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Wed, Apr

A Sinkhole of Woe

SINGLE FAMILY SACRIFICE - Like a tornado randomly touching down with wrecking-ball ferocity on a small town, Nithya Raman, the incumbent candidate for CD4 and Democratic Socialist of America (DSA), has been leaving her brand of destruction in Encino, Studio City, and Sherman Oaks. Raman has greenlighted two projects in quiet residential areas in Studio City and Sherman Oaks that have upset residents. Affordable housing sounds like such a panacea, but it is not affordable and typically creates more problems for the existing community than it solves.

 

The men and women elected to the Los Angeles City Council have tremendous power, much like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. One of the powers they exercised is how big a building will be constructed and what concessions might be given to the neighborhood. Sherman Oaks was stunned when they discovered that Nithya Raman approved a 7-story, 200-unit affordable housing on 5511 Ethel Ave. in a single-family R1 zoned neighborhood. She then had the City Council approve this development. In Los Angeles, an "affordable" studio apartment can cost over $1800 a month. New construction of an affordable unit can cost over $1,000,000 for 650 square feet of habitation. It is highly likely that the “affordable” studio apartment will not come with a parking space. The Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association (SOHA) was particularly dismayed about the placement of this building due to the impact on a nearby school for special needs children, not to mention creating additional parking and traffic problems in a bucolic neighborhood of single-family homes. SOHA has developed a rigorous plan for where new high-density housing should go without destroying single-family enclaves, which Raman has ignored. 

In Studio City at 14535 Weddington St., there are plans to demolish a rent-stabilized building that has four units and construct a 5-story, 23-unit “affordable” housing complex without parking. Residents are worried that this new building will significantly impact their financial situation by making their homes less valuable. They also worry whether the infrastructure is up to such a large facility and where they will park. Angelinos are realizing that we can't keep piling more demand on our aging water, sewer pipes, electrical grid, and roads without significant investment in upgrades. 

Financial impacts are already being reported as a condo project that recently opened on Weddington St. which was put up under strict city guidelines has had tenants back out of their contract. One of the problems the city has created is permitting thousands of rent-stabilized apartments to be torn down to build new luxury and "affordable" apartments. But there's a conundrum here. California is experiencing a vast exodus of its citizens, so who will fill these apartments? One might suppose it will be newly arrived illegal immigrants who will pay the rent with City vouchers. Why should we let the city pay rent for people who just got here and never contributed anything to the city, state, or country when everybody else is busting their fannies to pay their mortgages/rent, and taxes? 

One of Nithya's most asinine plans is to take over the Oak Tree Hotel on Ventura Blvd with new Homekey Grant funds from the State. The community may not love this hotel, but her plans will probably take a hotel that has been a nuisance and create a bigger problem. Council District 4 (CD4) plans to convert this hotel in Encino into 22 interim housing units for teenagers who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, then fund an additional four rooms for interim housing. As is Nithya's usual modus operandi, the neighbors have not been informed of this pending development. 

There is great concern about this development, and it's not just the large overpayment for such a property. The demographics of the inhabitants here have some of the worst crime statistics in the city. Encino, which used to be considered one of the safest places to live in the city, has now become the fourth most crime-ridden area. This is partly due to Encino's rapid and expensive redevelopment of its housing stock, as crooks will go to soft targets where they perceive there might be items of value. Where the Oak Tree Hotel is located on Ventura Blvd., there are very few amenities for teenagers. The proposed operator of this facility has a spotty track record at best, and its rehabilitation services have been criticized on the Internet. 

The economics of this deal are appalling. CD-4 plans to spend $7.1 million with state money to purchase the 70-year-old hotel. Then, rehabilitate this old structure for over $3.6 million, bringing the total cost to approximately $10.7 million. The average room in this hotel is approximately 300 square feet, including the bathroom. This means the city, assuming no cost overruns, will be spending $1,372 per square foot for this project. A luxury apartment building usually costs $300 to $350 per square foot. The reason this hotel hasn't been torn down and something better built is that a large portion of this hotel's square footage is on an RA-1 zone, which limits the type of structure that can be built on this site. Furthermore, the amendments to Mayor Bass's amended Executive Directive-1 directive state that low-income housing shall not be placed in areas zoned for single-family homes. 

Why is Nithya, who's supposed to be smart and has a master's degree in urban planning from MIT, so thoughtless to these economic, zoning, and livability issues? She appears to be a total DSA who is ideologically driven, and utterly insensitive to the people around her projects, who in most cases, have sunk their life savings into a house to live in one of the nicer areas of the Valley. Then only to realize that a Councilwoman they did not vote for and has no ties to the community has pushed them into a sinkhole of woe. 

Our whole approach to housing the homeless, drug-addicted, and troubled youth is wrong. As of December 2023, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that 181,399 people in California are homeless, which is 28% of the country's total (HUD) homeless population. This is a 5.8% increase from 2022, We can see from the results that every year we throw more money at these problems, the worse they get. It would be far more beneficial to take the $10.7 million for this structure and spend $100,000 for vocational training, college prep, or junior college degrees on 1000 endangered youth. Would you rather have 26 people in a room a little bigger than a cell going stir-crazy or create 1000 productive, taxpaying citizens? Our elected officials are not serving the public but are creating wealthy non-governmental organizations. Ultimately, these "good" intentions are a giant money laundering scheme, as money fed into these nonprofits goes back to the City Council in the form of campaign contributions. So indebted incumbent city officials feel obligated to funnel even more money to the homeless industrial complex, which has no known motive to improve the problem. 

The State Legislature and City Council need to understand how destructive their policies are. Why should I buy a house in LA, sink all my capital into it, pay outrageous property taxes only to have my serenity, safety, and money invested ruined by a giant low-income or homeless apartment that could be built right next to my house, without notice, without any right to appeal? This will contribute to the steady stream of people leaving Los Angeles for red states where these things don't happen. The evidence is clear; on February 20th, the State's Legislative Analyst Office said it expects California's deficit to rise another 26% to $73 billion. Current data shows tax receipts falling way short of what was expected. Instead of changing policies, the city, the state, and the county will probably double down on failed policies and ask for tax increases, further exacerbating the exodus. California and Los Angeles are big losers due to the insatiable drive to relocate, subjecting the State and the city to a loss of jobs, tax dollars, and able bodies who have made the city work. Isn’t it time we asked ourselves why we allow irresponsible, arrogant, unthinking people to mismanage everything in this once-great city?

 

(Eliot Cohen has been on the Neighborhood Council, serves on the Van Nuys Airport Citizens Advisory Council, and is President of Homeowners of Encino. Eliot retired after a 35-year career on Wall Street. Eliot is a critic of the stinking thinking of the bureaucrats and politicians that run the State, County, and City. Eliot and his wife divide their time between L.A. and Baja Norte, Mexico.  Eliot is a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.com – [email protected])