Activist Group Sues City Over 27-Story “Skyscraper”

The site for the city approved 27-story "Catalina Tower" at the corner of 8th Street and S. Catalina Street.

The site for the city approved 27-story “Catalina Tower” at the corner of 8th Street and S. Catalina Street.

KOREATOWN—Fix the City, a community activist organization, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles in April after the mayor and the Los Angeles City Council approved the construction of a 27-story building on South Catalina and 8th streets that was repeatedly rejected by the city’s planning commission.

According to filings with the city’s Dept. of City Planning, the project is a mixed-use building with 269 dwelling units and 7,500 square feet for commercial use and is commonly known as the Catalina Tower or the Catalina Project.

If built, the project would require the demolition of three buildings containing 14 residential units.

The project has a history with the city dating to 2009 when it was first rejected by the planning commission.

At that time, the plan called for the construction of a 35-story building, but was rejected due to its incompatibility with the Wilshire Community Plan, which protects single family and low-density residential neighborhoods from high-density development that’s incompatible with the area’s scale and character.

In 2014, the Beverly Hills developer, Mike Hakim of Colony Holdings returned to the planning commission with a revised, 27-story version of the project, where it was once again rejected.

However, in April of 2015, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti rejected the commission’s findings and proposed the approval of a zone change and amending the area’s community plan to accommodate the project.

Although the planning commission did not approve of Garcetti’s changes, and other elements attached to the project, in April of this year, the city council and the mayor cleared the way for the project to move forward.

“This is an extraordinary situation where the mayor ignored a unanimous decision of his hand-picked commissioners,” said Laura Lake of Fix the City.

The organization’s lawsuit cites several issues with the approval process, but there is one issue that may trump the others.

“The developers didn’t file an appeal when they lost at commission the second time,” said Lake. “At that point, under the [city] charter, it was dead. And the city council ignored that and tried to revive a dead-on-arrival project and they had no authority to do that.”

Hakim, the developer of the Catalina Project, said the mayor’s decision to step in was visionary.

“I think the mayor has foresight,” said Hakim. “And he sees the city in the 21st century…and if you want to compete with the rest of the world, you need to have something unique.”

According to planning commission files, Hakim was required to deposit funds to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and into Los Angeles City Councilmember Herb Wesson’s Council District 10 Community Benefits Trust Fund as terms of approval for the project.

Hakim said that he originally committed $1 million to the affordable housing trust, and $250,000 to the Wesson fund, but that the combined contribution to both trusts could rise to over $3 million. However, that amount could be less, Hakim said, if he chooses an option to provide additional affordable housing in the nearby area.

“In my opinion,” he said, “I’m providing a large amount.”

Jill Stewart, campaign director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative—a proposed 2017 ballot measure which includes a two-year moratorium on development requiring more height and density than allowed—said that $1 million dollars only goes so far.

“It sounds like a lot,” of money, said Stewart, but that [funds only] three units of affordable housing in Los Angeles, if you’re really, really careful.”

In addition, according to Stewart, the value of the land for the Catalina Project—zoned previously for just a few stories—suddenly became worth a great deal more.

“It’s probably worth [tens] of millions of dollars more, just overnight,” said Stewart.

Additionally, Stewart said she agrees with the planning commission that the project is out of scale with the location.

“The mayor wants a have a tiny little street with a skyscraper on it,” Stewart said. “And there’s going to be incredible gridlock….It’s going to be the Eric Garcetti gridlock landmark of Los Angeles.”

Stewart said the Catalina Project is indicative of other development projects where developers prosper at the expense of street congestion, destruction of neighborhood character and the displacement of middle-class and working-class people who cannot fight against the gentrification.

“When you get that much money flowing through the system, said Stewart, “you’re going to get really bad decisions and you’re going to get corruption.”

The Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council voted against the project.

Requests for for comment from Garcetti and Wesson were not returned.

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