Less than a week before Election Day, millions of dollars have poured into the bitter fight over a ballot measure that would restrict real estate development in Los Angeles.
And two of the biggest spenders are familiar foes, already locked in a legal battle over a Hollywood building project.
Real estate development company Crescent Heights has been at odds with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation over its plans to build two towers next to the foundation headquarters on Sunset Boulevard. So far, Crescent Heights has contributed more than $2.5 million to oppose Measure S. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, in turn, has chipped in more than $5.5 million to support it.
The ballot measure would impose a moratorium on building projects that require zoning changes and other alterations to city rules. It would also target “spot zoning” by banning amendments to the General Plan — a document that governs development across the city — that allow individual projects in areas they would otherwise be prohibited.
Supporters say it will thwart out-of-scale development that spoils neighborhoods and displaces residents; opponents say it will exacerbate the housing crisis and eliminate jobs.
Backers of the controversial measure argue that the Crescent Heights project, known as the Palladium Residences, is a prime example of the problems they are trying to stop. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation contends that the 30-story residential towers will be too tall and too dense for their location and will worsen traffic and accelerate gentrification.
The foundation has sued the company and the city over the Palladium Residences project, arguing that L.A. violated the California Environmental Quality Act and other laws when it approved changes in city planning rules to enable the Sunset Boulevard towers.
“It’s Exhibit A of how City Hall operates and gives spot zoning and exemptions to billionaire developers without considering the rules,” Yes on S spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel said Wednesday outside the Century City offices of Crescent Heights, at a news conference spotlighting the money that the Miami-based firm had spent.
The millions spent fighting the ballot measure are “cheap insurance to make sure that they can get special favors,” added Debra Hockemeyer of the Brentwood Hills Homeowners Assn.
Steve Afriat, a spokesman for the project, countered that Crescent Heights was “spending money to preserve opportunities to create housing in Los Angeles.” The company and its representatives argue that the Sunset Boulevard project will provide needed housing without tearing down any existing apartments, and stress that 5% of units will pay rents below market rates. Supporters point out that there are other buildings in the area — including the one that houses the foundation — that reach or exceed 20 stories.
Opponents of the ballot measure contend that AIDS Healthcare Foundation executive Michael Weinstein is simply trying to preserve the views from his Hollywood office and have criticized him for spending nonprofit funds to support Measure S.
“It’s a shame that prosecuting his personal vendetta uses funds for HIV/AIDS care to block affordable housing and eliminate jobs,” said Josh Kamensky, a spokesman for ballot measure opponents.
Weinstein has denied that his concerns have anything to do with his office view and bristled at arguments that the nonprofit should not be funding the ballot measure, contending that people with HIV and AIDS are among the victims of gentrification that it will help. At a Tuesday news conference, he argued that his opponents were trying to distract from “the billionaire developers who are financing the ‘No’ campaign.”
Other real estate interests that have ponied up money to fight Measure S include the Westfield shopping center company, which is seeking to redevelop a Woodland Hills mall as a vast complex with apartments, shops and offices; Century City Realty, which won city approval for a Century City office tower; and a company affiliated with Frank McCourt, a former owner of the Dodgers who has retained half interest in the stadium parking lot.
In addition, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and other groups tied to labor unions have given roughly $1.7 million to oppose the measure.
While backers of Measure S have attacked developers and corporations who are fighting the ballot measure, opponents have continued to take aim at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has provided almost all of the funding for the Yes on S campaign.
The opposition campaign recently sent out a mailer calling the nonprofit “a corporation with a history of misusing taxpayer money,” reiterating concerns with its political spending and citing a lawsuit that alleged it had defrauded federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Foundation spokesman Ged Kenslea said those were “baseless claims.”
Los Angeles voters will go to the polls to weigh in on Measure S and other local issues on Tuesday.