass a certain percentage of
the units. And some existing lower income housing developers feel it
will be hard to lure market rate tenants/buyers into complexes with
lower income tenants.

But these subsidized housing developers can not have it both ways. They can not say that they cannot make these types of projects work – and then expect private developers to make a profit using this same formula. And with the gentrification of some of the toughest neighborhoods in LA – with heroin addicts sprawled on sidewalks and rampant gang activity – having some subsidized units in a project in a decent neighborhood is not going to keep people from buying or renting well-priced units.

The third reason given by non-profit developers is that lenders tend
to shy away from this type of mixed income project, particularly when
low or very low-income units pass a certain percentage of the units.
And there has been some historic truth to this. But there are ways –
which I will address later – in which financial controls can be
installed to make these types of projects easier sells to lenders –
and to greatly reduce the risk taken by the non-profit developers.

This is where the city and its housing fund and existing government financing programs can make the big difference.

First, possibly using the trust fund mortgages as collateral, the city
can in someway guarantee these loans with the appropriate financial
controls installed that will be discussed later. But that is only one
possibility and one, which may – or may not be – feasible.

Second, the city might issue bonds of their own to give the non-profit
developers lower cost loans due to the city's credit rating for the
parts of the project that might not be fundable though more
conventional sources. And, again, this has its pros and cons but it
may also be part of the solution.

Then once these types of projects develop a track record – and
particularly as each specific non-profit (or profit making) developer
develops their own track record – it will become easier and easier for
them to obtain financing.

Additionally, as these developers do more of these projects, they will
develop greater expertise on how to make this kind of project work.
And they can also then help unions, artist's groups, churches,
universities, co-ops of any kind and other community organizations
develop housing programs for their own members by contracting out on a fee only basis to such organizations.

Fashion workers can have condos near the Fashion District, city employee unions can build buildings, hotel & supermarket unions canhave scattered projects around the city and each college can have its own housing clusters.

These organizations can also band together with other organizations each having ownership of different parts of one project for its members and then have a fee only non-profit developers build the project.

There is no limit to the numbers of non-profit housing providers that can be created once we develop a core group of experienced developers to work with these non-profits. And with a built-in supply of buyers and tenants, these projects would be less susceptible to the vagaries of the market and would be able to build in down times when materials and labor are less expensive.

Lastly, the major problem of community resistance to subsidized projects will be greatly reduced by having all kinds of housing in these projects, making them a better fit in all kinds of communities – and more acceptable to both lower and upper income neighborhoods. Plus, by needing to keep their market rate tenants and commercial tenants happy, the owners will have to make certain their projects are
not creating any quality of life problems for the neighborhood

Meanwhile, by freeing up market rate developers to develop market rate housing without the expense of having to subsidize any of their units (unless they, of course, want to subsidize a percentage of their units utilizing tax credit financing who will now be MORE available to them assuming the non-profit developers can utilize other programs), they will not only build more housing, but they will be able to afford to offer their units at a lower prices.

Lastly, I am not even addressing all the other types of financing non-profit developers often use to make their projects pencil out that can still be utilized in these projects. All those types of subsidies are still on the table

And, of course, the more units that are built – the lower the prices will become. This will particularly happen if the increased housing production of all kinds finally brings the supply of housing into a balance with the demand for housing.

But with over three million people in this city, we can never, ever build enough affordable housing to meet the demand. I repeat, never. Ever. Under any circumstances.

It is simply too expensive to subsidize enough NEW housing to meet the needs of people who make substantially less than the median income, particularly when so many hundreds of thousands of existing older units can meet their needs.
And it is also a completely wasteful use of our recourses with all the other needs of our society.

The only long-term solution is to create enough new market rate
housing to stop the gentrification of lower-priced neighborhoods.

It is just that… simple.

Now… as for how to deal with the risk on all these projects so they can become more credit worthy – and protect the long term financial viability of the non-profits, there are several ways of dealing with this. But rather than deal here with the minutiae all of them, I will address just four of most important built-in protections.

First, while the community has to have a strong role in selecting which developer gets each project – the first look needs to come from the Trust that buys – and sells – the property. They need to first narrow down the list to qualified developers with established financial track records and proven expertise in these types of projects. And if any community supported group – or – God help us…
'politically connected' group can't make that initial cut – they can still team up with a proven developer. This gives us a first level of protection.

Second, as the original trust fund loans are paid off, a certain amount might be kept in short term securities to cover any of the mortgages should they go into default. And each of the projects – as long as the city is still on the hook for the mortgages, might have a signed quit claim which would allow either the city or the overall development company to take over the project, if necessary, should it
go into default.

In addition, each loan guarantee (should a city loan guarantee be a
part of the project) would be pre-negotiated with the lender to expire
after either a certain net income is generated or the mortgage is paid
down to a certain level. That way the city will not be on the hook for
too many properties.

But these are just suggestions for a much longer discussion that needs
to be held.

Third, while some groups may need short term financing, many non-profits are capable of buying the land out right (once the city has bought it at the 'right price") – and the city's financial involvement will only be very short term then before the money gets paid back – and re-lent out again.

But it is the fourth protection that is the big one.

When each project is finished, ONLY the market rate units (and any
commercial/retail spaces) will be leased or sold. The subsidized units will only be leased or sold AFTER the market rates units that subsidize them are sold or leased.

This way the developer will know what numbers of units can be subsidized – and at what rates they can be subsidized. This guarantees that each project will be financially self-sustaining.

Later, as rents go up on the market units, they can further subsidize
– if necessary – the other units. Or they can re-rent out formerly
market rate units at subsidized rates as they become vacant after the
rents rise in the other market rate units.

But, again, initially, no below market units would be sold or rented
until the project is guaranteed to be financially viable. And if the
market is trending downward, an additional level of security might be required.

Then there is the final, possible kicker in this project – and it could be a big one.

All these projects might have 15-year mortgages – for two reasons.

First, whenever market conditions change and the housing market crashes – interest rates usually drop, and the projects can be refinanced – and they can be refinanced with 30-year mortgages with lower payments if need be - to keep the project sustainable.

So even while that kind of severe rental rate drop is an unlikely
event, it does give each project a further fail-safe mechanism to keep the projects solvent.

But the real advantage of the 15-year mortgages is that in 15 years –
each one of these projects will be fully paid off.

Totally free and clear.

With zero mortgage payments.

In just…15 years.

At that point each project can either be refinanced to build more
projects, or all of the renal units can be made very affordable – or, more likely – a combination of these two options.

The end result is not only a self-sustaining, self-replicating original housing fund – but also providing long term financing for much larger amounts of affordable housing – with a huge cash infusion into the program starting 15 years from now, and continuing for every year after that.

So rather than many programs in which housing becomes less affordable
after the mortgages have been paid off – under this program – the
housing will become more consistently MORE affordable over time. Now
can you imagine what LA would be like if this type of thinking had
taken place in the 1930's or the 1950's?

The most shortsighted aspect of much subsidized housing is that some of it will become non-subsided in the future. Here – exactly the opposite would be true. Not only will the original units always remain affordable… forever– but also the ability to create more subsidized units will increase.

A true long term, financially sustainable – albeit, partial – solution to our housing crisis.

But it is just one of the policies that need to be adopted to make this a city with livable neighborhoods, abundant, affordable housing and a city where owners will out number renters. And while increased density is wrong for most of the neighborhoods in this city, we need a handful of more dense neighborhoods both to
prove the needed housing, to reduce suburban sprawl –and – equally
importantly – to create the great urban cores that can only happen
within areas of considerable residential density.

The other parts of the puzzle can be solved by creating a RX Zoning
overlay of our existing zoning code to voluntarily preserve the
quality of life in existing neighborhoods (and that proposal will soon
appear in CITYWATCH), by greatly increased density in areas such as
downtown that are appropriate and by passing a new condo conversion
ordinance to allow tenants to buy their own units.

And then there's greatest home building opportunity in the city's history which can be done in conjunction with the re-greening of the LA River Downtown along existing hard rail lines that lead straight to Union Station (and a self-financing plan to do that soon to appear in CITYWATCH).

Except, of course, the city in its ever infinite lack of wisdom – has just banned all housing along the LA River throughout Downtown Los Angeles.

But that's another battle for another time.

For now, we need to save the quality of life in our city's other neighborhoods by first stopping SB1818 and then by making a commitment to create a financially self-sustainable affordable housing program that can provide affordable housing within our existing zoning guidelines and our existing community and specific plans.

So Jane, are you ready to team up with the NC's on finding a common solution on the affordable housing crisis? Are you interested in working with us on this?

I'll be looking for your response in the next CITYWATCH.

(Brady Westwater is a writer, a long-time downtown and neighborhood council activist and Chair of the LA NC Congress Economic Development Committee. Westwater is a regular contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Six Theaters Of Free Comedy TONIGHT On Art Walk!

THURSDAY March 13th 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM

Yes, for the third month in a row - Comedy Walk comes to the Downtown Art Walk! 90 minutes of top comics performing in six venues within half-a-block of 5th and Spring Street - including the historic Palm Court Ballroom at the Alexandria Hotel and the new Los Angeles Theatre Center.

Program schedule and venues for this Thursday, March 13th, 8:30pm-10pm
for COMEDY WALK are below...



*Rebecca Addelman, Mario Artiga, *Joe Bartnick, *Peter Berman, *Pat
Boccuzzi, Travis Clark, Competitive Awesome (sketch), *Daniel Dominguez,
*Ian Edwards, Dickie Funkbuckle, Marly Halpern-Graser, Gerry Katzman,
Andy Kern, Shaun Latham, Laughs on Demand (improv), Erik Lundy, Vanda
Mikoloski, *The Mooney Twins, The Mutiny (improv), Mike Nielsen, Red
Herring (improv), *Melanie Reno, Iliza Schlesinger, Mikey Scott, Scott
Vinci (music), *Joe Wilson, *Elisha Yaffe


Venue #1
Downtown Comedy Club
Alexandria Hotel Palm Court Ballroom
501 S Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
200-seat club
Hosts: Garrett Morris & Kevin Garnier
8:25pm Host Warm-Up
8:30pm Mario Artiga
8:40pm Joe Wilson
8:50pm Competitive Awesome
9:00pm Pat Boccuzzi
9:10pm Joe Bartnick
9:20pm The Mooney Twins
9:30pm Dickie Funkbuckle
9:40pm Ian Edwards
9:50pm Peter Berman
10:00pm Garrett Morris

Venue #2
The Chicken Room
214 W. 5th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013
1,000-sq.ft SRO
Host: Pam Van Zandt
8:25pm Host Warm-Up
8:30pm Erik Lundy
8:40pm Laughs on Demand
8:50pm Shaun Latham
9:00pm Travis Clark
9:10pm Melanie Reno
9:20pm Andy Kern
9:30pm Marly Halpern-Graser
9:40pm Rebecca Addleman
9:50pm Joe Wilson
10:00pm Goodnight

Venue #3
The New LATC
Los Angeles Theater Center
514 S. Spring St., Theater #4
Los Angeles, CA 90013
80-seat cabaret
Host: Kimberly Douglas
8:25pm Host Warm-Up
8:30pm Red Herring
8:40pm Andy Kern
8:50pm Mikey Scott
9:00pm Peter Berman
9:10pm Mike Nielsen
9:20pm Scott Vinci
9:30pm Elisha Yaffe
9:40pm Travis Clark
9:50pm The Mooney Twins
10:00pm Goodnight

Venue #4
Wyatt Earp Room
Alexandria Building
212 W. 5th Steet
Los Angeles, CA 90013
1,000 sq. ft. SRO
Host: Amy Asmuth
8:25pm Host Warm-Up
8:30pm Dan Dominguez
8:40pm The Mutiny
8:50pm Elisha Yaffe
9:00pm Erik Lundy
9:10pm Gerry Katzman
9:20pm Mario Artiga
9:30pm Laughs on Demand
9:40pm Vanda Mikoloski
9:50pm Iliza Schlesinger
10:00pm Goodnight

Venue #5
The Onion Room
Spring Arts Tower
207 W. 5th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
1,400 sq. ft. SRO
Host: Stefany Northcutt
8:25pm Host Warm-Up
8:30pm Mike Nielsen
8:40pm Iliza Schlesinger
8:50pm Dickie Funkbuckle
9:00pm Ian Edwards
9:10pm Red Herring
9:20pm Competitive Awesome
9:30pm Pat Boccuzzi
9:40pm Mikey Scott
9:50pm Joe Bartnick
10:00pm Goodnight

Venue #6
The Backstage
Spring Arts Tower
211 W. 5th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
1,600 sq. ft. SRO
Host: Heather Ignacio
8:25pm Host Warm-Up
8:30pm Scott Vinci
8:40pm Vanda Mikoloski
8:50pm Rebecca Addleman
9:00pm Marly Halpern-Graser
9:10pm Dan Dominquez
9:20pm The Mutiny
9:30pm Gerry Katzman
9:40pm Shaun Latham
9:50pm Melanie Reno
10:00pm Goodnight

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

LACMA Jumps Wilshire Boulevard - AGAIN!

In this morning's Los Angeles Times, the above linked article quotes the seller of a building and adjacent construction site on the south side of Wilshire to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The quote was that LACMA has now 'jumped' Wilshire.

Alas, no one at the LA Times seems to realize that LACMA years 'jumped' Wilshire when it purchased the southeast corner of Wilshire and Spaulding which is presently being used as a parking lot. The rest of the article, though, is worth reading.

LACMA's latest purchase: land
LACMA purchases a tract across Wilshire from the new Broad Contemporary.
By Anne-Marie O'Connor
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

March 12, 2008

Further expanding its 20-acre campus, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has purchased a sizable parcel of land across the street from its ambitious new showcase, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, for what sources involved with the deal said was close to $12 million.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge said the parcel would not only expand the Miracle Mile museum district but also possibly serve as a stop on a future subway to the sea.

"This is a victory. Urban lights is what this is all about," LaBonge said, alluding to the Chris Burden sculpture of streetlights newly installed along Wilshire Boulevard at LACMA.

"This is part of the big plan," LaBonge said. "It's all going to be complementary, and one day there's going to be a subway stop there, and everybody in the county can ride transit to that wonderful complex of art museums.

"We should build our city culturally," LaBonge said in a telephone interview from Washington, where he was attending a National League of Cities conference and lobbying Congress on issues such as air quality, the Los Angeles River restoration and Los Angeles International Airport.

LACMA spokeswoman Barbara Pflaumer said she was "delighted" by the acquisition but could offer few details, such as the size of the lot.

"We saw this as an opportunity to develop key parts of the campus," Pflaumer said. "We don't have specific plans for the property. It was an opportunity to buy something, and we bought it. . . . We'd love a subway stop."

Pflaumer said the county did not pay for the purchase but declined to say who had. The reported price was about half of what LACMA paid in 1994 for the May Co. property adjacent to the museum.

LaBonge, whose district includes the site of the purchase, said the parcel encompasses a five-story office building completed in 1960, at the southwest corner of Wilshire and Ogden, and a construction site to the rear of it, which had been planned as a loft complex by a division of Miami-based Lennar Corp.

Kevin Farr, president of the Southern California division of Lennar Urban, which sold the property to LACMA, said the purchase closed escrow in late February.

"They've jumped Wilshire Boulevard," Farr said. "We had been working on a development, but the museum was a much more interested buyer than we were a developer at this point."

Lennar's Southern California urban development group, which builds high-density residential projects, had planned to build "Gallery Lofts," whose address was listed as 6006 Wilshire Blvd.

The projected complex was an upscale residential project intended to "bring loft-style living to new heights" of "metropolitan energy, urban luxury," according to its online brochure.

But at the moment, the project is an unfinished low-rise skeleton that many of its neighbors view as an eyesore.

LaBonge said the LACMA acquisition solidifies a cultural hub in walking distance of the Page Museum, the Petersen Automotive Museum and the Craft and Folk Art Museum.

"You go up three blocks to the Farmers Market and you're in heaven," he said. "Just like in the nation's capital in the Mall, Los Angeles will have a wonderful location. There's a lot of complement when you cluster museums together. It's a great plus."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Getty Gauguin Grab Makes New York Times Website Front Page - But Not...

.... on the Los Angeles Times website.

March 12, 2008
Getty Museum Buys a Seldom-Exhibited Gauguin
LOS ANGELES — The J. Paul Getty Museum announced Tuesday that it had acquired “Arii Matamoe,” an 1892 painting by Paul Gauguin that has been in a private collection in Switzerland for decades and has been exhibited publicly only once since 1946.

The museum would not identify the seller or say how much it paid for the work. Getty officials said the painting was in good condition and would probably go on display next month after cleaning and modest restoration.

Another painting by Gauguin from the same period, “Te Poipoi” (“The Morning”), was purchased by a Hong Kong collector in November at auction at Sotheby’s for $35 million, or $39.2 million including the buyer’s premium.

Created during Gauguin’s first extended stay in Tahiti, “Arii Matamoe,” whose title Gauguin translated as “The Royal End,” depicts the severed head of a Polynesian man resting on a white cushion set on a low table or serving platter. A mourning nude female figure crouches nearby, framed by skull motifs on the wall behind her. In the background, other figures rest outside the house.

While the painting may have been loosely inspired by the death of the former Tahitian king Pomare V, just after Gauguin’s arrival in Tahiti in 1891, it does not depict an actual person or even common Tahitian death rites, said Scott Schaefer, the senior curator of paintings at the Getty.

Rather, Mr. Schaefer said, Gauguin probably created the painting “to shock Parisians” when it was exhibited in 1893 at Durand-Ruel’s gallery. The only recent public viewing of the painting was in 1998 as part of a Gauguin exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland. Mr. Schaefer said the painting had had only three or four owners in its history. It was moved from Paris to Geneva in 1941, he said, was sold during World War II and once subsequently to a private collector there, where it has remained.

Michael Brand, the Getty’s director, said the acquisition was “one of the key moments in the history of our collection.” The museum owns three other works by Gauguin: “Eve (The Nightmare),” a transfer drawing from 1899 or 1900, the artist’s later Tahitian period; “Portrait of a Tahitian Girl,” a black chalk drawing from 1892; and a wood sculpture, “Head With Horns,” from 1895-97.

Elizabeth Childs, a Gauguin scholar who is chairwoman of the department of art history and archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis, described “Arii Matamoe” as a major painting in which the artist uses “a wonderful mélange” of motifs and symbols from Tahitian, Javanese, French, Peruvian and other cultures.

“There are enough references here that it is clear that Gauguin was remaining interested in proving himself to a Parisian art market,” Ms. Childs said, even after he retreated to Tahiti.

Though the subject matter, the public display of a severed head, had no specific reference in Tahitian society, the death of Pomare V might be relevant to the work, Ms. Childs said. Pomare had overseen the annexation of Tahiti as a French territory, and his death left the French as the only real power there.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Variety Has AFTRA Settlement Story at.... 5:42 PM Sunday....

.... and it's Monday and the Los Angeles Times still does NOT have the story up on their website....

AFTRA makes networks deal
Org reaches tentative three-year deal
By DAVE MCNARYAFTRA has reached a tentative three-year deal with networks on its network code, which covers work by its members on nonprimetime TV.
Agreement -- reached late Saturday in New York -- includes wage increases, higher employer contributions on pension and health gains and new-media terms that mirror the provisions in the recent DGA and WGA deals. AFTRA's negotiating committee endorsed the pact unanimously.

AFTRA's move opens the door for the performers union to begin negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on coverage of primetime TV. No date has been set, but talks are likely to start in late March or early April.

Although AFTRA has threatened to negotiate a deal on its own, it's expected SAG leaders will agree this week to joint bargaining under conditions of the two unions' 27-year-old Phase One agreement (Daily Variety, March 7), though the situation has not been finalized following a long feud. AFTRA has asserted that SAG violated Phase One by instituting block voting on its negotiating committee and accused its leaders of being inflexible; SAG's accused AFTRA of shilling for producers by signing cable shows to lower initial terms.

The AFTRA deal, which still must be ratified by its national board and members to go into effect, came a day after expiration of the previous contract. AFTRA had extended the expiration twice -- first from Nov. 15 and then again from Jan. 31 -- so the WGA could reach its deal first.

Current contract covers about $400 million in annual earnings from dramatic programs in syndication or outside primetime. It also includes daytime serial dramas, gameshows, talkshows, variety and musical programs, news, sports, reality shows and promotional announcements.

Negotiations began Feb. 19. Reps from SAG, the WGA, IATSE, AFM and Actors Equity attended portions of the sessions.

The AMPTP noted the contrast with the WGA negotiations, although it didn't mention the WGA by name. Talks with the writers began last summer and didn't conclude until Feb. 9 -- three days before the end of the WGA's strike.

"The AMPTP applauds the latest labor agreement between AFTRA and the television networks," it said. "This agreement shows what can be accomplished when both sides approach the negotiating table in a timely, serious and focused way."

AFTRA prexy Roberta Reardon called the pact a "major milestone" for AFTRA. "This contract is extraordinary for performers and made significant progress on many fronts, including importantly, new media jurisdiction and compensation," she added.

AFTRA said other gains include increases in "extra rehearsal" and overtime rates by 25%; retetention of universal coverage for background actors in all formats; raises in minimum call provisions for singers and stand-ins; raising exclusivity thresholds for performers under contract; establishing a day rate for dancers on awards programs; and guaranteed health and retirement coverage for stunt coordinators on serial dramas.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Is Anyone Home At The LA Times? Nikki Publishes PRESS RELEASE from AFTRA Announcing Contract Settlement at 7:46 PM - AND...

.... the Los Angles Times doesn't have a word about the settlement for non-prime time shows (as opposed to prime time shows which still need to be negotiated)... FOUR HOURS later!

But the website does have a 1933 earthquake story that says Southern California was just starting to grow in.... 1933; and, of course, that is almost exactly when the amazing growth of the first third of the century was just beginning to slow down.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Will Saturday Night Live Select The Next President Of The United States?

After watching the first new Saturday Night Live show after the strike and its spoofing of the mass media's love affair with Obama - it was clear that the media was going to have to change its reporting of the campaign. Then after Clinton's brilliantly handled appearance the following week, it was even more clear that any swing voters watching - would be likely swinging her way.

Then add to that the trial in Chicago and the NAFTA disaster, and the race has started all over again.

Maybe. And we'll soon know after the polls close.

Why Sweat Al Qaeda When SB1818 Is Destroying Los Angeles! Stop The Density Bonus!

My essay in today's CITYWATCH:

Will Janice Hahn Save Us from Forces of Greed?
Repealing Density Bonus Bill
By Brady Westwater

Right now – while your children lie asleep in their beds – you may get a phone call at 3 AM when a neighbor finds on his computer a notice about a massive apartment building being built next door with far too few parking spaces, zero open space, vastly more units and considerably more height that the property is legally zoned for.

And in exchange for your neighborhood's permanent loss of parking, mature trees, green spaces for children to play in, light and air - and in exchange for all the increasing gridlock and congestion – this neighborhood-destroying new development will include a handful of affordable units that will invariably be far fewer in number than the ones in the usually rent controlled apartment building being torn down for the new building. And there will not be a thing you or any of us will be able to do to stop this.

Nor will all of us combined be able to stop even one of the tens of thousands of other developments of this type throughout our city that have just been 'legalized' – even though every single one of them will violate our neighborhood approved specific and community plans.

So we will have all to suffer the negative effects of inappropriate development – and far fewer affordable rent-controlled housing units throughout our city - thanks to the city council's recent approval of the biggest payoff developers have ever received in this city.

In fact, right now – throughout our city - sleeper cells of developers and architects are designing massive, neighborhood busting complexes of the type you and your neighborhood council – mistakenly – thought your community plan protected you against.

Now you may ask – how can this be happening?

And why now?

SB-1818 … popularly called the Density Bonus bill … in all its various forms, has been around for many of years. It is one of two types of laws passed in Sacramento that infringe upon our rights to plan our own future.

The first type mandates a certain amount of affordable housing in each city and mandates that city's will provide adequate housing for all of its citizens. This type of legislation ensures that each city provides its fair share of low income housing – and most people support this type of a general mandate.

Then there is the second type of law that strips cities of the right to protect single family and lower density neighborhoods and make it illegal for cities to fully consider congestion, public safety, traffic and the historic character of neighborhoods when permitting new housing. All too often this law type is lobbyist driven and disproportionately rewards developers for including even a tiny amount of low income housing in their projects.

And Los Angeles had no choice but to approve a law of this type … SB1818 … because it is a state law that legally requires the city to do so.

So what can we do about this? What can we do to stop the bulldozing of the historic and low density neighborhoods of our city?

Well, the answer was proposed at last Saturday's LA NC Congress meeting when Janice Hahn described her fight against the Los Angeles version of SB1818 that the city council just passed. Her audience had a suggestion for her. Some of us proposed she introduce a bill demanding that the state legislature repeal this now infamous SB1818 – and every other law that steals from the citizens of this state the right to protect our existing neighborhoods.

And it's important to remember that repealing these bills does not in any way repeal the legal requirement for California cities to build their fair share of affordable housing. All this will do is to allow each city to develop its own plan to meet these still state-mandated goals.

SB1818's repeal also does not keep the city of Los Angeles from passing each of the rules the City Council just passed should the city feel these are the rules we should be following.

Its repeal would allow us to achieve the same goals and to do so after we have created our own guidelines that respect our community plans. And our laws can also be rewritten so that there is a correlation between increased density and a real world increase in affordable housing units.

So this bill's repeal will protect our neighborhoods, slow the destruction of existing affordable housing units – and allow construction that creates a net increased in affordable housing units.

So why would any member of the LA City Council not support this? There is one reason - and only one reason only.

Right now, because a local version of SB1818 is mandatory, members of the city council can vote for developer-enriching, affordable-housing bulldozing, neighborhood- destroying laws by claiming they are being forced to do so by a state law.

But if that law goes away – then they can no longer use that excuse.

Of course, we all know that no single member of our city council would ever stoop to doing that. So there should be no problem getting a 15–0 vote on this and have it ready for the Mayor to sign within say… thirty days?

So Janice – are you ready to introduce that bill?

And NCs' – are we ready to support her?

If so, look for an example of a resolution your neighborhood councils might want to consider passing in the next issue of CITYWATCH. It’s time to get past the talk stage and start walkin’ the walk.

And also look for an announcement soon from the LANCC Economic Development Committee on its upcoming forum on 'How to Build Financially Sustainable – And Neighborhood Friendly – Affordable Housing.’

(Brady Westwater is a writer, a long-time downtown and neighborhood council activist and Chair of the LA NC Congress Economic Development Committee. Westwater is a regular contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at:

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Grand Avenue Dead Horse Kicking!

Below is my latest CITYWATCH essay:

Grand Ave Project: Usual Suspects Looking for Dead Horses to Kick
Dubai or Not Dubai
By Brady Westwater

When the Grand Avenue Project obtained equity financing from Dubai two weeks ago, all the usual suspects quickly took to their hobby horses to exhume dead horses to kick. And, as expected, the easiest expired equine to batter was the claim Los Angeles taxpayers are giving away hundreds of millions of their tax dollars to the developers – which now include the Royal Family of Dubai.

Unfortunately, the people making these claims are either not familiar with the complicated financial aspects of the project – or, if they do understand them, they choose to ignore them for their own political benefit.

The reality is that not one cent you or I are currently paying is being given any developers – royal or commoner - to enrich themselves. Instead, in an increasingly risky financial market, and despite the increasing cost to the developer, and the daily more difficult real estate market – Related (the developer) is still going ahead without asking for any changes in the development agreement.

As far as the current agreement, let's look at the supposed 'hundreds of millions' of dollars being given to developers, to quote Walter Moore, among others.

Exactly as before, the only direct subsides the developers are getting is an rebate of future tax revenues from the project– about $66 million - $60 million from the future hotel tax and the $6 million future parking tax for 20 and 5 years respectively. That's right. The only direct subsidy is coming from money that would only happen if the project is built.

Not one dime being given to the developers is coming from existing revenues. And the only reason there is a parking tax rebate, is because the City/County have mandated that the public parking – but not the condo or hotel parking – be subsidized at below market rates. And, as for the hotel, the only other major hotel being built Downtown - at LA Live - is also getting a temporary rebate on its hotel tax, which the city agreed to in order to get enough new hotel rooms built to stop the flow of red ink from the convention center; a rebate, I might add, that is far less than all the sales, property and other taxes the hotel will generate for LA.

So whether you agree – or disagree –with that strategy – (and there are very legitimate reasons to disagree with it and I would have structured it somewhat differently myself) that is a policy precedent the city made prior to the approval process of Grand Avenue so the LA LIVE hotel could be competitive with existing hotels – many of which are non-union with lower operating costs - that have long since amortized their development costs.

What most people forget though is that to get to the point where those two subsidies kick in- the developer also had to grant a massive public benefits package to get the approvals to build. Union jobs at the hotel and 100% unionized construction crews, requiring Related to pay far higher salaries than most other LA developers, job training programs, and other community benefits; costs that add far more to the project than the subsidies they are receiving. The biggest public benefit is the requirement that 20% of all the units in the project will be rented at not just far below market value – but, in some cases, likely below even the cost of maintaining those units. And as with much housing of this type – it will be financed though tax increment funds that are restricted to affordable housing – and cannot be used anything else, along with the sale of bonds.

So that is money that will eventually flow through to the residents of those units – and not the developer.

Additionally - there are two things no one ever discusses about this project.

First, should it cost more to build these affordable units – or it costs more to maintain them over the years – 100% of that overage will come not from us – but from the developer. Second, the only thing that will make serious money on this project is the sale of condos and the rental of market rate units. But 20% of those units will either not make the developer a dime - or might even cost them money.

Now to put that in perspective - imagine you own a store – and you had to sell 20% of everything in it at no profit – or even a loss; or suppose you work at a factory and 20% of the hours you work – you don't get paid. And just as a store only has so much shelf space to sell from and you have only so many hours a day in which you can work – Related is only allowed to build so many condos.

So would you agree to those terms?

Of course not.

Or, at least, not unless you were given other incentives to enable you to afford to do so.

And one thing no one ever talks about. In 99 years – the taxpayers of Los Angeles – will own the land free and clear.

Lastly, Waller Moore says that the city and the county should use an upcoming meeting where they have to approve the new financing package – to bail out of the project; that we should withdraw from the project based on the reasons why CALPERS pulled out. Well, CALPERS pulled out because pension funds have to demonstrate they can meet their short term ongoing needs; so their investments need to demonstrate they will be secure in the short term – and not just – the long run. A country such as Dubai (which will be only a minority limited partner) is the perfect passive investor. They are looking at the long term – just as the city and county are - financial benefits of the project.

And since Related has already paid for the property – even before getting their final approvals - the only way the city/county can terminate the deal is if they can prove that the new lender is financially incapable of funding their part of the project. So if the city and county lawyers can't prove that, the developer will win a law suit that will dwarf any money we are putting into this project.

But to know that, of course, one would have to have actually read – and understood – the financial documents about the Grand Avenue project. (Brady Westwater is a writer, community activist and a regular contributor to CityWatch. )