The owner of the Television City studio is accusing developer Rick Caruso of “hypocrisy” for claiming to support the entertainment industry while opposing the $1.25 billion development of the studio, which is next door to Caruso’s The Grove shopping center.
Caruso is running for Los Angeles mayor in the Nov. 8 election. He has touted his support for bringing film and TV jobs to L.A. He has also vowed to make it harder for opponents of development projects to lodge “frivolous” objections under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
But on Sept. 13, The Grove filed a 374-page comment letter alleging a host of deficiencies in the CEQA analysis of the Television City project. The letter claimed that the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) was “fatally flawed” for many reasons, including an alleged failure to properly consult with Native American tribes; failure to consider noise impacts from TV production, including slamming stage doors and stage gunshots; failure to fully address the risk of a methane gas explosion or crane collapse during construction; misstating the distance from the project site to the Hollywood Fault; and failure to consider the health risks related to hauling soil during the Santa Ana winds.
Caruso has said that he doesn’t oppose redeveloping the studio, but is echoing the concerns of residents about the impact on traffic and parking conditions in an already congested area.
The Grove’s letter also raises concerns with the DEIR’s discussion of the site’s possible historical or archeological features. The DEIR does address the adjacent Gilmore Adobe, a historic site dating from 1852. But the Grove letter faults the document for failing to “consider if Native American labor was used to construct the original adobe building or if Native Americans were used as domestic help or ranch hands at the Adobe and adjacent lands.”
The Grove letter also cites a failure to mention La Brea Woman, a set of human remains excavated from the nearby tar pits in 1914; and failure to mention Guaspet, a Gabrielino/Tongva village a few miles away from the site that was abandoned sometime before 1820.
The letter further argues that two building additions on the existing studio facility — dating from 1969 and 1976 — may have historic significance because “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “All in the Family,” and “The Carol Burnett Show” were filmed at the studio during that period, and thus removing those additions would “impair the overall historic resource.” (The original 1952 studio has been declared a city historic monument, protecting it from demolition, but nothing built after 1963 is currently considered historically significant.)
The city must respond to each comment raised in opposition to the DEIR, which has the potential to prolong the certification process.
Television City, formerly CBS Television City, is the home of “The Price Is Right,” “The Young and the Restless” and “Real Time With Bill Maher,” among other shows.
Hackman Capital Partners bought the property from CBS in 2018. The company announced plans last year to add more than 1 million square feet of production and office space, increasing the number of soundstages from eight to at least 15. The company has cited an urgent shortage of production facilities in Los Angeles in pushing for approval of the project.
In an interview, Zach Sokoloff, senior vice president of Hackman Capital, blasted Caruso’s “hypocrisy,” and accused him of trying to “gum up” the project in CEQA. He noted that Caruso had lamented to Variety that Apple settled its entertainment industry operations in Culver City, and had said that as mayor he would personally lobby entertainment companies to locate in Los Angeles instead.
Sokoloff said that The Grove’s actions create “uncertainty” around the project and contribute to a climate that is hostile to business.
“Apple is our customer. Amazon is our customer. Netflix is our customer,” Sokoloff said. “We have worked with these companies and many other companies like them. Caruso’s actions are exactly why these companies don’t want to do business in L.A.”
The Grove and the A.F. Gilmore Co., owner of the Original Farmers Market, have funded the Beverly Fairfax Community Alliance, a group that opposes the Television City project. The alliance has sent text messages to neighbors warning that the project will “choke our streets with traffic and cause residents to pay higher rents.”
At an Oct. 7 candidate forum hosted by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Caruso said his primary objection is to the traffic impacts, especially along The Grove Drive.
“I have never opposed a project in my life and I don’t oppose this one,” Caruso said. “But I do oppose a traffic plan that is gonna really impact that residential neighborhood.”
Sokoloff argued that Caruso is spreading “misinformation” in the community. The city’s analysis found that the project will have a “less than significant” impact on vehicle miles traveled, which is how traffic congestion is now measured. He also said the analysis came from the same traffic consultant that has worked on Caruso’s projects.
“Candidate Caruso has acknowledged the urgent need to build new soundstages,” Sokoloff said. “Where are we supposed to build new soundstages if not on existing studio lots, that have the capacity to build those soundstages?”
Caruso’s spokesperson, Peter Ragone, said Monday that Caruso has been “focused on the mayor’s race and has not been involved in this issue.
“He supports building new studios, but we all have to be good neighbors,” Ragone said. “Unfortunately, the current redevelopment proposal would create significant problems for the community, including more traffic congestion and parking in residential neighborhoods.”
Homeowners who live in the area have also submitted some 400 letters raising concerns about the project.
“What they want is way too big,” said Danielle Peters, one of the neighborhood opponents. “The traffic is going to be an absolute disaster.”
Peters said the neighbors do not oppose any and all redevelopment of Television City, and said that she personally would like to see some housing built on the site.
“We’re cool with a project,” she said. “We don’t want something that is going to ruin the neighborhood, that is going to ruin the Farmers Market, and that is going to ruin The Grove.”
Rosalie Wayne, a member of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association, said that the project documents don’t adequately define the parameters of the expansion project.
“No one is opposed to there being a studio that is built and expanded. It’s just a matter of degree,” she said. “They’re looking for a blank check to build whatever they want. That doesn’t work for us.”
Caruso stepped down as CEO of his company in September. He has said he would put his real estate holdings in a “blind trust” if elected mayor. As the project moves forward, the key decision-maker will be the council member for the 5th District. Katy Yaroslavsky and Sam Yebri are competing to succeed Paul Koretz in that race.
In a recent interview with CityWatch, Yaroslavsky said that while she supports expanding the entertainment workforce at the site, the developer’s proposal should be seen as an “opening shot.”
“They can’t possibly think what they’re proposing will be approved, given the scale and neighborhood impacts,” she said.
At the Chamber event, Caruso said that if elected, he would try to broker a solution between Television City and the neighbors.
“As the mayor, I would step in the middle of the Television City thing and say, ‘Let’s find common ground here,’” Caruso said. “That’s how I built every one of my projects. I didn’t snap my fingers and The Grove popped up.”
But Sokoloff said he believes that The Grove’s opposition letter is likely setting the stage for a CEQA lawsuit to try to block the project in court.
“Almost assuredly that’s the next play in their playbook,” he said. “We want to strike a deal. We want to be a good neighbor. I sincerely hope the loggerheads at which we find ourselves can be reversed.”
(Pictured top: Hackman Capital Partners’ rendering of its proposed expansion of Television City)