An embattled Jose Huizar revives Pershing Square redesign

Council member announces $25 million in city money earmarked for initial construction

Jose Huizar gave new details Monday on Pershing Square redesign (Credit: Getty Images and Wikipedia)
Jose Huizar gave new details Monday on Pershing Square redesign (Credit: Getty Images and Wikipedia)

Jose Huizar is back in the public eye, and so is his six-year-old plan to redesign the historic downtown Pershing Square park.

The embattled Los Angeles City Council member, whose office the FBI raided in late 2018 in a still unresolved pay-to-play probe, announced at a press conference Monday that $25 million – all in developer fees collected by the city Department of Parks and Recreation – will go toward the first phases of revamping a 154-year-old park that today stands surrounded by commercial skyscrapers.

Huizar says the redesign will create a “radical openness,” and he hopes a total of $110 million in developer fees can, eventually, go to realizing his vision of a Pershing Square park with restaurants, performance space, more trees, and no more concrete barriers.

There has not been much Pershing Square redesign news since 2016 when a nonprofit Huizar created called Pershing Square Renew held a park redesign competition, and selected France-headquartered Firm Agence Ter as its winner. Since then, the nonprofit quietly disbanded, and even Agence Ter wondered if the city still had any interest in a park they were picked to reimagine.

Huizar’s announcement Monday served as an admission that he could not find federal, state or private monies for the park, meaning a complete reliance on fees paid by developers.

“The idea was originally to apply for federal grants, state grants and private funding, but there was so much ambiguity in the grant process and raising money from the private sector, that we decided we can do this by public money,” Huizar said in an interview after the press conference.

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The majority of said public money falls under the Quimby Act, a levy Huizar orchestrated the significant expansion of in 2016. Per the law, developers pay the city thousands of dollars by residential unit if the developer did not build green space to accompany the unit.

“The $25 million is there and it’s been authorized to spend on the park,” Huizar said. Huizar acknowledged, though, that the next $85 million is not banked, and may never be as it is, “based upon future political leadership.”

The council member, however, voiced optimism the money would come, because, “There is a strong enough downtown constituency watching this park.”

Park redesign construction will begin in “late 2020,” Huizar said with initial plans to increase shade by planting more trees as well as construction of a glass elevator connecting the park to an underground garage. Huizar hopes to complete construction from the earmarked $25 million by 2022. No timetable has been identified for full project completion.

Huizar has kept an arguably low profile since federal agents stormed into his office in November 2018 amid a probe into developers’ coziness with city hall. Companies that have since been served warrants in the probe are largely China-headquartered firms including Shenzhen New World Group.

After the raid, Huizar was stripped of his powerful position of Planning and Land Use Management committee chair by then-Council President Herb Wesson. Fifteen months since the raid neither Huizar, his staff members, or other city officials have been charged with a crime.