Coalition Review: Koretz Action to Overturn Variance Denial

Issue(s)

  • Does Paul Koretz’ action to intervene on a land use approval which will benefit campaign donors represent actual impropriety or an appearance of impropriety?

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Coalition Review: Koretz Action To Overturn Variance Denial

Coalition Conclusion

Coalition leadership believes that this Koretz intervention not only reflects poor judgment but also represents actual impropriety or at least a strong appearance of impropriety.

Response from Paul Koretz

Councilmember Koretz was contacted for a response to this issue of concern, but he ignored this request. The Coalition did not receive any response from Councilmember Koretz.

Issue

Paul Koretz is seeking to overturn a decision by the West L.A. Area Planning Commission that denied a variance for nine donor recognition signs which are inconsistent with current law.  Six of the signs are in an R1 residential zone.  Paul Koretz has received $22,750 over time from people affiliated with the facility of which $14,900 is from donors whose names would appear on the disputed donor signs.

Background

The requested zone variance has been the subject of FOUR very long and comprehensive hearings, two held by the zoning administrator (ZA) and two held by the West L.A. Area Planning Commission (APC). Hundreds of pages of documents were submitted by both sides to, and carefully reviewed by, the ZA and APC, concluding in the APC’s unanimous vote to DENY the zone variance. The variance was requested to install nine large exterior signs – – which YULA representatives have acknowledged are primarily “donor recognition signs” – – on campus structures.  The signs don’t comply with the size limitations and design requirements of the City’s zoning and signage regulations.

Process

For alleged impropriety or appearance of impropriety, the Coalition:

  • Assesses the action in the context of determining actual impropriety or the appearance of impropriety.

  • Assesses the action in the context of the office the candidate is seeking.

  • Evaluates previous actions.

Discussion

The Zoning Administrator and Area Planning Commission both found that there is simply no legal basis for the variance sought. The City Charter (Sec. 562) and LAMC (Sec. 12.27) require that an applicant for a zone variance satisfy all five of the requirements for the grant of a variance. The ZA concluded that YULA’s application failed to meet ANY of the five requirements, and the APC upheld the ZA’s determination. In particular, the President of the APC noted that the requirements for a zone variance “set a very high bar” to meet.

The Commissioners all noted that YULA could have all the signs it needs, without a variance, if it modifies the sign design to reduce the size, moves the 275 square foot “donor wall” sign indoors (or instead displays donors’ names in decorative floor tiles) and makes other minor changes. In short, all the Commissioners recognized that YULA’s insistence on a particular sign size and design/style and its refusal to comply with the City’s sign regulations created a self-imposed hardship – – exactly the situation for which City Charter Sec. 562 and LAMC Sec. 12.27.D. expressly authorize the Zoning Administrator to deny a variance.

We note that Paul Koretz has personally attended the Area Planning Commission on only one occasion – this one – while he is in the middle of a tough campaign for City Controller. 

Absent any legal basis for the requested action and unanimous action by the APC, we can only conclude that Koretz’ action is based on his desire to cater to a constituency he sees as crucial for his election – at the expense of the law and the horrible precedent it will set. 

We also conclude that Koretz’ action is influenced by the $22,750 Koretz has received over time from people who are affiliated with the facility –  of which $14,900 was from donors whose names will appear on the disputed donor sign. We do not know what, if anything, will be contributed if Koretz is successful.

We are also disturbed by the apparent lack of transparency.  According to a resident near the property, opponents of the zone variance didn’t receive any notice of Koretz’ effort to overturn the APC action or of the City Council meeting at which such motion was approved – – so there was no opportunity to oppose it.  The Koretz Motion is set for review at the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee meeting on May 17, 2022.

(Update: The PLUM Meeting WAS set for May 17 but was abruptly canceled on only one hour’s notice)

Past Similar Actions

Serious questions were raised by a previous and similar Koretz action which sought to grant a campaign contributor a variance to build a taller personal residence.  That contributor was Arman Gabay, who recently agreed to plead guilty on bribery charges.

The US Attorneys discussed “Public Official #3” in a court filing.  That document states that this same developer “…took care of Public Official 3, who Performed Numerous Official Acts to Benefit Defendant.”  The filing goes on to say that [the developer] agreed to give a $10,000 campaign contribution.  Shortly after defendant agreed to give the donation, Public Official 3 called defendant with good news about the construction project for defendant’s personal residence.  The filed document can be found in this article.  The personal residence was in Bel-Air in Koretz’ district.

While we do not know who “public official #3” is, we note that Shawn Bayliss, Koretz’ planning deputy, received $10,000 from this same developer after the developer won a special exemption to build his taller personal residence.  That exemption occurred after Koretz intervened on behalf of the developer by using the same process he is using to overturn the denial of the donor signs.

According to the LA Times article on the Gabay matter: “Prosecutors said they concluded after hearing Gabay’s conversations that he “was likely giving bribes and/or other benefits” to that official or a third party in exchange for “official acts.”

In addition to the contributions received by Koretz planning deputy Shawn Bayliss, other Koretz staffers raised money from Gabay and related entities.  A sample is shown below.

The developer variance was opposed by the community.  In addition, the action taken on for this developer was questioned by the Daily News.  The LATimes also ran an article which read: “City Council’s political trump card raises abuse of power accusations.

Mitigating factors:  We do not see any mitigating factors here.  Proposing variances that are unsupported by the law is never a good idea.  Doing it for the benefit of long-time donors presents at the very least poor judgment and a strong appearance of impropriety and at worst, the pay-for-play that is plaguing L.A. politics. 

We also believe this action to be more serious given the office Koretz is seeking – that of City Controller.  A City Controller needs to be aware of the law and then follow it.  A City Controller’s actions must be above reproach, avoiding all actual and appearances of impropriety.  Koretz’ actions fail this important test.

We hope Koretz does the right thing, reverses course and abandons this unfortunate effort.  This was a wholly-preventable self-inflicted wound.

This analysis used text and data from Susan Gans’ Citywatch article.

This analysis should in no way be interpreted as support of or opposition to a particular candidate.