June 30, 1990 - From the June, 1990 issue

Lesson to Developers: Hang in There

Developing in Venice is no joke—developing in any slow growth city of Los Angeles County is akin to jumping through hoops. Mary Kushner, who is the principal in the firm Mary Kushner, Community Relations Consultants, relates the four years of hurdles that Peter Goulds had to leap to build an expansion of his LA Louver Gallery in Venice. From the very beginning of proposing the idea to the very end of construction, Kushner reveals how complicated the Byzantine system of development in Los Angeles is.

It is hard to believe that it was nearly four years ago that I lunched at the West Beach Cafeteria with Peter Goulds, owner of LA Louver Gallery, to discuss building a modest expansion to his Venice art gallery. With artists that include David Hockney, Ed Moses, Tony Berlant and others, he was interested in a quality design that reflected the good taste of his artists and clients.

At that time, Mr. Goulds most serious concern was the need for a reliable timeline so that he could make an appropriate business plan around his expansion efforts. Not wanting to contribute further to his high anxiety level, I reluctantly suggested his project could be fully permitted within two years, maximum!

My reluctance stemmed from knowing the unpredictability of the City of Los Angeles permit process and from knowing the difficulties inherent in developing in the funky, anti-establishment coastal community of Venice.

Although there are peculiarities and unique aspects of every development permit struggle, there are common lessons in all. Analyzing Mr. Goulds’ efforts are instructive in that every bureaucratic hurdle and every community challenge was overcome because he knew intuitively that (1) he needed to do the right thing vis-à-vis the community and his neighbors; (2) he could not fight City Hall; and (3) he needed always to persevere and be flexible.

In summary, Mr. Goulds needed a zone change and plan amendment, a coastal development permit and a couple of minor yard variances. The new building was to be 7,900 square feet with a parking structure across North Venice Boulevard. Adjacent to Rebecca’s restaurant and the West Beach Cafe, the gallery was part of a small enclave of hip and trendy commercial establishments nestled among a handful of small apartment buildings just off the Venice boardwalk.

In the fall of 1986, Mr. Goulds hired Fred Fisher, one of Southern California’s hot new architects. A series of meetings were held with various community groups. In Venice it seems as though everyone is interested in and concerned with development issues so the meetings took several weeks. Concurrently, there were meetings with the immediate neighbors with several proposed modifications coming from all fronts.

Certainly meeting with neighbors is not a new or revolutionary idea. Most developers in today’s slow growth environment see the need to consult their neighbors. Mr. Goulds had an advantage in this process in that he was not a developer and considered himself a resident of the street having conducted business there for nearly fifteen years.

As a result of his familiarity with the street he knew which of the neighbors’ concerns had merit and which were marginal. Additionally, the neighbors’ interest in maintaining the low scale character of the street was consistent with his own thinking. It was determined that some concessions could be made up front but that the final determination of the reasonableness of the requests would be made in close contact with the Council office.

LA City Council President Pat Russell was the area representative when the original permits were filed in early 1987. By June she was voted out and Ruth Galanter, a controlled growth advocate, was in the driver’s seat. Shortly after her election an Interim Control Ordinance was adopted. The new gallery and parking structure violated five different aspects of the ICO. All five were absolutely essential to the continuing viability of the project.

Advertisement

Without a doubt, working with the Council office was the single most important aspect of securing the necessary permits for the gallery. Elected officials are extremely sensitive to the mood and temperament of their constituents. For that reason, in most districts, a developer cannot go straight to City Hall and “cut a deal.”

However, if a developer makes a good faith effort to create reasonable compromises on issues of concern to the neighbors, the council office can become the final arbitrator. Clearly this is not a position they like to be in. They would prefer that all differences be worked out before a position is taken or a vote cast.

After Galanter’s election we immediately set out to bring her staff up to speed on the project and on our efforts to meet the neighbors’ concerns. Eventually, Mr. Goulds made design changes to satisfy all the neighborhood issues yet they continued to oppose his efforts. By spending time with Galanter's staff, by continually updating them on meetings and negotiations with the neighbors, by always probing to gauge their interpretation of events, and by providing extra parking to a poorly parked beach community we secured a strong and unwavering commitment from Councilwoman Galanter. She supported hardship exemptions for all five conditions of the Venice ICO. This was particularly significant because it was her first major development in Venice. She knew her supporters would be watching. As it turned out, the gallery project and a few other local developments contributed to the recent creation of a small group of her former campaign supporters openly criticizing her and calling for a commercial building moratorium in Venice.

Although the importance of being sensitive to the needs of the council office cannot be underestimated, Mr. Goulds was really put to the test a number of times because of demands placed on him and his project that had absolutely nothing to do with his art gallery, his new building or the parking structure. Because of common land ownership of the new gallery with Rebecca’s restaurant and the West Beach Cafe, Mr. Goulds was required to solve trash problems, valet parking problems, and a host of other restaurant related concerns.

Driven by self-interest he tried to accommodate the neighbors, the council office and various hearing examiners on restaurant related issues. More than once he saw his dream to create a world class art gallery seriously threatened. Spending hours working with the restaurant operators, he solved nearly all of their operational problems.

On May 9, after two major public hearings, one appearance before the City Planning Commission, three presentations to the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, one BZA hearing and three separate appearances before the Los Angeles City Council, the LA Louver Gallery received its final permit from the State Coastal Commission.

Remember, every challenge can be an opportunity. One never knows what issue, which constituency, or what outside sequence of events may come to jeopardize your plans. But, keep a stiff upper lip and hang in there!

<

Advertisement

© 2022 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.