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Judge OKs Plan for Hollywood : Ruling Clears Way for $922-Million Overhaul

Times Staff Writer

A $922-million plan for new office buildings, hotels, shops and apartment buildings in downtown Hollywood was adopted fairly and according to law, despite charges that the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency acted fraudulently and violated state guidelines in drafting it, a Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

In the long-awaited ruling, Judge Barnet M. Cooperman removed the last major hurdle blocking a major overhaul of the community’s commercial sections. Proponents of the plan, including Hollywood-area City Councilman Michael Woo, hailed the decision as a milestone in the long, arduous effort to revive the flagging movie capital.

“What we had was a resounding victory for those who want Hollywood to move forward,” Woo said of the ruling. “I think a cloud has been lifted from above Hollywood. Now we’re going to be able to move faster than ever before.”

The 30-year redevelopment plan, adopted by the City Council in early 1986, provides a basic development blueprint for an area of 35,000 residents--the most populous redevelopment zone ever established in Los Angeles. The plan seeks to foster development in 1,100 acres encompassing the busy Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. The plan, for example, envisions new buildings and modern storefronts around such tourist attractions as Mann’s Chinese Theatre and the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

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Residents and big-business interests have fought bitterly over the plan almost since it was proposed in 1983. Residents, fearful of worsening traffic congestion and possible condemnation of homes, battled to defeat the plan or to substantially reduce the amount of development it allowed.

Larger-Scale Development

Big-business interests--including landowners such as Pantages Theatres, Golden West Broadcasters and Sunset-Gower Studios--favored a plan permitting larger-scale development. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, representing most of those landowners, was able to control more than half the seats on the 25-member citizens committee that helped to draft the plan under state redevelopment guidelines.

Although the final plan contained significant compromises on zoning issues, it was seen as favoring large-landowner interests. Residents filed suit soon after the plan was adopted, alleging that the City Council and redevelopment agency pushed for redevelopment against the interests of homeowners whose concerns were not adequately considered. The suit charged that the CRA conspired with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to stack the citizens committee and thus draft a plan favorable to big business.

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The court, noting the seriousness of the charges, took months to review the 10,000 pages of records on which the lawsuit was based, Cooperman said. The judge on Friday reported finding no evidence of wrongdoing during any part of the plan’s preparation.

“The case has been a complicated and time-consuming one,” Cooperman said. “The allegation of fraud is serious. The court very carefully considered the evidence, and the plaintiffs, in the court’s judgment, produced no credible evidence.”

Residents said they would consider appealing the decision.

Meanwhile, at a press conference Friday, Woo and CRA Chairman Jim Wood confidently predicted that the ruling would mean an end to a troublesome roadblock. Because of the lawsuit, they said, the county had been withholding property-tax revenues set aside each year for Hollywood’s redevelopment.

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Those frozen funds now total $1.6 million, CRA officials said.

“The end of the lawsuit . . . frees up that money,” Woo said. “We (no longer) have to operate on a shoestring.”

Although the CRA has begun spending some money in Hollywood, the agency now will be able to pour in substantially more to begin paying for improvements such as parking structures, low- and moderate-income housing, and social programs. The property taxes available for Hollywood are expected to increase substantially each year as real estate values escalate. It is hoped that public spending by the CRA will in turn draw increasing numbers of private developers to Hollywood, spawning both commercial construction and new housing.

This spring, the area’s first two major commercial projects are expected to break ground near the busy corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

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400-Room Hotel

The largest, the Hollywood Promenade, is expected to bring a 400-room high-rise hotel, an entertainment museum and a multimillion-dollar office complex to vacant land surrounding Mann’s Chinese Theatre. That project--unsuccessfully challenged in a separate lawsuit--is expected to be completed near the end of 1990.

A short distance away, on the site of a torn-down hotel, the Hollywood Galaxy project is planned to include six movie theaters, outdoor restaurants and a number of retail shops, plus an underground garage. That project may be completed even earlier.

Bill Welsh, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said more is on the way. Architects are rumored to be designing a new entertainment center on Pantages Theatres property near Hollywood and Vine, he said, and plans are under way for a remodeling of the old Paramount Theatre building.

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Additional developers will likely move into Hollywood now that the legal challenge to redevelopment is apparently over, Welsh predicted.

“I think this opens the gates,” he said. “It was an exciting day for us in Hollywood . . . who believe in the redevelopment of this world-famous area. I realize that very probably the verdict will be appealed, but I’m very pleased with the judge’s extensive research before rendering his verdict. That encourages me to think that the opinion will be sustained on appeal.”

Residents, who deplored the prospect of significant new development, said they hope to challenge the ruling.

Norton Halper, a member of the citizens group Save Hollywood Our Town, which filed the suit, said large-scale commercial development would destroy the community flavor that exists in much of the project area. “It’s not all run-down; it’s a very nice area here,” Halper said. “The community atmosphere . . . will be destroyed to make Hollywood a big entertainment center.”

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SHOT member Brian Moore said: “This judge disagrees with the citizens of Hollywood. We definitely expect to appeal. We always said it would be decided in the appellate court.”

Uncertain on Appeal

But homeowners’ attorney Christopher Sutton expressed uncertainty about an appeal. Legal fees so far have totaled $300,000 to $400,000, he said, and residents have raised less than $60,000 to offset them. His law office has handled most of the case as a public service, he said.

Praising Cooperman as a fair and thorough judge, Sutton said his case was hampered because testimony was limited to the 10,000-page administrative record. Additional testimony that might have persuaded the judge of fraud was not admitted during the months of trial because the scope of the trial was very narrowly drawn, the attorney said.

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“We had to rely on testimony from (the CRA’s) own staff,” Sutton said. “They were free, I believe, to testify to suit themselves. In my opinion, I think there was creative testimony and convenient memories” on the part of CRA staff members.

CRA attorney Kay Reiman called the assertions “sour grapes.” Reiman said the voluminous public record and the dozens of witnesses gave Sutton more than enough opportunity to present his case.

“He had his shot,” she said. “That was it.”

Woo said he now hopes to ease some of the bitterness that has divided the community.

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