Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

Greuel, Garcetti, and Skyscrapers

Posted by Roobs on February 14, 2013


The other day, someone asked me what is a “skyscraper”.  Really.  I mean, they knew conceptually what a skyscraper was (or is), but they asked me for a definition of a skyscraper since I’m an urban planner.  Who cares, you ask?  Well, this all stems from the current battle for short hairs that is the LA mayoral race.  What exactly is a skyscraper and is Eric Garcetti even really responsible for Hollywood’s turn-around?

The campaign manager for Wendy Gruel (current city controller and my personal choice for mayor) said that their leading opponent, Eric Garcetti (current councilman for the Hollywood area), has brought “skyscrapers, traffic, and bad air quality to Hollywood”.  Garcetti’s camp responded by saying  “The irony is her own district is mired in unbearable traffic: Perhaps Ms. Greuel should try driving on Ventura Boulevard before she attacks other candidates about traffic.”  Gruel’s campaign manager also said something about the “Manhattanization” of development in Hollywood, which is a term I hate because it’s entirely misleading if not flat out false.  But that a topic for another post.  (story here)


In any event, let’s just briefly mention to competing traffic claims.  I can easily tell you who has the worst traffic in Los Angeles by simply checking LADOT data.  But honestly, I don’t think anyone would care.  Starting an argument over whose LA traffic is worse than the other is pointless.  This is Los Angeles.  Traffic sucks here in general so no one wins.  Give this one a draw.

Air Quality

Second, air quality.  Air Quality in the Southland is equally as bad.  Unless you live right next to the beach, you’re not exactly taking in fresh air with every breath.  As of this morning, the Air Quality Index (AQI) for the LA metro area has the entire City of Los Angeles (valley and basin together) as having moderate air quality.  Another draw.


Now, on to the more interesting topic: skyscrapers and, more generally, economic development.  To begin, are the tall buildings in Hollywood, in fact, skyscrapers.  The answer is: “sure, why not.”

Not exactly a definitive answer, but truthful.  The reality is there is no definition of a skyscraper in the urban development or engineering lexicon.   In fact, the definition you, as the reader and member of an urban neighborhood, have is just as good of an idea of what a skyscraper is as an urban planner, developer, or engineer does.  A skyscraper is just a tall building that is noticeably taller than it’s urban surroundings.  In terms of new (or planned) buildings, this would include the W Hotel in Hollywood and the still-in-planning-phase Millennium Towers (definitely skyscrapers).  And it’s not really a secret that Garcetti is ok with this.  He’s even backed “density bonus” legislation for developers (search Reyes/Garcetti Plan).  Give one point to the Wendy Camp.

Hollywood Revitalization

There are skyscrapers in Hollywood and they’ve largely come about as part of the neighborhood’s revitalization efforts.  But can Garcetti take credit?  Well, that’s complicated.

Garcetti has held his council seat since 2001.  So he’s been there for about 12 years.  If we rewind Hollywood to 2000, it looked much different, but were things going on?  Yes.  There are two major projects that most developers and urban scholars would credit with starting the revitalization efforts in Hollywood.  Those two would be the Hollywood & Highland Center and the W Hotel & Residences near Hollywood & Vine.  The first of the two, the Hollywood & Highland Center, began construction before Eric Garcetti took office, so he can’t really claim that as a victory for his tenure.  The W Hotel, on the other hand, began construction while he was in office and he is on record supporting the project.  So he can take some credit for that project and it’s immediate surroundings.  But the interesting thing that comes up from these two projects is that it both proves and disproves Garcetti’s points.

First, Garcetti is not entirely responsible for the revitalization of Hollywood because it began before he took office with the construction of the Hollywood & Highland Center and has simply continued.   Property values begin to rise on their own, independently of any action Garcetti did or did not do.  You can’t simply claim total victory by proximity.  Second, the W Hotel is a skyscraper by most definitions.  So… yes, Garcetti, you have brought skyscrapers to Hollywood.  But the W Hotel is also very interesting because everything west of Hollywood and Vine is evidence of a neighborhood coming back, but immediately east of the W Hotel site there is the evidence of the old Hollywood where businesses are shuttered and parking lots abound.  So that site isn’t doing as well as the Hollywood & Highland Center site.  Give half a point to Garcetti.

So who wins?

In the end, I would say Wendy’s camp edges out a win on this argument mostly because nothing her camp has said regarding Hollywood’s condition is untrue.  Garcetti only loses by a hair because his claim of credit for Hollywood’s turnaround really does require an asterisk.  Garcetti benefits from being the council member for an area that is, objectionably, seeing a comeback.  But his broad credit-taking for this turnaround is a stretch.  The comeback can be seen beginning before he took office and the efforts of many people before him.  Even the W Hotel had many other city-wide supporters that helped bring it to fruition, like Mayor Villaraigosa and LA Metro (who owns the land).  This isn’t to say Garcetti hasn’t helped.  I’m entirely confident Garcetti cares about his district and made efforts to improve it.  Garcetti has previously backed density bonuses for developers as well (search Reyes/Garcetti Plan).  But can he take credit for what we are seeing?  He can have some, but definitively not all the credit.

Roobs received his Bachelors degree in Legal Studies & Sociology from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from UCLA with concentrations in Transportation Planning & Policy and Urban Design & Development.  Roobs currently is an urban planner in Los Angeles.


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