Hollywood high-rise plan has some up in arms

AP News
Posted: Jan 08, 2012 7:41 PM
Hollywood high-rise plan has some up in arms

Hollywood, that mythic land where movie drama was invented, suddenly finds itself caught up in its own real-life drama, one involving high-priced real estate and people taking on City Hall.

In this storyline, the issue is whether it is time for a famously spread-out, freeway-centric city's best known tourist destination to begin looking a little more like New York City by adding a towering skyline and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.

The city Planning Commission recently gave its unanimous blessing to a new Hollywood Community Plan that would allow buildings of 50 stories or more in some areas. The skyscrapers, which planners see someday dotting what they call the Hollywood Corridor, would be linked by a section of subway that runs right underneath the fabled Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Planning Commissioner Michael Woo says the proposal is likely to come before the City Council in February or March for the first of several public hearings before a vote is taken.

But in the canyons and along the hillsides that make up much of Hollywood's more quiet residential areas, the plan is already getting a raucous public hearing from people who live in homes that run the gamut from sprawling mansions to century-old crackerbox apartments.

Several neighborhood associations are banding together, vowing to fight it.

The plan's opponents worry that bringing skyscrapers to a section of the city that already has seen traffic proliferate with the arrival in recent years of trendy hotels like the W and hot-spot nightclubs like the SkyBar will destroy the ambiance of their neighborhoods as well as compromise safety.

They will become prisoners in their homes, they say, their narrow, winding streets blocked day and night by the cars of outsiders while emergency vehicles are unable to reach them.

"I love living in Hollywood. I love the craziness," said Patti Negri, president of the Hollywood Dell Civic Association. "I don't care when they close Hollywood and Highland for a premiere or when they close the streets for a show at the Hollywood Bowl. That's why I live here and I'll take the little inconvenience that goes with it. That's part of the deal. But this is not part of the deal."

Negri, who has lived for 20 years just up the hill from Hollywood Boulevard and around the corner from the Hollywood Bowl, says this deal would gridlock her neighborhood at all hours, every day, not to mention blocking the neighborhood's views of the city.

If the City Council ultimately approves the plan it would create a blueprint for future development in 25-square-mile Hollywood, an area that is home to 228,000 people as well as numerous production offices, soundstages and tourist attractions. Any new towers would have to meet the city's strict seismic standards.

Although he hasn't studied it closely enough to say whether it would work, Marlon Boarnet, director of graduate programs at USC's Sol Price School of Public Policy, says the proposal exemplifies Los Angeles' "transformation from an automobile-only city to a much more multi-modal city," one where people live and work in high-rises and use public transportation.

"Los Angeles in many ways is going to have to grow up, and I mean vertically," Boarnet said. "There's a lot of pressure from population growth, land prices and the fact there really isn't any more vacant land."

During the past 10 years, Hollywood has grown up to some extent, undergoing a renaissance that has taken it from being a haven for crack dealers, street thugs and prostitutes to one of the trendiest, hippest, most tourist-filled spots in town.

Several residents who oppose the plan say they do appreciate that change.

Musician Chuck E. Weiss, for one, says he has watched in wonder over the years as gang members have been replaced by families walking their dogs at night.

That change, he says, has brought a new, admittedly much more minor problem to the neighborhood where he's lived in a small, century-old house above the Sunset Strip for 30 years. Instead of sometimes hearing gunfire at night, he finds dog droppings in the street during the day.

"But if the tradeoff is dog poop for gangsters, I'll take that," he quickly adds.

What he and others don't like is the few large buildings they already have seen proliferate along the Hollywood Corridor.

One that comes to mind for many people is the Sunset-Vine residential tower.

At 22 stories, it is not nearly as tall as LA's biggest building, the 73-story US Bank Tower downtown. But at Hollywood's most famous intersection, and wrapped in gigantic, garish billboards that are plastered across every side of it, it is impossible to miss.

"That thing is an abomination. It's always been a clash with the neighborhood," said Weiss, echoing the opinions of many.

Planning Commissioner Woo said he understands some of those objections.

"It's unfortunate that because a lot of the new buildings are not very distinguished, some members of the community are assuming all the new buildings will be mediocre," he said. "We're hoping this plan will encourage architects to design more beautiful, innovative buildings for Hollywood."

Meanwhile, he and other officials are quick to point out that while the plan would allow huge buildings in the already densely populated sections of Hollywood, it would also establish tougher restrictions on high-density development elsewhere.

"We're going to preserve the single-family neighborhoods, absolutely they will be preserved," said Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents part of Hollywood. "But in some areas, where the subway stations are, we should be developing high density, and the people who live in that higher-density area will use the subway."

Residents are skeptical of that, many saying the recent influx of nightclub-goers has already clogged their streets with people who drive in looking for free parking.

"As a metro rider, I love to use the metro," said George Skarpelos, who lives in Hollywood Dell and edits the association's newsletter. "But that doesn't mean people are going to be forced to use the metro. There's going to be a lot of traffic. There's a lot of traffic now, and I can't imagine there will be a solution other than them saying, `People will work it out.'"