No One Can Really Tell The Truth Like John Walsh
The Oswald Bartlett House is now – at this very moment – under attack. It is being demolished by a giant-house killing machine. Nothing is being left to chance by the developer.
It’s a sad day for all Los Angeles when a cultural treasure is lost. The Bartlett house was – according to most experts – a cultural-historic treasure, a rare example of the early work of A.C. Martin, a leading architect who significantly contributed to the built-environment of this city during the first half of the 20th century. A half-dozen of Martin’s works, including LA City Hall itself, are listed as official city landmarks.
And the loss of the Bartlett sends all the wrong signals. Last Wednesday the City Council did the wrong thing when it failed to declare the Bartlett an official, protected landmark. The council should have sent a message to developer Elan Mordoch – and all developers – that there is a penalty to be paid for misleading the public and city officials about their projects and that special interests will not always play an outsized role in shaping City Hall decision-making. Instead the council decision only encouraged more rule-breaking and influence-peddling.
1) The destruction of this house is a defeat for the rule of law.
The developer got his way in large part by misleading the public.The fact is that developer Mordoch failed to disclose in his early environmental documents, submitted to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), that the Bartlett house was a “historic resource.” Instead Mordoch simply claimed the Bartlett was just an old house. For the longest time this misrepresentation was allowed to stand unchallenged. What did it accomplish? Because of this misrepresentation, city’s planning officials – when they considered Mordoch’s application for land-use entitlements (including zoning variances) to build a six-unit townhouse-style project on the Bartlett property – operated in the dark. These planning officials did not consider possible mitigations to protect even a shred of the cultural history being compromised by the developer’s project because they were misinformed about the Bartlett’s value.
More importantly, the community – also because the developer failed to accurately disclose the potential historic value of the house – was denied the opportunity during the planning review process to make their voice heard about the developer’s plan to demolish the house.
By the same token, the developer’s misleading environmental documents prevented the community from making a timely application to the Cultural Heritage Commission to protect the house by designating it as a landmark. The commission finally voted against recommending landmark status, in large part, because it appeared to sympathize with Mordoch’s complaint that it would be unfair to interfere with his project after he had invested so much time, money and effort in securing his land-use entitlements. If only – one commissioner lamented – the community had applied earlier for landmark status for the Bartlett then it might have been reasonable to grant that application. The community’s counter-argument was that they were misled until late in the game by the developer’s flawed environmental documents. But that argument fell on deaf ears.
2) The demise of the Bartlett is a victory for backroom influence-peddling.
Supporters of preserving the house – after finally realizing the Bartlett’s value – were playing against a stacked deck. When supporters finally asked the Cultural Heritage Commission to declare the house an historic-cultural landmark, the developer’s ally, Gabriel Eshaghian, reportedly threatened to use his political influence with Mayor Garcetti’s office to block such a designation. Make no mistake, Eshaghian, who co-hosted two of Garcetti’s fundraisers as he ran for mayor, has clout. Eshaghian’s support for Garcetti was rewarded as well: now Eshaghian sits on the city’s powerful Airport Commission, as a Garcetti appointee.
The mayor’s aides, according to witnesses, also made their objections to landmark status for the house loudly known to Councilman Tom LaBonge as LaBonge – in whose district the house is located – offered to help the Bartlett’s supporters. Perhaps that explains LaBonge’s subsequent failure to really go to bat for the Bartlett and finally his support for its demolition. It was also learned that Garcetti’s office also made it clear to the Cultural Heritage Commission staff that it was interested in how the commission (all appointed by Garcetti) was handling the Bartlett landmark application. Did that have any effect? We were told it did not. Do you believe it?
John Schwada – MediaFix Associates