A hotly divided Hawthorne City Council traded accusations of corruption, conflict and collusion Tuesday night before approving a dense apartment building that will share a corner with SpaceX, an Amazon delivery hub and other industry, despite strong opposition from those companies.
The council voted 3-2 to allow Blackwood Real Estate to erect 230 small apartments on Crenshaw Boulevard at Jack Northrop Avenue. The six-story project will occupy a rectangular 2.5-acre lot that will also include a restaurant and walking paths.
The so-called “Green Line” development, which needed waivers from the city because it violates several zoning restrictions, was sold as a modern, transit-oriented project by virtue of its location one-half mile from a Green Line station.
City Council supporters — Angie English, Haidar Awad and Olivia Valentine — also refused to allow a second public comment period to hear from representatives from Amazon, SpaceX and the railroad that runs directly behind the property who wanted to speak in opposition.
Mayor Alex Vargas and Councilman Nilo Michelin strongly opposed the development, and the city’s planning director raised several concerns about its incompatibility with city land uses. The project provides fewer parking spaces than the city normally requires, and apartments are smaller than Municipal Code allows. Residents there also will be subject to noise and emissions from the 24-hour industrial operations next to them.
“For me, change is not more apartments. It’s more aerospace companies,” Michelin said. “I was not elected to passively defend developers. We don’t need more apartments.”
Before the vote, council members accused one another of corruption.
Vargas said English’s proposal in September to reduce the apartment density from 274 units to 230 units was suspicious.
“Why are some council members entering into unilateral negotiations with the developer?” Vargas said. “We were prohibited from talking to the developer. Who chose that 230 number? Why not 150? Why not 80?”
English shot back: “Since (Vargas) put it out there, there’s a lot to be said. There’s also been collusion on his part. I want to know from the planning director how many times the mayor has been in contact with you. The bull has to stop.”
English also accused the nonprofit Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. of unethical behavior for opposing the deal.
“There’s a conflict with LAEDC and SpaceX,” she said. “SpaceX is a member of LAEDC, so of course they would be here to benefit SpaceX. They’re colluding to make efforts to trash this project.”
Valentine also said she believes it’s “very suspicious” that SpaceX and the LAEDC were in opposition because “this (apartment building) will make the area attractive for commercial development.”
Lilian Haney, community relations manager at SpaceX, asked the council to reopen a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, saying the rocket maker is concerned about the safety of homes so close to its headquarters.
“We do not think this project proposed is correct for this space,” Haney said.
Judy Kruger, a director at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said the city should declare the area an aerospace park rather than building housing in an industrial area.
“Industrial land is employment land, and a critical factor in growing an industry such as aerospace,” Kruger said. “Jobs in industrial parks support high-paying jobs. Industrial land availability rates around the region are only at 1 or 2 percent and we don’t need to lose any more industrial property.”
But supporters said Blackwood’s project is the kind of modern, forward-thinking development that Hawthorne needs.
Kyle Orlemann, vice chairwoman of the city’s veterans affairs commission, said she would like to move to a place like the Green Line project when she gets older.
“The city is changing and, yes, we have a lot of rental units here,” Orlemann said. However, we have a lot of traffic. The city is going to be a model where people live near where they work. (Renters there) can certainly walk to Lowe’s and that development and take cars off the street. Using public transportation is the way of the future.”
Dense apartment buildings are a particularly sore issue in the city because, in the 1970s and ’80s, developers concentrated such projects in the crime-ridden Moneta Gardens neighborhood.
“We do have a lot of apartments,” said Alex Monteiro, a principal of Moneta Gardens Improvement Inc. “We have 70 percent renters. We need more homes and condominiums for sale, not for rent.”
Resident Andrea Santana accused Awad of having a conflict of interest because his father, who operates a used-car dealership and financing business, owns undeveloped land in the city. She has previously brought up concerns about whether the Blackwood deal will open the door to similar lucrative deals involving dense apartment buildings.
Awad responded that he will make his personal finances public.
“I am clean,” Awad said. “When you’re clean, you have no fear of what’s in the shadows.”