The 14-year record of how Zev Yaroslavsky has dealt with development in his real estate-rich Westside district reveals two sides of the Los Angeles city councilman, who plans to run for mayor on a slow-growth platform.
One side is the crusading neighborhood preservationist who has taken many strong and innovative steps to control growth. The other is the councilman who, while advocating anti-growth legislation and attacking Mayor Tom Bradley as being pro-development, has acted quietly in support of the same projects he has assailed in public.
The Yaroslavsky record is expected to come under intense scrutiny in a 1989 mayoralty campaign, certain to be fought before a large and highly attentive audience of voters on the issue of whether strict development controls should be placed on a city that has, for many decades, boasted of its growth.
Already, Yaroslavsky, seeking to carry the banner of residential neighborhoods resisting more office and retail development, has called Bradley "a jingoistic" advocate of all-out growth who "has prided himself on it."
The mayor, in turn, has committed to memory the location of every large building in Yaroslavsky's district and asks visitors why Yaroslavsky, if he opposes growth, did not stop their construction.
"I lead a dual life," Yaroslavsky said in an interview. "I have to deal with the practical, day-to-day monotony of negotiations between contesting parties. . . . I can't lock myself in a closet and say, 'I'm a crusader.' "
A Yaroslavsky colleague agrees. Duality, expressed in day-to-day compromise, is the only way for a slow-growther to survive on a Los Angeles City Council where "the influence of developers and their lobbyists has been substantial," said Marvin Braude, also from the affluent Westside and the council's strongest critic of growth.
"There are many projects I tried to stop but could not," said Braude, who, disgusted with most of his council colleagues, joined with Yaroslavsky in 1986 in the successful growth control initiative, Proposition U. "I had to shift gears, do things incrementally."
But a critic finds the Yaroslavsky two-sidedness more pronounced--and self-serving. "Zev probably understands the land-use system as well as anyone on the council," said Dan Garcia, president of Bradley's city Planning Commission. "I think Zev's biggest difficulty is that while I consider him a moderate on growth, he has been reacting to a number of groups, some of whom are extremists, which has . . . caused him to try to be in front of the (slow-growth) movement rather than be crushed by it."
The Yaroslavsky record on development is reflected in files of city actions--some making big news, others obscure--over the last several years that tell how some of the most controversial projects in his district have been built. The story of these projects, including controversial Wilshire Boulevard high-rises, as well as shopping malls such as the Westside Pavilion and Beverly Center, help answer a question that will be asked of Yaroslavsky as the campaign progresses:
"If he is Mr. Slow Growth, why are there so many big buildings in his district?"
In examining that record, The Times found that Yaroslavsky forced a sharp scaling down of original plans for Century City, grandiosely envisioned in the early '60s as a mini-Manhattan with 18 apartment buildings of 18 floors and 17 with seven floors. During his fight to set limits, the councilman, for the first time in the city's history, factored in potential traffic congestion in determining the harmful effects of development. The projected traffic count Yaroslavsky pioneered is now used as a standard measurement in gauging the impact of growth.
Imposed Height Limits
The councilman also pushed through ordinances that imposed height limits on mile upon mile of neighborhoods of single-family homes and small businesses. These measures prevented, for example, bankers and property owners replacing the delicatessens and synagogues of the Pico-Robertson area with tall buildings.
He has accomplished these goals in the face of powerful economic forces determined to build high-rises and other commercial structures in his 5th District, which surrounds rich and fashionable Beverly Hills.
"I am the doughnut, Beverly Hills is the hole," he said. "I've got the most valuable real estate, commercial and residential, in this town, some of the most valuable in the world. That's what I am fighting against every powerful economic interest that wants to exploit this land."
But the record also reveals that Yaroslavsky took unpublicized official actions to help projects he either criticized or outright opposed:
- He wrote letters to a little-known city agency, used by council members to assist favored projects, asking that permits be expedited for several major developments in his district, including one, the Westside Pavilion, that he now criticizes.
- He authored and pushed through ordinances that were needed for building two high-rises, then later said he was against their construction. One gave up the city's rights to a portion of a Westwood Village alley to permit the construction of a large office building on the site of the old Ship's coffee shop at Westwood Boulevard and Glendon Avenue. The other ordinance exempted four lots from a height limit that the councilman had earlier proposed. The lots were needed for a six-story parking garage to be used by tenants of a planned adjoining high-rise. Later, Yaroslavsky, by then a leader in the growing anti-development movement, openly waged a strong but unsuccessful City Council fight for a Wilshire Boulevard construction moratorium that would have stopped both of those buildings and two others.
In addition, while proclaiming the virtues of slow growth, Yaroslavsky continues to receive strong financial support from major developers. A Times poll analysis of his contributions to his mayoral campaign shows that 34% come from real estate interests, a slightly higher percentage than before he became a spokesman for growth limitation.
The letters Yaroslavsky wrote on behalf of the controversial Westside Pavilion illustrate how some of his unpublicized actions appear to be counter to his public stands.
The Pavilion, featuring two department stores--Nordstrom and May Co.--as well as restaurants, movie theaters and many small shops, is a three-story shopping mall at Pico and Westwood boulevards that has drawn criticism from homeowners in the adjoining single-family residential neighborhood for the heavy traffic it generates. To Westside slow-growthers, the Pavilion and the traffic jams around it on weekends have become a symbol of unwanted development.
Wrote 3 Letters
Yaroslavsky said: "I never opposed it. I never supported it."
But on June 23, 1983, Yaroslavsky wrote the first of three letters on behalf of a Westside Pavilion tenant to a small agency of city government, the Commercial and Industrial Coordinating and Expediting Division of the Department of Public Works. Although few outside city government know of CICED, it is one of the most important agencies in City Hall to major land developers.
The agency was created in 1963 to assist "in expediting the processing of plans for major commercial and industrial developments which would provide job opportunities for the city's residents and generate additional tax revenue," according to a department information sheet.
The CICED pushes the huge number of permits needed for big projects through the city bureaucracy. Without the agency, developers of high-rises would have to wait in line at several offices to have plans approved. To initiate the procedure, "requests for CICED assistance must be made (by) the council person of the district," the Public Works Department said.
Councilman Ernani Bernardi, a longtime critic of CICED, called the agency, in an interview, "one of the most disruptive influences in the Building and Safety Department and the Board of Public Works because council members come in there and ask that their projects be put ahead."
Bernardi said that when council members ask for CICED help, it strongly indicates that they support the project. "Generally, when they write, it is a project of which they approve and a project they want expedited," he said.
In his first letter, Yaroslavsky wrote, "I would appreciate your expediting the Nordstrom project" in the Westside Pavilion. On Nov. 18, 1983, he asked CICED to expedite the entire shopping mall project. The day after Yaroslavsky sent that letter, Homer F. Broome Jr., vice president of the Board of Public Works, which supervises the Public Works Department, replied: "Arrangements have been made to evaluate the problems in this case. You will be kept advised of CICED's work on this project."
Then on Nov. 23, 1983, Yaroslavsky asked the CICED for help "in expediting the May Co. in their remodeling of their store," which was included in the new Pavilion.
Yaroslavsky has also asked the CICED to expedite other major projects, including a new hotel on Olympic Boulevard near Century City and the tower addition to the Century Plaza Hotel. He has also asked the agency to speed permits for low-cost and moderate-cost housing developments in his district.
Yaroslavsky said that writing the letters did not mean that he approved of the Pavilion or the other projects.
"CICED serves a coordinating function," he said. "If a project conforms to law, if a project conforms to the zoning, and the master plan and all of that stuff and it's going to happen anyway, then I will write a letter to CICED on that project. . . . Whether you approve or disapprove, the project is there; it is going to be built. You try to save everybody's time, not just the developer's time, (but also) the staff time, so you don't have a guy spending 10 hours in Building and Safety."
Other examples of Yaroslavsky's ambivalence on the growth issue involve the office buildings on the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from Veteran to Glendon avenues on the edge of Westwood Village.
In November, 1984, Yaroslavsky joined with anti-development homeowner groups in favor of a construction moratorium for the area in an effort to stop four planned buildings. Especially relevant to Yaroslavsky's record on development were two of the buildings. One was proposed by Home Federal Savings & Loan Assn. at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Glendon Avenue. The other was proposed for a site across Wilshire Boulevard that had been occupied by the old Ship's coffee shop.
Yaroslavsky said he supported the moratorium reluctantly, under heavy pressure from one of the most militant of the Westside's slow-growth organizations, the Friends of Westwood.
Did Not Refuse Demand
Lobbyists for the building developers, he said, had agreed to a height limit, but Friends of Westwood leaders refused. "The response was they wanted a complete moratorium and if I did not support it I was basically a sellout. I didn't want this to be a litmus test case. I said I would support your position," he said.
Asked why he did not refuse the Friends' demand, Yaroslavsky said: "I didn't think that would be very helpful politically, frankly. I like to be responsive to my constituents. . . . I have certainly differed with my constituents over the years . . . but this had become such a cause celebre and it was moving so fast . . . there was really no point."
In one of the year's hottest City Council debates, the moratorium was defeated and construction of the buildings went ahead.
Soon thereafter, an angry Yaroslavsky joined with colleague Braude and asked the voters to approve stiff new growth limits throughout the city. In 1986, the electorate overwhelmingly supported their measure, Proposition U, in a campaign heralding the emergence of slow growth as a dominant Los Angeles political issue. Success in that campaign helped launch Yaroslavsky's bid for mayor.
But there is another side to the story. Long before the fight, Yaroslavsky won approval for ordinances that were needed for construction of the Home Federal building and the building on the Ship's site.
The story of the Home Federal building began in 1982 as Yaroslavsky and his planning aide, Virginia Kruger, were continuing a long effort to impose height limits on residential areas adjacent to business districts.
They looked at Glendon Avenue. "We initiated a height limit on both sides of Glendon Avenue at Wilshire," Yaroslavsky said. "We saw pockets that had unlimited height near single family homes and we initiated height limits." To prevent high-rise construction near the homes, he proposed a 45-foot height limit for buildings on the stretch of Glendon between Wilshire and the homes.
Two objections were raised at a Planning Commission hearing. One was by Thomas R. Tellefsen, who wanted to build a hotel on Glendon. The other was by two representatives of Home Federal Savings & Loan Assn. One of the representatives said the company wanted to build a structure for parking for "a high-rise development on Wilshire Boulevard."
The hotel proposal attracted most opposition from homeowners. Developer Tellefsen negotiated with them until 1984, but they remained adamantly opposed.
Home Federal Savings was represented by Maria Hummer, an attorney who became interested in environmental law at UCLA Law School and went to work for one of the most politically influential law firms in the city, Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Phillips, where she became one of the more effective lobbyist-lawyers working in City Hall. One of her clients is Occidental Petroleum Corp., for whom she is fighting for the right to drill for oil near the Pacific Palisades beach.
While homeowner attention was centered on stopping Tellefsen's hotel, Hummer pressed for an exemption for a parking structure, asking for a 60-foot limit, enough for a six-story building. The significance of that exemption was noted in a letter by Hummer. She wrote: "The request of Home Federal for the 60-foot height allowance was to enable construction of a structure that could accommodate the parking spaces desired for an approximately 186,000-square-foot office building on the adjacent corner."
Ultimately, both the loan company office building and the adjacent garage were built. The exemption was granted for the garage.
Yaroslavsky said he faced the prospect of fighting both Tellefsen's hotel and the Home Federal garage.
"I had to make a judgment call," he said. "There's no question I made the right judgment call. And the judgment call was that if I had to fight Maria and Home Federal and Tellefsen simultaneously, I think I would have lost them both. . . . I would have lost that battle with her and Tellefsen jointly fighting. And I would have had a 12- or 14-story hotel, terraced back toward Wilshire, something the community did not want. The community wanted the insulation of the parking garage behind the (Home Federal) building, regardless of how big the building was going to be."
Homeowners Were Unaware
But Laura Lake, a Yaroslavsky critic who heads the Friends of Westwood group, said the homeowners did not know of the parking garage's exemption.
She said homeowners celebrated the defeat of the hotel after the key committee vote on the height limit but paid no attention to the exemption for Home Federal. "We didn't know, how could we know?" she asked. Later, she said, "when we looked at the plans for the Home Savings building, we realized what had happened. We looked at the plans and said, 'Oh, no.' "
"Mrs. Lake can't be a genius and have the wool pulled over her eyes simultaneously," Yaroslavsky replied.
In the case of the second building on Wilshire, on the Ship's site, Yaroslavsky won council approval of an ordinance that was needed for construction.
It gave up city rights to part of an alley just north of Wilshire Boulevard that was needed for the large building envisioned by the developer, Kambiz Hekmat.
Later Came Under Attack
That building later came under heavy attack from the Friends of Westwood, but at the time, according to Kenneth Bly, Hekmat's attorney, "that high-rise was not controversial."
Yaroslavsky said, "I think you would have had a high-rise building on the Ship's property with or without the alley vacation."
But he also said his feelings about keeping high-rises out of the Westwood area in 1983 "were not as intense as they were in late 1984."
That remark points up a criticism of Yaroslavsky made by Mayor Bradley and others--that he did little to use his power as a councilman to stop unpopular projects until slow growth became politically popular in 1984.
They have said that determined council members can stop projects in their districts by refusing to support zoning changes, or pushing through moratoriums.
But Councilman Braude said that is not true in the case of multimillion-dollar projects that bring in big profits. Big contributions from businesses and their lobbyists to all council members have diminished the power of individual lawmakers, he said.
Beverly Center Cited
"The Occidental oil drilling in my district is perhaps the best example," he said. "It's in my district," but colleagues have voted to back drilling. "It's the same with any big project."
One of the developments most frequently cited as an example of something Yaroslavsky could have stopped is the Beverly Center, the huge, eight-story shopping-restaurant-movie mall, built on the site of a popular pony ride and amusement park on an 8.5-acre site bounded by 3rd Street and San Vicente and Beverly and La Cienega boulevards.
The city's zoning for the site permitted developer Sheldon Gordon to put up the building without getting permission from the City Council. Yaroslavsky said he had "no position" because Gordon did not have to apply for zone changes. He did not move to halt the project, and today he finds little fault with it.
'Anchored That Community'
"I have not been critical of the Beverly Center," Yaroslavsky said. "The building is ugly on the outside, but functionally it works. . . . If we had had some say over it, it would not look as it does today. It might have been smaller. But I live in that neighborhood and the Beverly Center was the single most important event in turning around the Fairfax area for the better. It has anchored that community in a way that has assured its health and viability for years to come."
The Westside Pavilion, opposed by those fearful of greater congestion and by some nearby homeowners, also fit the zoning and required no permits. "The homeowners fought to get a three-story height limit, the developer sees an opportunity to exploit the city law to its maximum and all of us find out something we didn't anticipate," Yaroslavsky said.
Yaroslavsky said the only way he could have stopped the project was to ask the council to approve special legislation reducing the height limit on the Pavilion property. But he said he does not believe that "you can spot-zone a piece of property and go after somebody."
Planning Commission President Garcia said he agreed that it would be difficult to put through a special moratorium ordinance for a single piece of property. But he added: "Frankly, if he wanted to exert some influence on it, he could have, but it would not have been easy. It would have taken a lot of effort."
BUILDING BOOM IN ZEV YAROSLAVSKY'S COUNCIL DISTRICT
These are building projects of eight stories or more or of comparable size that were begun in Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky's district since he took office in June, 1975.
Year Started Building Location 1977/79 Cedars-Sinai Medical Ctr. 8631/8635 W. 3rd St. (2 buildings) 1979 Watt Plaza 1875/1925 Century (2 buildings) Park East 1979 Murdock Plaza 10900 Wilshire Blvd. 1979 Tishman-Midvale 10920 Wilshire Blvd. 1980 Beverly Center 8500 Beverly Blvd. 1981 Northrop Building II 1840 Century Park East 1982 Third Street Tower 8436 W. 3rd St. 1983 Santa Monica/ 11175 Santa Monica Blvd. Cotner Building 1983 Westwood Gateway 11111 Santa Monica Blvd. 1984 444 San Vicente 444 San Vicente Blvd. Building 1984 Olympic Centre 11150 Olympic Blvd. 1984 Westside Pavilion 10800 W. Pico Blvd. 1985 Fox Plaza 2121 Avenue of the Stars 1985 Olympic-Sawtelle 11300 Olympic Blvd. Building 1985 One Westwood Building 10990 Wilshire Blvd. 1986 Westwood Place 10866 Wilshire Blvd. 1986 The Tower 10940 Wilshire Blvd. 1987 Westwood Gateway II 11100/11150 Santa (2 buildings) Monica Blvd. 1988 Wilshire Center West 10877 Wilshire Blvd.
Year Year Started Size Opened 1977/79 11 stories 1978/80 306,500 sq. ft. 1979 23 stories 1981 900,000 sq. ft. 1979 16 stories 1980 245,000 sq. ft. 1979 18 stories 1981 295,625 sq. ft. 1980 8 stories 1982 900,000 sq. ft. 1981 20 stories 1983 363,000 sq. ft. 1982 9 stories 1983 40,000 sq. ft. 1983 9 stories 1985 70,000 sq. ft. 1983 21 stories 1985 326,000 sq. ft. 1984 11 stories 1985 143,000 sq. ft. 1984 11 stories 1985 149,000 sq. ft. 1984 3 stories 1985 600,000 sq. ft. 1985 34 stories 650,000 sq. ft. 1985 9 stories 1986 60,820 sq. ft. 1985 17 stories 1987 197,559 sq. ft. 1986 15 stories 1987 206,000 sq. ft. 1986 23 stories 1988 226,954 sq. ft. 1987 15/19 stories 516,250 sq.ft. 1988 22 stories 296,000 sq.ft.
Times Researcher: Cecilia Rasmussen Source: Western Economic Research Company and the Building Owners and Managers Assn .