By Jesica Ryzenberg
The First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation reach a settlement agreement. The lawsuit against real estate developer and former city planning commissioner David Aghaei will continue.
By continuing to utilize Zoom meetings, City Council avoids facing the righteous indignation of their slighted voters. This enables shenanigans and duplicity with regards to how they spend our money in addressing our affordable housing crisis. We see them, time and again, caving to special interests and the whims of Sacramento — rather than working for the citizens and encouraging fitting developments while maintaining West Hollywood’s unique charm.
There are many affordable housing developers in Southern California. Some are non-profits. One of the non-profits benefiting from subsidized development funds to build affordable housing projects throughout the metro area is the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC). This type development is appalling, as it leads to poor and sometimes unethical business decisions.
Such irresponsibility resulted in a lawsuit filed by the historically-preserved First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills in Norma Triangle against the West Hollywood Community Housing Corp. (WHCHC) and former City Planning Commission Chairman David Aghaei.
The backstory to this lawsuit starts in June of 2019 when David Aghaei, a developer with Oak Road Capital, bought two lots adjacent to and owned by the Church under the pretense of developing a luxury condo building. Verbally, Aghaei is alleged to have promised to reserve two units for the Church, and sell or lease the remainder out. However, the sale contract omitted that promise, and left it to the sole discretion of the new owner. In July of 2019, Aghaei flipped the property to the WHCHC for a $1.1 million profit, and the WHCHC then planned to build a seven story 100 percent affordable housing complex with 100 units on the approximately 17,000 foot lot with slightly more than one parking space for every four units. This project is known as the Wetherly Palms.
The settlement agreement shows the WHCHC’s deceitful business practices. It is a result of unfair real estate dealings that are to be remedied by paying approximately $600,000 to the First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills. The City Council should not be approving this endeavor, let alone use city funds/taxpayer dollars for such egregious behavior. This not only is wasteful spending, but it justifies others to engage in similar unscrupulous conduct.
As part of the settlement, the Church will get the originally promised two apartments and will have the option of subleasing the units at market rate for the next 99 years. It leaves one wondering, how is this even 100 percent affordable housing?
While the original lawsuit alleged that the Church should have 18 spaces, the settlement agreement is still insufficient for a building of that size. It designates two parking spaces for the pastor’s residence, one for the additional unit, two fully dedicated parking spaces specifically for the other persons at the Church and 16 timed spaces for 36 hours a week. (Exhibit A, subsection 1.1.2, “Settlement Agreement”).
The WHCHC pretends to offer a “reasonable” parking solution, in a small neighborhood, which will exacerbate traffic, density, and negatively impact the congregants, and ultimately the neighbors. How are the congregants going to park and be able to get residents to move their cars?
Congregants and residents will be engaged in a game of “musical parking spaces” until the agreement is up for renegotiation in two years, and every two years thereafter. Clearly, the WHCHC is taking advantage of the Church again, as this solution is untenable.
The Wetherly Palms project has been dubious from the start, and is tainted with lies and fraud. Failure to be vigilant and defend our neighborhoods from unwise behavior will set a catastrophic precedent for future projects. Based on this settlement agreement and the continuing lawsuit against Aghaei, City Council must steer clear of such questionable proposals and not use taxpayers’ money or the city’s trust to fund this project.
Thanks to Assembly Bill 2345 (AB 2345), which was approved by Gov. Newsom in September 2020, affordable housing developers get automatic concessions from the city and state, including waiving certain studies that for-profit builders and homeowners alike, are required to obtain. The WHCHC should be mandated to conduct an environmental impact report (EIR) for Wetherly Palms, and city officials must demand a proper EIR for such a large scale project.
Due to the proposed magnitude, older nearby buildings, including the 100-year-old Church, must be protected to prevent structural damage. There are serious safety concerns resulting from building on a hill at the terminus of the Hollywood Fault, and City Council must look after the well-being of existing and future residents of West Hollywood.
Whenever these issues are brought up at virtual City Council meetings, the council simply responds by emphasizing that they are complying with AB 2345. This should have been lobbied against by the City Council from the start, since West Hollywood has an A+ rating and/or they should designate specific areas within the city that are more suitable for such large-scale projects. They do not belong in small dense residential neighborhoods.
Ironically, the WHCHC is proposing a massive building in a small neighborhood, the exact opposite of their original mission statement:
“Each building is unique, designed to seamlessly fit within the community. Our buildings are environmentally sensitive and architecturally distinguished in order to reflect and complement their surrounding neighborhoods.”
The above statement is not only misleading, but a flat out lie. The WHCHC did very little community outreach and as reflected on the recent lawsuit and settlement, it’s clear they want to milk a big profit, on top of all the perks and concessions they’d receive from the city and Sacramento.
I understand the immediate need for affordable housing in West Hollywood and support new projects that are transparent from the start and preserve the integrity of our neighborhoods. A gargantuan (84,000 square feet packed onto a 17,000 square foot lot), seven story, 100-unit housing complex in an already dense area, combined with bad faith dealings and a complete lack of integrity, is simply preposterous and fiscally irresponsible. Are these the types of projects we want our elected officials to fund and support?
Publishers Note: After reviewing the pleadings the $600,000 payment was not a settlement but was the balance to be paid upon execution of specified conditions in the original purchase contract. It should also be noted that David Aghaei was a ‘former’ planning commissioner at the time he purchased the land.