Developers Gone Wild – Slumlords, Gentrification and Courtroom Shenanigans

Downtown development

Sprinkled throughout the recent flood of Downtown News stories lies some pretty funny and entertaining pieces of developers whose plans have gone awry.

They are rich, they are powerful, they own everything around us and they always get what they want…. until now …and its looks like someone forgot to send them the memo.

As urban dwellers, we know there’s no shortage of news about real estate developments in DTLA. As buildings, bridges and new plans for transportation sprout out on the daily, we cant help wonder who’s behind it all and how it will effect our daily lives. And of course, if the downtown developers even consider how their multi million dollar developments effect our daily lives…

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And the answer is…they do, and they don’t. It’s that volatile mix of determination and lack of concern for the opinions of the poor and middle class that just makes for one wild bumpy ride.

Go Metro… Or Go Home…(another home, somewhere else).

With headquarters in DTLA, Metro Transit Authority is by far is one of the city’s largest employers of minority workers. From the trains to the bus lines we find their trusted team patiently putting up with all the wonderful surprises public transportation has to bring. No modern city can exist without a strong transportation system and Metro heads are some of the brightest minds. Without Metro, traffic, pollution, and the expenses to travel would soar out of control. Yet…

With every new Metro train system come an array of complaints from locals who claim Metro is intentionally forcing the displacement of long standing residents.

And they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

In 2021, Metro received bad publicity when the African American vendors of Leimert Park in South LA, took to City Hall claiming the City along with Metro was trying to force them out using permit confusion to make way for a less traditionally ethnic population, and a brand new Metro line.

“Developments such as a new Metro station, renovation of the historic Vision Theatre, and outbidding black groups of the ownership of the Crenshaw Mall is likely going to make the area attractive to other demographics. Once established, housing prices in the region may no longer be affordable for low-income residents of color.” said Billion Godsun, a key leader within the non-profit Africa Town Coalition.

After news outlets got wind of the story, politicians in the area did what they could to ensure the longevity of the farmer’s market and it seems to be thriving, even with the new Crenshaw line forecasted to open this fall.

Just a Hot Mess!

Speaking of Politicians… There may never be another politician in downtown LA history as wild as our guy Jose Huizar. Gentrifier to some, lover to many, Huizar’s bribery case sent a shock wave of disbelief coming after simultaneous FBI raids on the Council member’s office and home in Boyle Heights in 2018.

Yet, look around, during his term Downtown Los Angeles had changed tremendously because of Huizar.

At the time, Huizar was the chairman of the city’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, a body that oversaw many of the city’s most significant commercial and residential projects. His body of work includes the ever developing Bunker Hill, adapt and reuse of our oldest buildings and even Bringing Back Broadway. Yet, no accomplishment would make up for all those free poker chips in Vegas.

Recently, Los Angeles property developer Dae Yong Lee was convicted of bribery and fraud after allegedly bribing city councilman Jose Huizar with $500,000 to get his 20-story South Park project approved. According to evidence presented in court Lee, was a hotmess, planning on building a mixed-use development located at 940 South Hill Street.

Yet, in 2016, after a labor organization filed an appeal that prevented the 940 Hill project from progressing, Lee called Justin Jangwoo Kim, a Huizar fundraiser, to request Huizar’s help in dealing with the appeal. Kim confessed to “helping” Lee alright, and now Kim too is facing decades behind bars.

Judge John F. Walter is scheduled to sentence Kim and Lee where they face up to 60 years in federal prison and fines up to $1.5 million.

Up next, facing criminal charges for bribing Huizar is real estate developer Wei Huang – another defendant in the case who was set to erect the tallest building west of the Mississippi, remains a fugitive.

Also, former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan named as a co-defendant is scheduled to go to trial on the same day as Huizar, February 21, 2023.

Money can’t buy love…but can it buy the Mayor’s seat?

Just when you thought City Hall was safe from wild developer mayhem influence, enter developer Rick Caruso.

As far as the world knows, Rick Caruso, who had been a Republican since he was born, recently turned Democrat just in time to run for LA Mayor.

The Grove developer and debating candidate made his announcement on Facebook, touting his dream to end homelessness, crime, and corruption in the city – along with months of social media, tv and radio ads.

Anti-abortion, tough on crime, draining the swamp, “more of a developer than a shady politician”, sure sounds like a 2016 Republican to the voters, but we’re willing to give Caruso the benefit of the doubt.

However, the billionaire developer has already spent around $23-$25 million of his own money on his campaign; money that could have bought or established plenty mental health centers, police reform and …dare we ask, politicians? Say, “it isn’t so.”

Geoffrey, Geoffrey, Geoffrey!

Billionaire Geoffrey Palmer of GHP Management Corp is one of our favorite “evil tycoons”. But only because when it comes to not giving a rats backside to the rules and public opinion, he wins.

The defiant landlord first kicked up dust when he refused to comply with the City’s Specific Plan (the Plan) for new development projects , that called for downtown Los Angeles developers to offer a certain percentage of affordable housing units.

Seems Palmer got the okay to build, but when it came time to designate the low income units, Palmer took his case to Superior Court, winning his case to keep his units at what ever price he saw fit.

The ruling turned out to be a win for Palmer as he continues to erect, what seems like the same building in different parts of the city. Criticism of his look alike buildings, and their placement near freeways was to follow, but not even flaming sticks and stones could stop GP from becoming one of the largest luxury-housing developers and landlords in California.

Drowning in money, recently over 19,000 tenants accused the real estate tycoon of withholding security deposits by charging excessive cleaning and repair fees. Palmer who settled the case “to avoid further litigation”, is now court ordered to pay a steep price of $12.5 million. That may seem like a lot but at 11,000 units, Palmer could easily pay off the settlement with only a half’s month of rent from each of his existing tenants.

At 72 years old, one thing for certain Palmer won’t be changing political parties to appease the masses any time soon.

Palmer has been a regular donor to Republicans since the land before time, making huge contributions to Mitt Romney‘s and Donald Trump‘s presidential campaigns, even hosting a fundraiser with President Trump at his former home in Beverly Hills.

We reached out to Palmer for an interview, even sent him a Trump 2024 bobble head, but he has not yet returned our messages.

Barry Shy…the gift that keeps on giving.

Historic core crime

Barry Shy is one of the city’s most prominent developers, yet his string of apartments and condo dwellings along Spring Street in the Historic Core have been plagued for years by maintenance problems and tenant complaints.

Not a bad guy, but maybe just a wee bit disconnected to the working class. Like most downtown developers, Shy has never known what it’s like to get stuck in an elevator at his own home, followed in by criminals, or have to walk over trash and pet poops in order to get into his apartment.

Yet, despite the developer making headline news (and casting hope to tenants everywhere) for recently selling his SB building portfolio, many tenants are still complaining their needs, are still, not being met; forming tenants groups and publicly claiming, despite the new owners, little has changed.

Taking the High Road to Dodgers Stadium

If you thought the AEG battle over Farmers Field was ugly (which it was), Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit (LA ART) is a proposed gondola system that would carry baseball fans from Union Station to Dodger Stadium, with a stop in Chinatown.

Plans for their aerial gondola are already being met with opposition, as residents of Chinatown, Los Angeles have voiced their disapproval about this proposal stating the project will gentrify their neighborhood and make it more expensive than ever before. They also believe the project to be a waste of money because it won’t help anyone get anywhere faster than they already can if they take public transportation or drive themselves. 

“This project is just another attempt by wealthy developers to force their way into our community,” said resident George Chen. Another resident we spoke to, named Ms. Elaine Wu lamented, “I don’t think anyone wants an aerial gondola buzzing overhead.”

Never you mind, what residents want….Jennifer Rivera, a spokesperson for LA Aerial Rapid Transit, said the gondola system would remove 3,000 cars off the road before and after each Dodger game.

A cleaner environment may be a mutual goal however, Endowment, a charitable foundation, filed a writ of mandate asking a judge to stop the gondola effort until the project gained more public input. 

Up next: “Sixth Street Viaduct, not quite this vision we had on mind….”

Author: Brianna Jeane

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