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Did the developer of a controversial apartment project buy the city’s support?

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An LA Times investigation reveals a suspicious trail of money

There’s something fishy in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood, and it’s not just the harbor itself (which is actually a few miles away). As an Los Angeles Times investigation reveals, it’s a long list of campaign contributions to city officials totaling more than $600,000—all from people connected in some way to the developer of a controversial apartment project in the area.

The development, currently under construction, is called Sea Breeze and will bring 352 one and two-bedroom units to an area that is otherwise almost entirely industrial. The building’s incongruous location is one reason the Planning Commission unanimously opposed the project in 2014. A council vote and a rare mayoral prerogative from Mayor Eric Garcetti, however, gave the project all the support it needed to continue.

Quite coincidentally, the Times reports, flurries of political donations to officials, including Garcetti, corresponded with important stages of the project’s approval process.

The campaign contributions were made by a wide-ranging group of individuals spread across Los Angeles. When interviewed by Times reporters, several donors denied having made contributions, could not remember having donated, or in one case, said that they had later been paid back.

The investigation found dozens of donors with some connection to Sea Breeze developer Samuel Leung—though some were as distant as the brother-in-law of a contractor who has worked on some of Leung’s projects.

These suspicious contributions are sure to feed the flames of anti-development activism. Backers of a controversial March ballot measure that would put a citywide two-year moratorium on most major construction projects have long argued that the planning system is too easily manipulated by deep-pocketed developers.

In the meantime, check out the full story here. It’s a real doozy.