The Los Angeles City Council advanced elements of a project Tuesday that would erect two high-rise residential towers near City Hall on property that formerly housed the Los Angeles Times.
Council members voted 11-4 on two motions related to the project, with Councilmen Mike Bonin, Paul Krekorian, Mitch O’Farrell and Mark Ridley-Thomas opposing the motions.
The first motion approved the project’s environmental impact report and rejected an appeal by the nonprofit Supporters Alliance for Environmental Responsibility, which claimed that birds could hit the towers and that the construction equipment would worsen air quality.
The second motion, which is subject to approval by Mayor Eric Garcetti, recommended that the council approve a transfer of 548,000 square feet of floor area from the Los Angeles Convention Center site to the project site through the Transfer of Floor Area Rights system, which allows developers to sell their floor area rights to other parcels. Along with approving the transfer, the motion called for the council to approve benefits of the zoning codes and TFAR ordinance.
“I’ve been very concerned about TFAR being used as a subsidy for downtown development. I continue to think the city is not getting fair value for its TFAR concessions to developers downtown,” Krekorian said. “I believe that this project doesn’t represent the public interest and so I don’t feel that I can support the finding (that) the transfer serves the public interest.”
Krekorian said the value of the city’s assets being transferred is $24 million.
He also raised concerns that former Councilman Jose Huizar — who’s pleaded not guilty to a rash of federal corruption charges related to downtown development projects — negotiated the deal through TFAR and not the Transit Oriented Communities Incentive Program, which would have provided the city with more affordable housing units.
Through the TFAR deal, the developer committed to having 24 moderate-income units and 10 low-income units out of the total 1,127 units, City Planner Will Lamborn said. Krekorian said that under the Transit Oriented Communities Incentive Program, the 1,127-unit project would have to provide either 124 extremely low-income units, 169 very low-income units or 282 low-income units.
“Because the previous council member for the 14th Council District negotiated a TFAR deal, the city is giving up a valuable asset in its TFAR in exchange for (24 moderate income units and 10 low income units),” Krekorian said.
Councilman Kevin de Leon, who took over the project from Huizar after the former councilman vacated the seat prior to his arrest for alleged bribery and corruption, told his colleagues that other projects have been approved for TFAR without having affordable housing.
“I inherited this project and am trying to make it the best project possible. There have been nine TFAR projects that the vast majority of council members have voted for with zero affordability … this project actually is a departure from the nine past TFAR projects that you all have voted for, minus just a handful of individuals here.”
The Planning and Land Use Management Committee, chaired by Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, previously voted 3-0 to advance the project.
Harris-Dawson suggested Tuesday that the project go back to committee for more discussion, but council members had to vote on the motions because the last day for action on the items was set for Wednesday.
“This is a significant, iconic project, so I think it would be better and wiser to take the time to revisit this, give Mr. de Leon and the committee members even more time, and the developers more time to come up with something that causes less discomfort and raises appropriate scrutiny,” he said.
Harris-Dawson voted to approve the motions Tuesday.
In 2018, the council approved a historic designation for the Times Mirror Square complex but excluded a 1970s addition.
The building’s owner, Onni Group, plans to preserve the older structures but demolish the 1970s addition, which was designed by architect William Pereira, to make way for two high-rise residential towers. The project is located at 121-147 S. Spring St., 100-142 S. Broadway, 202-234 W. First St., and 205-221 W. Second St.
The Los Angeles Times has been located at the complex since 1935, although the paper had been renting its space there since 2016 when former owner Tribune Media Co. sold it to Canadian developer Onni Group.
The Cultural Heritage Commission sided with preservationists in September and others who have argued that the entire complex is worthy of preservation. The commission even added its own recommendation that the 1970s portion be preserved for its architectural contributions, even though staff had recommended it was only noteworthy for historical reasons.
The commission said the 1970s addition was a significant work of master architect Pereira, who also designed San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and many other well-known California structures.
The Chandler family owned and ran the paper for seven decades until the family-controlled Times Mirror Co. was sold to Tribune in 2000. Harry Chandler, son of former Times publisher Otis Chandler, asked the Planning and Land Use Management committee to consider the entire complex’s history.
The Times Mirror Square complex consists of five buildings constructed between 1935 and 1973, according to a report by the Department of City Planning:
— the 1935 eight-story Los Angeles Times Building designed in the art deco/moderne architectural style by Los Angeles architect Gordon B. Kaufmann;
— the four-story Plant Building completed in 1935 that is an original two-story art deco/moderne-style building by Kaufmann, with two one-story additions designed by Los Angeles architect Rowland H. Crawford in 1946 and 1955;
— the 12-story Mirror Building designed in the late moderne architectural style by Crawford in 1948;
— and the six-story Times-Mirror Headquarters Building and six-story parking structure designed by Pereira in the corporate international architectural style in 1973.