Last October, a passionate band of concerned Angelenos went to Los Angeles City Hall to testify one last time in support of the preservation of William Pereira’s Times Mirror corporate headquarters.
This recognized architectural and cultural landmark had been deliberately cut out of the approved Historic Cultural Monument designation by the Los Angeles City Council, a political body with numerous members under FBI investigation for public corruption in service of real estate interests.
But almost a year after investigators raided Councilmember Jose Huizar’s City Hall office and home, he was still sitting on the council, and questionable projects in his Downtown district continued to get the green light.
Still, it’s important to show up and speak truth to power, even when it seems like the fix is in.
Included in our group that fall day were preservationists, historians, architects, affordable housing advocates, longtime L.A. Times and Times Mirror executives, neighbors, tenants and descendants of the newspaper’s founders.
Although we went into the hearing room expecting to bear witness to the city’s approval of demolition of the great newspaper and media HQ that Otis Chandler built, that didn’t happen. It seemed that the City Planning Department had received a long letter that gave them pause, so they paused approval of the project… “for one week.”
To see what we said in October, learn more about this wild preservation campaign through Fall 2019, and read the letter that gave the city pause, click here.
That letter, from Lozeau Drury, the attorneys for public interest nonprofit SAFER, proved to be the prelude to a legal challenge to Onni Group’s project EIR, citing numerous instances where serious problems had been glossed over or ignored by City Planning in order to approve the enormous development.
One particularly interesting point: although Councilman Jose Huizar continues to promote a streetcar loop through his nonprofit initiative L.A. Streetcar, the EIR provided no analysis of how such a conveyance would impact traffic around the site. Is there going to be a Broadway Streetcar, or isn’t there? In politically supported Downtown L.A. development, it seems you can have it both ways.
One week turned to a month, then to several. Six months later, we’re still holding out hope that the landmark Los Angeles Times complex can be saved.
But on April Fool’s Day, City Planning came out of its slumber and issued a new document, which declared that nothing in SAFER’s challenge letter justified halting the project. Although this new document references a complete rebuttal of SAFER’s claims (“March 2020 Responses”), this rebuttal was not shared by the city, so we’re unable to weigh its merits. [Update: the rebuttal was provided after we requested it, and you can find it here, with the section on Jose Huizar’s Schrodinger’s Streetcar highlighted.]
We hope and expect that SAFER will appeal City Planning’s determination by the April 10 deadline, and that Times Mirror Square may yet be saved.
After all, in recent weeks, the Los Angeles public corruption investigation has once again kicked into high gear. A lobbyist pleaded guilty to bribing a politician, who could only be Councilmember Jose Huizar, with half a million dollars in a liquor box—for just one land use vote. (In response, we have called for his resignation.) A virtual City Council meeting was overshadowed with the news that former Councilmember Mitch Englander had made a deal with the Feds in exchange for leniency on his felony charges.
Court watchers expect more charges, arrests and indictments of sitting politicians, developers, lobbyists and city staffers to happen any day.
So, why did City Planning reject SAFER’s challenge? Perhaps the office felt it had no choice. To acknowledge SAFER’s bold claim that the EIR should never have been approved in the first place would be to admit that politicians like Jose Huizar are able to pull strings at the highest level of land use, for the benefit of their developer and lobbyist friends.
If that’s the case, it will all come out in the coming indictments. And Los Angeles will be left to pick up the pieces of our broken, beautiful city. We hope that, unlike Parker Center, Times Mirror Square will still be standing when we do.