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Opinion

Editorial: Amoeba Music is cool but that isn’t a reason to stop new development

Amoeba Music
Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard.
(Los Angeles Times)

There’s a scene in the movie “L.A. Story” in which Steve Martin’s character, while showing a British journalist around Los Angeles, proudly boasts: “Some of these buildings are over 20 years old.”

The Amoeba Music store in Hollywood? It was built 18 years ago. That’s not even old by “L.A. Story” standards, and certainly not in comparison to other structures in the city that have been designated for preservation.

But that hasn’t stopped AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its anti-development advocacy group, the Coalition to Preserve L.A., from filing a lawsuit to block construction of a 26-story tower on the Amoeba site on the spurious argument that the record store is a historic and cultural landmark.

In addition to the lawsuit, AHF filed a 1,123-page application package asking the city to officially designate the building as a historic-cultural monument. The application argues for protected status because the building is covered in murals, neon and street art, and because the store is associated with a historic person — Sir Paul McCartney, who played a concert there in 2007 that resulted in not one, but two, albums.

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But c’mon. The idea that Amoeba Music is a cultural or historic monument because an ex-Beatle played an in-store concert there a decade ago is laughable. The landmark claim is a ruse to block the project and is part of AHF’s campaign to stop the transformation of Hollywood into a denser, transit-oriented community.

The group has already filed several lawsuits challenging other high-rise developments in the area. AHF also bankrolled the slow-growth, anti-development Measure S, which, thankfully, was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in 2017. The measure would have recklessly blocked the construction of desperately needed housing across the city of Los Angeles.

The new lawsuit alleges that the city of L.A. erred by not requiring the developer to do a full environmental review. The city determined the project qualified for a state-mandated Sustainable Communities Plan Exemption, which is designed to make it easier to develop housing near transit if the project includes affordable units.

The project on the Amoeba site is about a half-mile from a subway station, wouldn’t displace any renters and sets aside 5% of the 200 apartments for very-low-income tenants. The developer is also paying $2.5 million to help build and preserve affordable housing in the area.

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There is a worthy fight underway over whether Los Angeles should require more affordable units in market-rate development projects. The state and city need to do a better job protecting renters from displacement as Hollywood gentrifies. (AHF is sponsoring a statewide initiative to expand rent control.) And, yes, it’s fair to lament that the funky, artsy corners of Hollywood are slowly being replaced, in some cases by shiny, soulless developments. But Los Angeles — like most of coastal California — needs to build a lot more housing, and it makes sense to concentrate that housing in communities like Hollywood that have lots of jobs, amenities and good transit.

By the way, this isn’t the sad tale of a beloved record shop being pushed out of its longtime space by a greedy landlord. The owners of Amoeba Music sold the site to a developer in 2015 for $34 million. They’re planning to move to another location nearby and, apparently, want to add a pot shop to the music store.

Who’s to say the owners won’t create another colorful music mecca down the street? And if this silly lawsuit gets stopped, they’ll have 200 new neighbors to shop at the store.


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