A rendering of 333 La Cienega. Courtesy Caruso
A rendering of 333 La Cienega. Courtesy Caruso

A controversial project planned near the Beverly Center was approved Tuesday by the City Council despite opposition from a neighborhood group and criticism of developer Rick Caruso’s large donations to the city’s elected officials.

The project was approved with a 14-0 vote.

The high-rise development at 333 S. La Cienega Blvd. was originally approved by the Planning Commission at 240 feet in November, even though the neighborhood is zoned for buildings to be no higher than 45 feet, but has now been scaled down to 185 feet to try to appease critics.

The project had received support from Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the area, as well as from an adjacent condominium building, the Burton Way Homeowners Association and the Mid-City West Community Council.

But in December, the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association started voicing opposition to the project and presented Koretz with more than 1,000 signatures of residents opposed to it. Koretz then pulled his support in December, calling the project “too high.”

At the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee meeting last Wednesday, Koretz announced that he had asked Caruso to reduce the size of the building to 185 feet and to contribute $500,000 to an affordable housing trust fund the city will set up. The plan was unanimously approved by the committee.

Lawren Markle of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. told the committee that it was in strong support of the project for a variety of reasons, including “because we think the developer has an excellent track record of doing great work that benefits L.A.”

Caruso, a 58-year-old billionaire who has been president of the Police Commission and a Los Angeles Department of  Water and Power commissioner, is the founder and CEO of Caruso Affiliated, which has developed and manages The Grove, the Americana at Brand, the Commons at Calabasas, the Promenade at Westlake and the Waterside Marina Del Rey.

Controversy has surrounded the La Cienega project since an Los Angeles Times investigation found that Caruso and his affiliates have donated a total of $476,000 to all but one of the city’s 17 elected officials and their initiatives over the past five years, with the suggestion that he has curried favor from them as a result.

Steve Luffman of the Mid-City West Community Council, who said he was only speaking for himself, told the committee that Caruso should “play by the rules, not pay to play.”

Councilman Mitch Englander said last week that he felt the project had been over-politicized in the media and voted in favor of it.

—City News Service

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