UPDATE: How Corruption Impacted an Arts Community

UPDATE: How Corruption Impacted an Arts Community

To simplify my life, I’ve been working on archiving and redirecting my former website for Downtown Muse to my business website for CauseConnect. Today, I found a recent comment from someone in response to my 9/21/2015 post that included my letter as testimony for a community hearing to now-former Los Angeles Councilmember Jose Huizar … he was arrested on 6/23/2020 for federal racketeering charges tied to development activities; much of what overwhelmingly changed my Arts District neighborhood of 25 years. The excessive and unwieldy development that ran rampant and amuck through my beloved tight-knit community is the main reason why I — along with hundreds of other artists — left Los Angeles. Reading the comment from my website visitor made me cry as I realized how Huizar’s horrible and despicable actions forever changed a place that I loved and was an impetus for me and many others to flee. Below is the post, along with the letter to Huizar, from five years ago.

NOTE TO HOUSTON: As your city builds and expands its own Arts District, learn from the history, mistakes, and successes of what happened in the Arts District of Los Angeles. When I first moved back to Texas, I realized I was living in my own personal Groundhog Day. I tried to reach out to one of the main developers of the Arts District Houston, to no avail – no response. I know that their team came to visit the Los Angeles Arts District several years ago.


DOWNTOWN MUSE POST (dated 9/21/2015)

Repurposing existing buildings works => a former flour mill transforms into a world-class art gallery known as Hauser Wirth. © Photo by Melissa Richardson Banks

Many of you know me personally. I don’t normally use my blog to discuss politics and mostly refrain from publicly stepping into touchy community issues; rather, I am a huge booster of Downtown Los Angeles, especially the Arts District, which is why I am posting this tonight.

The fate of the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles is on the line. On Tuesday, 9/22/2015, Councilmember Jose Huizar, in his role as chair of the Planning & Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) for the City of Los Angeles, is asking PLUM members to review and cast their votes to adopt a citywide Hybrid Industrial Zone (HI-Zone), formerly developed over the past year and a half as the Arts District Live/Work Interim Zone.

The Biscuit Lofts are an excellent example of what works in our Arts District neighborhood. © Photo by Melissa Richardson Banks

In spite of the involvement and hard work of many dedicated Arts District artists, business owners, residents, employees, and other stakeholders who helped shape the original version, the new HI-Zone has dramatically shifted away to what was carefully researched, studied, reviewed, and communicated by many — click HERE for the Arts District community’s version. By renaming the proposed zone to the HI-Zone and stating that it should be expanded to address other communities, which have remained largely inactive and silent, Councilmember Huizar’s office and the Planning Department of the City of Los Angeles, in effect, have made a strategic move to silence the Arts District community.

If passed, what is being presented as the HI-Zone to the PLUM committee will open the floodgates to further construction of low-lying (no more than five stories) stucco buildings that will not stand the test of time, and pave the way to destroying many sturdy structures built to last for years, which could also be repurposed and incorporated with new elements as even taller and larger spaces to accommodate residential growth of our city.

While my work takes me away from Los Angeles tomorrow, I want every person in the Arts District who is able to attend the meeting at City Hall to speak up — in person, by email, and online.

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LETTER TO JOSE HUIZAR READ AS TESTIMONY IN COUNCIL CHAMBERS

Councilmember Jose Huizar, PLUM Chair
PLUM MEETING on TUE 9/22/2015 @ 2:30 PM
City Hall (ID required for admittance)
Council of the City of Los Angeles
Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee

200 N. Spring St., Rm. 350
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Dear Jose,

You know me … I have lived, worked and played in Downtown Los Angeles, particularly the Arts District, since 1993. I am a HUGE proponent of responsible development, and I am so happy with much of what’s going on here in my neighborhood. Just this weekend alone, I went to the opening of two new businesses — American Tea Room and ERB; I supported many of our wonderful existing businesses like The Pie Hole and Woo Souvenir Shop, I hosted the new chef of our upcoming Salt & Straw ice cream shop in my home, and I participated in the art exhibition that honors the 6th Street Bridge through artwork by me and over fifty other artists who have lived and worked in the Arts District over the years.

Like many committed friends and neighbors, I have been involved in helping to shape what we were told was going to be the Arts District Live/Work Interim Zone. I trusted you and your staff, and I now trust that you will listen to your constituents to do the right thing, not kowtow to developers who might be willing to contribute to your Officeholder Account so they can build in our neighborhood as they please (by the way, if the latter is all it takes — and I think I know you better than that, you should know I am a helluva fundraiser … if money talks, talk to me so we can save our Arts District neighborhood).

Dirt lot in front of SCI-Arc was empty for decades. © Photo by Melissa Richardson Banks

Please provide special provisions to protect and enhance the unique character that has led to the success of the Art District:

1.       Set the floor area ratio (FAR) at 1.5 to ensure that commercial production uses can be maintained so we can sustain and increase the job growth, innovation, and creativity that is the hallmark of our neighborhood.

2.       Set the average unit size at 1,000 square feet so that we have a range of units sized smaller than 1,000 square feet to larger than 1,000 square feet. This ensures a supply of affordable housing to fit a multitude of needs.

3.       Designate affordable housing for artists so people who contributed to the success of the Arts District are not displaced and so we can attract young artists who are just beginning their careers.

4.       Require buildings to be constructed with a column-beam system to preserve the flexibility to change these structures as needed in the future. Those stucco buildings now blanketing our city get outdated too fast and cannot be modified to adapt to the changing environment.

5.       Prohibit the demolition of any building constructed prior to 1965 unless an approved building permit for the same site is on hand. Maintaining the wonderful landscape of factories and warehouses is critical while making sure that new buildings add value and do not detract from the character of the Arts District.

Thank you for your time. Once again, I am placing my trust in you as our entire neighborhood is looking to your leadership to guide our beloved Arts District to a successful future.

Regards,

Melissa


Here are the documents and the history for the Hybrid Industrial Live/Work Zone on the Los Angeles City Council website. A recorded version of the hearing was made, but a link can no longer be found.

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