In a Westside council race, a major landlord’s $400,000 donation causes a stir

Fierce competition for Westside representation on the Los Angeles City Council in recent days has turned to how the two rivals are funding their campaigns. Grand prize winner Erin Darling said opponent Traci Park’s significant fundraising advantage shows she will be committed to her affluent business interests.

Park has raised more than three times as much as Darling for her campaign, but she has an even bigger advantage thanks to an independent spending committee supporting her campaign with more than $1.4 million. The money comes mainly from the union that represents ordinary Los Angeles police officers and from two large real estate companies.

Darling, 41, suggests the combined $700,000 pledged by the two big real estate interests will leave Park vulnerable to undue influence, including a crucial and long-running debate over installing fire sprinklers at a high-rise condominium complex in the Owned Wilshire Boulevard by one of the companies. In the past nine years, two life-threatening fires have occurred at Douglas Emmett Inc.’s Barrington Plaza homes.

“There are many landlords and business developers who support them,” Darling said in an interview. “So you’re wondering what she’s telling these people behind closed doors to get them to give that much money? … What is she doing in return for that investment?”

Park, 46, says campaign funds cannot buy her and if elected she will treat all her constituents equally, whether they supported her or sided with her opponent.

The nominee said she believes she has garnered support from independent donors – along with many voters – because she represents a marked departure from incumbent councilor Mike Bonin, a progressive who is stepping down and supporting Darling.

“Everyone will have full access to me and a seat at my table,” Park said. “I am willing to take the lead by building consensus and common ground. And that includes all voters in that district. That’s what my campaign has been about from day one.”

Darling finished first in the June primary with almost 35% of the vote, although that falls far short of the 50% plus one vote needed for an overall victory. Park took second place with 29%. Park and Darling got into a heated argument last week about their respective clients at their private law firms and what that work says about their leadership priorities.

Those following Bonin will arguably have to address the broader issue of high-rise apartment fire codes: At least three such complexes in the 11th precinct are unfired, among the citywide’s 55 high-rise apartment and condominium buildings totaling 9,253 units covered by earlier statutes that require sprinklers, are exempt.

The city has made several unsuccessful attempts to close the loophole and force the installation of sprinklers and other safety devices, such as fire sprinklers. B. Pressurized stairwells that keep smoke out.

Bonin worked to revive the issue in 2020, asking the Fire Department and the Department of Building and Safety to come forward “with a plan and procedure” to make sprinklers mandatory in buildings constructed between 1943 and 1974.

The lack of sprinkler systems proved dangerous in 2013 when one of the three towers at Barrington Plaza caught fire and displaced 125 residents. In the same 25-story building known as Tower A, a fire broke out again in 2020. A 19-year-old man died and 13 people were injured, including a 3-month-old baby and two firefighters. Eight floors of the building remain empty.

Representatives from Douglas Emmett Inc., a public company valued about $3 billion, said they were frustrated in their efforts to install sprinklers in Barrington Plaza, despite their good efforts in working with the city. The Company and “affiliated companies” have donated a total of $400,000 to the independent Park election campaign, while Company employees donated $9,700 directly to the Park campaign, records show.

A company executive met with Bonin last year to try to work out an agreement that would make the installation of sprinkler systems feasible. The Santa Monica-based company said in a letter to Los Angeles officials last year that the required fire safety improvements would cost more than $150 million. In an email to The Times last week The company put the figure at more than $250 million.

The company said the higher estimate was because “costs have increased significantly” and “we learned more about the requirements” from the Fire Service and the Department for Buildings and Safety.

Bonin said he’s found in nearly 10 years as the district’s representative that developers often exaggerate estimated costs to try to lower city development requirements. “If you spend any time with the town hall process, you know that every number that a developer comes into the room with is fictitious,” Bonin said.

Representatives for Douglas Emmett expressed the same distrust of the council member, saying he would “not support these efforts to keep residents safe.”

The heart of the disagreement revolves around the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance and the “tenant livability plan” it imposes on owners – which outlines both payments to help tenants move during major construction projects and a “right of return” that allows tenants to move back to move into their apartment units after the work is completed.

Douglas Emmett said the tenant livability plan was unworkable for the 712-unit complex, giving tenants an extended period for appeals and lawsuits, variables that would make the work logistically and financially unfeasible.

The landlord offered alternative proposals that he said would protect tenants, including payments specified in the city’s tenancy law for those who voluntarily move out of buildings.

But the company acknowledged in its email to The Times that it had only offered the “right of return” to some of Barrington Plaza’s tenants – those “who have lived in the buildings for over 4 years and whose rent is more than 10% below the Market price was because of this long time.” When asked how many tenants received such an offer, the company did not answer.

Bonin brought Larry Gross, a tenant rights attorney with the Coalition for Economic Survival, into discussions with the landlord. Both Gross and Bonin said Douglas Emmett was pushing for a plan that would permanently evict tenants for the fireproofing work, clearing the way for rents to rise to market rates. (The rental price brake according to the city’s rental price ordinance would be reintroduced as soon as new tenants move in.)

“They wanted their own special exemption [from the Rent Stabilization Ordinance] which would have resulted in the eviction of all tenants in Barrington Plaza,” Gross said. “And that would have meant an increase in rents and a bonanza of additional profits for them.”

Douglas Emmett executives dismissed the notion that they were using fire safety improvements as an excuse to increase rents and profits. They cited the inability of the owners of 55 high-rise buildings to make the improvements as evidence it was city officials who enacted improper regulations.

“Fire and life safety is about protecting people,” said Stuart McElhinney, vice president of investor relations at Douglas Emmett. “That’s why it’s particularly disappointing that some are politicizing critical fire safety issues just to make a campaign case.”

Darling, Bonin and Gross made no apologies for making the real estate company’s donations an issue in the race for city council. All three said they believe the company’s association with the candidate makes it appear that it could be given preferential treatment by a future Park councilwoman.

“I have a feeling they’re particularly fond of Traci,” Bonin said. “And they’re particularly terrified at the prospect of Erin, who is actually a tenant rights attorney.”

Douglas Emmett officials said they met with many candidates for city council, both in the 11th Ward and in other parts of the city. None of the candidates, including Park, “made any promises or representations to us,” the company said in its emailed statement to The Times.

Park insisted she would not play favorites. “For anyone, whether or not they were a donor to my campaign, I will be transparent with every decision and will abide by the ethical standards that are required of me,” she said.

The real estate firm said it made donations to Park and others, who shared their concerns about “policing and homelessness” and believed it would represent a dramatic departure from Bonin’s policies, while Darling would offer more of the same.

Another major donor to the Park Support Fund was Kilroy Realty, a public real estate company, which donated $300,000. The company, which is valued at nearly $5 billion, did not respond to requests for comment.

But Chief Executive John Kilroy expressed deep dismay at the proliferation of homeless people on LA streets during a 2020 interview, blaming locally elected officials.

“I can tell you today,” Kilroy said at a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce event, “I wouldn’t invest another dollar anywhere in Los Angeles County without a change in policy, and I’m starting to think that way about San Francisco and generally.” California.”

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents LAPD officers, organized Park’s independent spending campaign. At more than $1.4 million, it is one of the largest campaigns of its kind in any municipality, and significantly larger than the roughly $1 million Darling and Park combined raised for their own campaigns.

Nonetheless, Darling finished the primary at No. 1 after being battered by an earlier Police Protective League campaign, which portrayed him in mailings as Bonin’s “handpicked twin” and an unreformed leftist who would seek to debase the and then “to abolish”. Police. Darling calls this an absurd exaggeration of his true attitude.

He says he would divert some police money to other services, such as recreation, homeless services and mental health care, to relieve police of social problems they’re not trained to deal with. In a Westside council race, a major landlord’s $400,000 donation causes a stir

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