Landlord donation in LA City Council race prompts debate

Douglas Emmett makes $400K contribution while fighting city over fire sprinkler regulations

Los Angeles city council candidates Traci Park & Erin Darling; Barrington Plaza at 11740 Wilshire Blvd. (Facebook, Douglas Emmett Apartments, Getty)
Los Angeles city council candidates Traci Park & Erin Darling; Barrington Plaza at 11740 Wilshire Blvd. (Facebook, Douglas Emmett Apartments, Getty)


A Los Angeles City Council race for a Westside seat has been inflamed by a $400,000 campaign contribution from a landlord wrestling with the city over fire sprinklers.

Attorneys Erin Darling and Traci Park are battling for the seat occupied by District 11 Councilman Mike Bonin, who is stepping down, the Los Angeles Times reported. Now Park has taken heat for large contributions from property owners.

Park has raised more than three times as much as Darling for her campaign, plus $1.4 million from an independent expenditure committee funded by a union for rank-and-file police.

She also received $700,000 from two large real estate corporations. Among them is a $400,000 donation by Douglas Emmett, a publicly traded company based in Santa Monica.

Douglas Emmett, whose Barrington Plaza apartments in Brentwood have suffered deadly and life-threatening fires twice in the last nine years, is embroiled in a long-standing debate with the city over the installation of fire safety sprinklers.

“There are a lot of corporate landlords and corporate developers supporting her,” Darling told the Times. “So you wonder, what is she telling these folks behind closed doors, to prompt them giving that much money?

“What is she doing in return for that investment?”

Park says that she can’t be bought by campaign donations. If she is elected, she said she will treat all of her constituents alike, regardless of whether they supported her or sided with her opponent.

The candidate believes she has drawn support from independent donors, along with many voters, because she represents a stark departure from the progressive incumbent Bonin.

“Everyone will have full access to me and a seat at my table,” Park said. “I am willing to lead by establishing consensus and common ground. And that includes every constituent in this district.”

Darling finished first in the June primary with nearly 35 percent of the vote. Park came in second with 29 percent. Voters will decide who fills Bonin’s seat in November.

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Whoever succeeds Bonin will face the issue of fire safety rules in residential highrises.

At least three such complexes in the 11th District don’t have fire sprinklers. They’re among the 55 residential highrises in Los Angeles built between 1943 and 1974, with nearly 9,300 units exempted from laws requiring sprinklers.

The city has tried and failed to close the loophole and force the installation of sprinklers and safety devices such as pressurized stairwells that keep out smoke.

In 2013, one of the three towers at the Barrington Plaza caught fire, displacing 125 residents.

Fire broke out again in the same 25-story, Tower A highrise in 2020. A 19-year-old man died and 13 people were injured, including a 3-month-old baby and two firefighters. Eight floors in the building remain vacant.

An executive from Douglas Emmett met with Bonin last year to cut a deal that would make installing the fire sprinklers feasible. The firm told city officials the upgrade would cost more than $150 million. It now says they’ll cost more than $250 million, according to an email to the Times.

The disagreement centers on the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance and a plan it imposes on landlords to help tenants relocate during major construction projects, and a “right of return” that allows them to move back afterward.

Douglas Emmett said the tenant habitability plan would be unworkable for the 712-unit complex, offering renters an extended period for appeals and lawsuits. It said it wouldn’t pencil out. Instead, it offered alternative proposals to protect tenants, including payments for those who voluntarily move out of buildings.

Bonin brought Larry Gross, a tenants’ rights advocate, into the discussions with the landlord. Both Gross and Bonin accused Douglas Emmett of pushing a plan that would permanently move renters out for the fire safety work, allowing rents to be increased to market rates.

Douglas Emmett rejected the accusation, citing an inability by the owners of 55 highrises to make fire safety improvements as proof city officials have imposed unreasonable regulations.

— Dana Bartholomew

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