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Opponents of clock-blocking tower hire anti-density attorney Robert Silverstein

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The big gun

Rendering of the Alexan in front of the Eastern Columbia building
Rendering of the future view looking north on Hill Street if The Alexan is built
Courtesy of Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council

The battle over a tower proposed right next to the Eastern Columbia Lofts, the majestic turquoise Art Deco building in Downtown Los Angeles, is heating up, and the tower’s opponents have an ace up their sleeve: Robert Silverstein, the Pasadena attorney best known for bringing construction on the East Hollywood Target to a halt.

Silverstein is representing a group of Downtown residents in their appeal of the city planning department’s approval of the tower. Called the Alexan, it would rise 27 stories from a parking lot at the corner of 9th and Hill. That’s tall enough to block views of the Eastern Columbia’s iconic clock tower, and opponents, who have organized under the name Society for the Preservation of Downtown Los Angeles, say the new structure just doesn’t jive with the neighborhood’s character.

Many of its members live in the Eastern Columbia building. The group’s leaders have asked condo owners there to pitch in $1,000 each to pay for Silverstein’s fees. The Los Angeles Times has said Silverstein is known for doing some of his work pro bono, and Bloomberg has reported that "community groups usually cover Silverstein’s initial fees with money raised at bake sales and benefit dinners." But for the Eastern Columbia condo owners who can’t afford $1,000, SP-DTLA is allowing monthly payment plans.

In appealing the project, they’re trying to make the case that the city should have done an Environmental Impact Report, which would assess the development’s impacts on views, traffic, and the like. The city's Central Area Planning Commission (not the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, as previously reported) will hear the appeal Oct. 25.

That hearing almost didn’t happen, because city staffers didn’t schedule it within the required time frame. Even after the scheduling flop, developer Texas-based Trammell Crow Residential could have allowed the hearing to proceed anyway, but, unsurprisingly, chose not to.

Alexan representatives have said they’ve already tried to appease neighbors by tweaking the design. Downtown blogger Brigham Yen is helping rally support for the project ahead of the hearing.

"NIMBYs in DTLA must be stopped as they would set a dangerous precedent for blocking future high-rise projects that make Downtown LA more dense, vibrant, and walkable," Yen wrote on Facebook, via his page Downtown Rising.

The hearing was ultimately scheduled after Silverstein threatened to sue.

"If not stopped, the Alexan building would be another in a parade of mega-monstrosities marching across Los Angeles ... The project embodies so much of the corruption in the L.A. development process that allows deep-pocketed developers to wield undue influence. The process is grossly rigged against the public. That is what we are fighting," Silverstein said in statement provided by SP-DTLA spokesman Andrew Rice.

It sounds like Silverstein is earning those attorney fees.

This rendering shows elevations of existing and proposed elevations of towers along Hill Street.
courtesy of Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council