Is This The End Of “Deference” In The LA City Council? PLUM Committee Submits Historic Bank Designation To Council “Without Recommendation” Even Though David Ryu Explicitly Supports It

Julia Duncan, David Ryu’s planning deputy, spoke at PLUM in favor of a historical designation for the Lytton Savings building, but the committee forwarded the matter to Council without a recommendation. What can it mean?
Oh, the irony! Here’s the deal. It’s well known that Los Angeles City Council members never vote against land use matters in one another’s districts. This allows them to guarantee their campaign donors that they’ll be able to get their projects approved. The principle is called “deference” — they defer to one another with respect to their districts. This corrupt system is the basis for a lawsuit against the City by some Valley residents. In their pleadings they quote Councilman David Ryu’s disconcertingly honest explanation of how it works:

Councilmember David Ryu has described the Vote Trading Pact as one of “respect” for other Councilmember’s Council Projects and in return he expects the same “respect” for his Council Projects.

“For someone to come in at the tail end and to disagree with my recommendation after meetings with the community on dozens of occasions and with other city departments and after I have involved stakeholders,” doesn’t make sense, he said. “I might make a decision…and my colleagues respect it. Even if they might disagree with my decision, they abide by it because they were not there during those community meetings.” Los Feliz Ledger September 1, 2016

The next piece of today’s puzzle has to do with the proposed Frank Gehry megaplex at 8150 Sunset Blvd., recently approved by the LA City Council over vigorous opposition from everyone who’s not being paid to support it. Part of the problem with the building is that it’s on the site of a beautiful modernist bank building.1 The Los Angeles Conservancy has filed suit against the City in an attempt to force them to preserve the building.2 and they’re also pushing for the bank’s designation as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural monument. This tactic seems to be supported both by people who want to save the bank and by people who want to stop the 8150 Sunset project.

This is what used to be at 8150 Sunset before they tore it down and put up a…well, according to Wikipedia, that old story is a lie…they tore it down and put up a beautiful modernist bank building is what they did.

And this has put CD4 representative David Ryu3 in somewhat of a bind. On the one hand, Councilmembers can’t oppose these kinds of projects or developers won’t give them money. On the other hand, pretty much everyone who actually lives in Ryu’s district is opposed to the thing. So as a compromise, which smelt of choreography in the worst way, Ryu opposed the project pending some nominal changes. These were accepted by the developer, who certainly understood that the whole performance was a political necessity, and then Ryu supported it and it was subsequently approved.

However, in that weird baby-splitting manner so characteristic of our latter-day politicians, Ryu also supports the designation of the Lytton Savings building as a Cultural-Historic monument.4 So much so that he sent his planning deputy, Julia Duncan, to the Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee meeting on November 22, 2016, to speak in favor of the designation. As they put it in their report on the hearing: “A representative from Council District Four commented on the property in support of the nomination.”

So if the theory of deference is accurate, and there’s no reason to think it’s not, given the fact that Council votes are unanimous significantly more than 99% of the time, Ryu’s colleagues ought to respect it. As he famously said, after all:

“I might make a decision…and my colleagues respect it. Even if they might disagree with my decision, they abide by it because they were not there during those community meetings.”

But, amazingly, that’s not what happened. The PLUM Committee sent it up to Council “without recommendation.” This NEVER happens. Look here, at the five most recent CHM proposals5 to go before PLUM:

I can’t check all of them, but I would be surprised if PLUM has ever, at least in the recent modern era of City Council unanimity, forwarded such a matter without recommendation.7 Why, all of a sudden, is Ryu’s desire not enough? Has he lost what he himself calls the respect of his colleagues? Is the City Council poised to give up on “deference”? Given that the developers of 8150 Sunset oppose the designation, perhaps they’re worried about the future flow of campaign contributions should they approve the matter?

Well, obviously there’s not enough information to say. Maybe they feel that they don’t have to respect him any more because he’s going to run for congress after Xavier Becerra steps down to become the Attorney General of California? Something else? It will certainly be interesting to see what happens on Tuesday!


Image of Julia Duncan is a public record. Image of Nazimova’s house is in the public domain.

  1. It’s also on the site of the former Garden of Allah Hotel, but that battle is long, long lost…
  2. I’m glossing over any number of details here. They’re actually suing the City to force them to comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) with respect to the building. There are broader issues involved than just the preservation of the building, and I wish I had time to go into them, but I don’t. You can read more at their press release on the matter
  3. The project is in Ryu’s district.
  4. This matter is Council File 16-1074.
  5. Exclusive of the Lytton Savings building.
  6. As an aside, I will note that despite the fact that this City and its Council are deeply fucked up in many ways, I am proud to live in a place where Tom of Finland‘s old house is uncontroversially a historical monument. The planning staff’s report is exceedingly interesting.
  7. I checked the five files previous to the ones linked to above. Three of them were submitted to Council by PLUM recommending approval, and the other two skipped PLUM and were just approved in Council without prior consideration. Ten in a row is not an insignificant sample, no matter how many such files there are.
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