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LA development roundup: Times’ Sea Breeze corruption probe, fate of The Reef and more

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Real estate is huge business in the city, and developers are eager to cash in on a tight housing inventory and the seemingly insatiable desire of people who want to live here.

Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times published an investigation looking at how one particular developing project got the green light from the city to break ground, casting questions at whether corruption played a part in the approval process.

The project in question is a 352-unit, $72-million apartment complex project called Sea Breeze, which is currently being built in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood. 

“Lots of apartments get building permits, lots of apartments get building zoning changes, but this one was an outlier on a number of levels,” says David Zahniser, an LA Times reporter and a co-author of the investigation. “The Planning Department’s staffs actually opposed it. Another was that Mayor Eric Garcetti’s own planning commissioners unanimously opposed it. The neighborhood council across the street had actually sent a letter opposing it.”

Despite the strong opposition from different sides, the project got the city’s blessing. And that's what tipped Zahniser and his colleague Emily Alpert Reyes off to the fact that something might be amiss. Zahniser and Reyes went on to discover that a number of people connected to the developer behind Sea Breeze donated over $600,000 to local lawmakers -- including L.A. County Supervisor candidate Janice Hahn -- during the project's review process. More importantly, 11 of those donors told Zahniser and Reyes that they had never cut those checks.

"I am looking at these donors, and some of them looked odd to me. They’re folks who are working class and yet giving quite a big number of money. As we keep knocking on doors, my colleague Emily Alpert Reyes and I, we found some of them who said they don’t remember giving, or they denied giving," says Zahniser.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles City Council is scheduled tomorrow to vote on a billion-dollar luxury housing project, The Reef, that could change the face of South Los Angeles. 

At issue is how best to accommodate the needs of local South L.A. residents who could well be displaced once the project is built. One sticking point is how many affordable housing units The Reef should include in the estimated 1,500-unit development.

The developer of The Reef is not interested in having on-site affordable housing, despite pressure from the city's planning commission to do so.

“It’s a $1.3-billion project going up on the edge of the most overcrowded neighborhood in the country. And it was all about creating community and place-making with a lot of the language that was used around [the project],” says Sahra Sulaiman, an editor at Streets Blog Los Angeles who’s been following the development. “But what the commissioners had said outright to the developers, 'by saying that you were inviting the community in, but not allowing them to live on-site, you are essentially saying that it’s not for you.'”


David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times reporter who co-wrote this weekend’s investigation into the Sea Breeze project

Sahra Sulaiman, communities editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles, who covers South Los Angeles and has been following The Reef development. Her piece on the project is slated to come out later today