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Hearing to Decide the Balance of a Neighborhood

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2007, at 12:55PM

Update (11:30pm): A report from the meeting is now available.

The very last item on today's agenda for the Central Area Planning Commission is one that of great importance to Downtown and the Historic Core. In July Kor Group, developers of the Santa Fe Lofts at 6th and Main, applied for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) for its ground floor. The company planned to bring a mix of restaurants and nightlife to the building -- the same thing any Downtown development has typically set out to do.

The ruling from Assistant Zoning Administrator Daniel Green went beyond simply denying these requests and instead laid out principles that threaten Downtown's revitalization. In just about so many words, Green states that approving these licenses could raise property values and make it harder for Skid Row to expand. In a time where public and elected sentiment is for county-wide services and not concentration, this logic is baffling.

Green's ruling presents six reasons for denying the applications. A few are standard. Parking comes up, as it does with any Downtown project. Hours and noise are also cited, and certainly I think the opinions there are faulty as well.

Those denials pale when faced with Green's writings on Skid Row. His denial reads (emphasis mine):

The reinvigoration of this long-vacant commercial building is commendable and converting the upper floors to residential use provides additional means to reestablish stability in the neighborhood. This transition has both intended and unintended consequences. ... The Zoning Administrator's concern on behalf of the Skid Row community is that approvals of the magnitude requested herein will put yet additional pressure on land values such that the western edge of Skid Row will be at risk of shrinking. This affects land values for the remaining portion of Skid Row. Service providers will have less relatively inexpensive land to construct new facilities or add to existing facilities.

Consider what you just read... Green has laid out as an objective of the Zoning Administrator that the area around Skid Row maintain depressed property values so that we can continue to concentrate services and continue to have one confined set of blocks where we can dump all of Los Angeles' problems.

Mr. Green: The policy of containment for Skid Row has failed.

To push for the increased concentration of Skid Row services flies in the face of everything that City and County officials have been saying for the past year.

Elsewhere Green again makes this argument:

Permitting the sale of alcoholic beverages on the scale requested by the applicant will contribute to the incremental upgrading of the subject building and the image and character of Main Street while also contributing to the incremental dislocation of the Skid Row community. Because of the lack of balance, the Finding defaults to the negative.

Daniel Green apparently believes that it is impossible to improve Main street while maintaining the mission of those who provide services on Skid Row. That opinion is absurd. If you look back at the money that Downtown development has put into affordable housing and services over the past few years, it would be impossible to argue the fact that the service providers of Skid Row would not be able to do the things they are today without the revitalization of Downtown. Consider the developer donations that have allowed Skid Row Housing Trust to build new housing, or the arrangement that led to the Midnight Mission's brand new facility. Those deals are because of Downtown improving its character, not done in spite of it.

Should the Planning Commission rule against the appeal this afternoon and affirm Mr. Green's ruling, the result will be felt far wider than just the Santa Fe building. This is a case of old vs. new, containment vs. partnership, and its result will undoubtably have a noticable effect on future development in Downtown and the Historic Core.

Tonight's Planning Commission meeting starts at 4:30pm, but the Santa Fe item is not expected to come up until roughly 6pm. The meeting will be held on the 10th floor of City Hall.

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