The official race for mayor is still months away, but Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley already is courting development-wary homeowners in the Westside, a constituency his expected challenger, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, will need to carry to knock out the four-term incumbent in April.
Bradley, who has a pro-growth reputation that his aides say is undeserved, has taken on highly visible development issues in the area in recent weeks. He has named a prominent Westside homeowner leader to the city’s Planning Commission, has criticized the developers of the Ma Maison Sofitel hotel over parking problems and, this week, intervened in a sticky dispute over the size of a proposed expansion of the Westside Pavilion shopping mall.
Bradley’s office released a letter the mayor wrote to the City Council that calls for a one-third reduction in the size of the mall’s expansion. It is highly unusual for Bradley to become involved in local development disputes, but he said in the letter that he had no choice because the existing mall “has created such significant neighborhood problems.”
By jumping into the debate over the controversial expansion, Bradley has come down firmly on the side of homeowners as well as Yaroslavsky, who represents the area. The mayor’s letter asks the council to partially undo what his own Planning Commission approved over the objection of the homeowners and Yaroslavsky.
The Planning Commission in August unanimously approved a 160,000-square-foot expansion of the mall after Westfield Inc., the developer, agreed to set aside 30,000 square feet for office space, which traffic engineers say creates less traffic and congestion than retail stores. Yaroslavsky and nearby homeowners had pushed for a 105,000-square-foot addition, regardless of the office space provision.
‘See Congestion Exists’
“We are delighted the mayor has finally come forward and spoken out on behalf of the community,” said Sandy Brown, who heads the Westside Home Owners Alliance, a coalition of homeowner groups near the mall. “He came out here for a meeting and he certainly heard from us that day. Anybody that goes to the Westside Pavilion will see the congestion that exists.”
Richard Green, president of Westfield, said the company could not afford to build a smaller expansion and still meet the various conditions imposed on the project. Among other things, the commission has required the developer to provide an extra 456 parking spaces to make up for a shortage of spaces at the existing mall.
“It was our hope to be able to provide those things that the city wanted. . . . You cannot have a $50-million project with 105,000 square feet,” Green said.
Yaroslavsky, who hopes to defeat Bradley in April by painting him as a pro-growth mayor insensitive to local concerns over development, described the mayor’s intervention in the Westside Pavilion case as “an incredibly hypocritical act.” Yaroslavsky said Bradley was attempting to distance himself from the commission’s unpopular decision.
“I think the mayor has been stung by criticism that his Planning Commission approved a grossly inflated project,” Yaroslavsky said.
“He has essentially embraced my recommendations for the Pavilion. . . . But if there is one message I want to send to Tom Bradley, it is: ‘Your actions speak louder than your words. I am more interested in what your commissioners do than what your press releases say.’ ”
Bradley acknowledged that he has favored high-rise development in places such as downtown Los Angeles, but he described his development stance as one of “controlled growth” that encourages projects in undeveloped areas where city services can support them.