WHO THREW DANNY UNDER THE TRAIN? (link): West Hollywood, California (February 7, 2008) – While West Hollywood is drowning in over development, beleaguered tenants have learned not expect any help from City Hall in protecting their homes from developers; indeed the public servants at West Hollywood City Hall seem to throw tenants a rock when they need a lifesaver.
For a City that was founded on the notion of protecting tenants and keeping them in their homes, our current City leadership views tenants who oppose the demolition of their rent controlled units as subversive.
Indeed many of the tenants who have had the courage to stand up against developers have found themselves demonized by a City Council who seems to have forgotten why we incorporated as a City in the first place.
So it goes with the residents at Valentino Court at 1342-46 Hayworth. Trying to protect their charming 1920′s Spanish revival building from demolition has forced them to fight a two front war.
Not only must they take on the well heeled developer and his politically connected consultants, they have to fight the folks at City Hall, who are anxious to expand the City’s tax base by supporting the construction of out of scale, luxury housing.
At the City Council meeting of January 22nd, City bureaucrats were caught lying in their efforts to thwart the State from considering the nomination of Valentino Court to the National Register of Historic Places.
The bizarre tale of the City’s letter to the State Office of Historic Preservation signed by Chair of the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission, Danny Castro, is a sad commentary of betrayal at City Hall.
In response to nomination of Valentino Court by the buildings tenants, the City was required to send the State Office of Historic Preservation a form responding a simple question: Did the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission considered declaring Valentino Court a historic landmark? A simple question, which warranted a simple response.
On the State Office’s form, The City’s Planning staff checked the box that the City’s Historic Preservation Commission had considered the issue if the building was culturally significant.
The City submitted a cover letter under the signature of Danny Castro, Chair of the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission, (HPC), that clearly inferred that the Commission had in fact weighed in on that sensitive issue. The letter falsely implied that the Commission had in fact considered the issue and voted against recommending the property for designation.
Unfortunately none of this was true. More importantly, everyone involved knew it was not true; the Historic Preservation Commission was never even allowed to vote on that issue.
The problem was that the City had prevented it’s Cultural Heritage Commission from considering the issue on the merits. The building came before the Historic Preservation Commission only to comment on a draft Environmental Impact Report, (DEIR), that was later approved by the Planning Commission.
Due to the City’s restrictive policies on allowing the application for a historic nomination, the nomination by the Valentino Court tenants was deemed untimely so the issue of whether or not the building should be considered historic was declared moot.
No City body, including the Historic Preservation Commission, could consider the issue under the City’s existing rules.
Rather than simply tell the truth, the Staff checked the box on the State’s form letter that read that the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission had reviewed the building and denied recommending it for historic designation.
After checking that box, the form requested that the City to set forth the Commission’s reasons for it’s decision. Rather than tell the State the truth – that the Commission never deliberated on this issue – the City simply attached a copy of the minutes of the meeting.
It seemed pretty obvious that the City was hoping that no one at the State Office would bother to read the minutes, which clearly reflect that there was no hearing on the merits.
Despite the City’s failure to support the nomination, the State Office of Historic Preservation agreed with the preservationists and sent a letter to the State Historic Resources Commission recommending the nomination of Valentino Court to the National Register of Historic Places.
The State then provided a copy of the letter signed by Castro and the attached form to the Valentino tenants. If the State had not sent this letter to the residents, the issue would have never come to light.
Indeed, when the City Council was deliberating on the issue on January 22nd, the letter was conspicuously absent form the City Council agenda packet. The Valentino Court supporters made the letter public at the City Council meeting.
At this point staff should have just admitted it’s mistake and let it go. But they decided to lie again.
Instead of fessing up, staff indicated that it prepared the letter and then had it reviewed by the Commission Chair, Danny Castro. Staff then claimed Castro “made modifications and amendments” to the letter they prepared.
The staff inferred, and the City Attorney backed them up, that the fact that the letter to the State Office of Historic Preservation was misleading and inaccurate was due to the “modifications and amendments” of Mr. Castro.
I was at the City Council meeting that night and it was pretty clear to me that staff was throwing Castro under the train. Had Castro made “modifications and amendments” to the letter to the State, those changes would have to have been quite extensive in order to make the letter that evasive.
Indeed it is unlikely that any civilian volunteer would make any substantive changes in a letter prepared by Staff. Furthermore if Castro had in fact changed the letter and made it inaccurate, it was staff who had the legal responsibility to confront Castro and refuse to allow him to make changes that would have represented a substantial departure form the original letter.
Why would staff allow Castro to send out an inaccurate letter?
It is pretty clear to me that staff had drafted the letter and that Castro had not made any substantive changes. That was confirmed a week later when Danny Castro, at the Historic Preservation Commission, spoke to the issue and emphatically stated that he made NO CHANGES to the letter.
He simply signed it as staff had prepared it. Castro apologized to the community and said that, in the future, he would never sign any official document without carefully reading it.
He admitted that the letter, was, at best, confusing.
Frankly it took a lot of courage for Castro to state that staff was lying. While some members of the community were demanding his resignation, it is clear that Castro was being used as a scapegoat.
The only question I have for Castro is why he would remain on a Commission when the City had so little regard for his character and reputation. Castro should have at least demanded an apology from the City for staff’s ill treatment of his personal integrity.
The larger question is why is staff purposely taking the side of the developer? Who at City Hall is giving Planning staff direction?
It seems pretty clear that someone at City Hall is making decisions that should be made by the City Council in public session. What happened to the concept of making City policies in the light of day?
The most obvious evidence of City Hall corruption is that fact that none of the City Council members demanded any investigation into how this situation occurred.
There was some concern raised about “the process”, but none of the Council members apparently wanted to know who was actually responsible for writing the letter.
Obviously there was someone at City Hall who did not want Valentino Court to obtain this designation. None of the Council members asked any hard questions on that issue. We know that the Council has pretty much been bought by developers but they could at least put on a pretense of outrage.
Instead it’s business as usual at City Hall.
To their credit, at least two Council members, John Duran and Jeff Prang, expressed that they might vote to preserve the property based on the State’s decision, providing the cover for the Council to postpone it’s decision until after the State had an opportunity to review the matter.
As Americans were have come to expect lies coming out of Washington D.C. But West Hollywood prides itself on being a progressive community that elects allegedly thoughtful officials of unquestioned integrity.
Unfortunately lying has become the norm at West Hollywood City Hall.
These are sad days for West Hollywood. We can’t trust the team at City Hall any more than we can trust the Bush/Cheney team in D.C.
Mod: If you would like to read more about this matter, the two other WeHo News articles are called "Valentino Letter To State Causes Concerns" (link) and "Urban Fabric: More Chicanery" (link). For the record, Danny remained the Chair of that Committee, and continues in that role (link) ... Danny Castro is leaving Sierra Madre for a new job up north in Sausalito this October. He leaves behind here a record that can at best be described as uneven. While the job he did with the Canyon Zone Committee was commendable, there is also the matter of the controversial Camillo Road project. You have to wonder if he read the documents before signing that one as well.