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Expansion of Controversial Little Tokyo Project OKd

Times Staff Writer

After an emotional session marked by personal attacks, raucous shouting and a confession of “wimpiness,” the Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to allow the expansion of a controversial Little Tokyo development in which several friends of Mayor Tom Bradley hold an interest.

The 13-2 vote came only after angry members failed on a 6-8 roll call to scrap the Aug. 23 selection of First Street Plaza Partners as the builder of the $200-million complex near City Hall. The choice was controversial because First Street Plaza placed second in a bidding contest, only to win the lucrative job after Bradley’s friends joined the development team.

At issue Friday was a move by Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, a Bradley ally, to pave the way for First Street Plaza to receive potentially millions of dollars more than had been agreed upon in August. Lindsay sought to remove a $172-per-square-foot limit on the cost to the city of new government office space in the complex. That is the same price proposed by the losing low-bidder.

$1.4 Million a Year

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Lindsay’s proposal--which was never voted on--would have allowed the price to rise to an estimated $185 per square foot, or about $1.4 million a year more than agreed upon in August, said City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie. Council members troubled by First Street Plaza’s higher bid had imposed the cost-limiting condition in exchange for their vote.

Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, an outspoken opponent of the First Street Plaza team when it was first selected, assailed Lindsay’s move.

“Now is the time to ‘fess up to whether you’re going to stick by the original proposal or whether the original proposal was a sham,” Yaroslavsky said. “What’s at stake here is nothing less than the integrity of this council.”

In response, Lindsay personally attacked Yaroslavsky for the councilman’s slow-growth stands in recent years, prompting Yaroslavsky to leap out of his seat and demand that Council President John Ferraro “take control of this goddamned meeting.” Ferraro responded by warning Lindsay against making personal attacks.

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Angry Outburst

Glaring at Lindsay, a red-faced Yaroslavsky shouted, “You ain’t seen nothing yet, Gil, nothing!”

The heated confrontation was followed by an unusual confession by Councilwoman Gloria Molina, who had deliberately avoided the Aug. 23 meeting when First Street Plaza was selected. She explained that at the time she was troubled by the move to award the project to a development team that was not the low bidder, but as a favor to Lindsay did not show up to vote against her colleague’s choice.

“The issue here goes toward integrity,” Molina said. “I know myself that I made one of the wimpiest decisions ever--wimpiest because I wanted to allow Mr. Lindsay, who at that time was begging all of the council members (to have his choice).

“The best I could do was abstain, and it was a wimpy decision,” Molina said. “And we pay for those kinds of dumb decisions.”

Later, she told a reporter, “I’ll never trust Lindsay again.”

Michael Barker, First Street Plaza’s managing partner, told the council that the additional $13-per-square-foot cost reflected the possible addition of 89,500 square feet of city office space that may be needed in the project and a corresponding increase of 900 parking spaces. The current proposal calls for 500,000 square feet of office space. Comrie countered that the square footage price does not have to go up just because the building’s size does.

Involvement Admitted

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Barker insisted he was not trying to back off from the $172 price but admitted later under questioning by Yaroslavsky that he was involved in the drafting of Lindsay’s motion.

“We have never not agreed to meet the ($172 price),” Barker said. “I don’t know how many times I have to say that. I take great exception to, in effect, being called a liar, great exception.”

Lindsay’s attempt on behalf of the developer prompted Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who had backed another bidder two months ago, to ask that the First Street Plaza selection be scrapped. Her effort fell two votes short of the required eight, picking up support only from Molina, Yaroslavsky, Ferraro, Ernani Bernardi and Marvin Braude. Several opponents argued that a new bidding contest would substantially increase the project’s cost.

After Flores’ motion failed, the council voted to reaffirm the $172-per-square-foot price tag and allow city negotiators to consider an expansion of the office building’s size beyond the 500,000 square feet approved in August.

In addition, at Molina’s behest, the council voted unanimously to reaffirm earlier minimum features of the Little Tokyo project, including 316 housing units, a 450- to 500-room hotel, a 4,000-square-foot child-care center, a senior citizen counseling center and parking for at least 2,270 vehicles.

The Bradley associates who signed up with the First Street Plaza firm as minority partners are: attorney Sam Williams, Bradley’s first appointee to the Police Commission; Bishop H. H. Brookins of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a longtime Bradley confidant; businessman Danny Bakewell, and Latino political leaders David C. Lizzarrago, Louis Moret and Andy M. Camacho.


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