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Rick Caruso Wants To Build 20-Story Tower Next To The Beverly Center

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A rendering of the project at 333 La Cienega. (Courtesy of Caruso)
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Real estate developer Rick Caruso, who's perhaps best known for giving us the Grove and the Americana in Glendale, is pushing for a 20-story residential tower to be built on 333 La Cienega, on a site right next to the Beverly Center. The development is expected to bring 145 units, as well as 7,000 square feet of an outdoor "parklet" where people can stroll by or stand on to take in the scene. There'll also be 30,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, reports Urbanize LA. The project was given the green light (unanimously) by the Planning Commission back in November. Now, it’s expected to go before the City Council in January.

While large developments such as these are almost routine for L.A. nowadays, a L.A. Times report on Wednesday put the spotlight on the La Cienega project, as well as the sizable political donations that real estate developers hand out to political causes.

The Times noted that Caruso has been a steady donor of the city’s elected officials, including the causes they support. For example, companies owned by Caruso had given $200,000 to the campaign for Measure M, which was backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti (and which had won by a comfortable margin back in November). Caruso also gave $125,000 to a nonprofit set up by Garcetti.

A local (and opponent of the development) told the Times that "that’s a lot of money,” adding that it's "obviously something that the community cannot compete against."

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(Courtesy of Caruso)
Caruso isn’t the only big-scale developer who’s given to the city’s officials, of course. An earlier Times report noted that people with ties to developer Samuel Leung had given over $600,000 to L.A. politicians (and perhaps under suspect circumstances). Leung’s 352-unit apartment project, slated for just north of the Port of Los Angeles, was approved by the council in 2015. Also of note, affiliates of the mall conglomerate Westfield Corp. have given nearly one million to causes backed by Garcetti—Measure M and the 2024 Olympics bid. Westfield is proposing a giant $1.5-billion development in the San Fernando Valley; it’s slated to include two hotels.

What complicates the matter further is that, in many of these projects, neighborhood codes may have to be amended so that the development can go through. There’s the issue of a city’s General Plan, for instance, which provides a guideline as to the types of buildings that may be built in specific areas, as well as other stipulations about what developers can and can’t do. In Caruso’s case, the La Cienega project required the Planning Commission to agree to a zone change, as well as a height district change, since the area didn’t allow for a new development that was more than 45 feet high.

While this may bring up questions about conflicts of interest, it’s still legal for real estate developers to give to political causes, and the practice is common. After all, one of the biggest donors to the Trump campaign was Geoff Palmer, the L.A. developer who’s given us a new appreciation of faux-Italian designs. Palmer handed $2 million to a pro-Trump super PAC in June. While the dots in Palmer’s case aren’t as closely connected (when compared to the aforementioned instances of developers donating to L.A. officials), it’s worth noting that Palmer purports to have a $3 billion stake in California real estate, so decisions from echelons as high as the White House may have an appreciable effect for him.

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(Courtesy of Caruso)
Developers, as suggested by the Commercial Observer, are attuned to questions of propriety when it comes to these dealings. And the donations pour in as long as the public (and federal investigators) are willing to tolerate them. In the case of the New York area, donations from developers took a steep dive at around the same time that Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly, was accused in 2015 of taking kickbacks from a law firm that represented a couple of notable developers. It was perhaps no coincidence, then, that Related Companies, a development firm, had donated only around $4,000 to political causes in the New York area in 2015—a huge dropoff from the $266,026 they’d spent in 2013. Related is also responsible for the Frank Gehry-designed project that is slated to arrive right by the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Caruso expects the La Cienega project, if approved by the council, to be completed by 2020.