Entities associated with developer Rick Caruso — including his companies, his charitable organization, his employees and his family — have donated more than $476,000 to city officials in the last five years, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A nonprofit set up by Mayor Eric Garcetti received $125,000 from Caruso’s charitable foundation, according to contribution reports reviewed by the Times. Caruso, through his companies, also gave $200,000 to Measure M, the popular Garcetti-backed sales tax that will raise funds for traffic and public transit improvements.
Opponents of Caruso’s proposed 333 La Cienega project in Beverly Grove worry that donations could sway the Los Angeles City Council’s vote to approve or reject the project. The 45-foot development — which would have a grocery store as well as a nearly 7,000-square-foot plaza with a fountain — would be twice as tall as the Beverly Center next door.
But Caruso, who once considered a run for L.A. mayor, defended his political contributions as his way of showing love to the City of Angeles. His more recent donations were aimed at helping the city to address homelessness and improve transit.
“We love Los Angeles, as corny as it may sound, and making Los Angeles a more livable city,” he told the Times.
Garcetti told the Times that the city’s development decisions are “absolutely separate” from campaign contributions.
“Projects should be assessed on their merits and nothing else,” he said.
Experts say large donations are par for the course due to L.A.’s outdated zoning code. Big donations are the symptom of a strenuous planning process in which zoning changes are not unusual, Michael Manville, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA, told the Times.
“If you have a system that relies so heavily on [those changes] to get things built, then you are going to get lots of campaign contributions,” Manville said.
Caruso’s Beverly Grove project has already been unanimously approved by the City Planning Commission as well as the Mid-City West Community Council. City Council is slated to vote on the La Cienega project in January. [LAT] — Cathaleen Chen