Caruso vs. Hackman: Questions over candidate’s stance on Television City development

Mayoral hopeful publicly denied opposing project, while his firm privately opposes it

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso and Hackman Capital Partners’ Zach Sokoloff (Getty, Capital Partners)
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso and Hackman Capital Partners’ Zach Sokoloff (Getty, Capital Partners)

At a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce event earlier this month, developer and mayoral candidate Rick Caruso was holding a coffee onstage when someone asked about mailers sent to residents urging them to oppose Hackman Capital Partners’ proposed Television City project in Fairfax.

Caruso nodded, as if to understand the flyers the individual was referencing, and took a sip of coffee.

“How do we reconcile these two Carusos that are either pro-studio development or possible anti-studio development?” the man in the audience asked.

“I am completely in support of the redevelopment of Television City,” Caruso answered. “Always have been.”

“What we have said to those developers,” Caruso added, using “we” to refer to his firm Caruso, “is that their traffic plan doesn’t work.”

While Caruso has publicly supported L.A.’s entertainment industry and the development of new studios, his firm has privately opposed the redevelopment of Television City, currently home to CBS on Beverly Boulevard, according to Zach Sokoloff at Hackman, who is spearheading the development and told TRD of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce event.

“I’m aware of the misalignment of businessperson Caruso’s private actions and public Caruso’s public statements,” Sokoloff said.

Neither Caruso, the company, nor the campaign responded to requests for comment.

Caruso’s company is financially supporting the Beverly Fairfax Community Alliance, an entity formed to “publicly raise and address significant concerns” with the Television City project, the alliance confirmed earlier this year to TRD.

Hackman plans to build a 1.8-million-square-foot development at Television City, consisting of soundtages, offices and ground-floor retail.

Caruso’s nextdoor shopping mall The Grove, through law firm Latham & Watkins, has submitted a 374-page comment on Hackman’s draft environmental review for the Television City project, arguing the review is “fatally flawed” and the project would have “significant impacts” on the community, according to a copy obtained by TRD.

At the chamber event, Caruso detailed how his only opposition to the project was traffic concerns.

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But, The Grove has a laundry list of concerns in its comment on the draft environmental review, including a “deficient” air quality analysis; a “fundamentally incomplete and inadequate” section on impacts to cultural resources; failing to properly analyze natural gas usage; failing to detail a comprehensive floor plan; and increased traffic congestion.

“It’s designed to gum us up in CEQA and delay the project,” Sokoloff said, referring to the California Environmental Quality Act. Developers often argue CEQA is utilized to delay projects, given citizens can sue planned real estate projects by challenging CEQA-mandated analyses.

No litigation over the project has been filed, according to Sokoloff, though he expects Caruso to “try and litigate the project,” which would delay construction and the opening of the soundstages.

Caruso, at the chamber event, said his firm asked Hackman to “redistribute the traffic” at the project, but the company “refused to do that.”

Sokoloff said Hackman spent almost three months negotiating with Caruso, but the latter “persisted in making unreasonable demands that would have rendered the studio infeasible.”

Hackman decided to proceed with publishing a draft environmental review — a key step in the CEQA process — after which Caruso, the firm, “unilaterally ended all negotiations.”

The project’s impact to traffic “would be less than significant,” a spokesperson for the L.A. City Planning Department said.

Caruso, who is facing a close mayoral election against Congresswoman Karen Bass on Nov. 8, has worked in recent months to distance himself from his firm, known for developing The Grove and Americana at Brand in Glendale, among other retail centers.

Hackman’s Chief Administrative Officer Heather Somaini contributed $1,500 to Karen Bass’ campaign in July, according to donation filings. No individual who has included Hackman Capital Partners as their employer has donated to Rick Caruso’s campaign.

At the event, Caruso said the new CEO of his firm, Corrine Verdery, has spent time with the executives to discuss the plan, adding he has stepped away from the company. Caruso has proposed to put his holdings into a blind trust if he’s elected as mayor.

“For someone who claims he was distancing himself between him and his company, he knows a lot about the project,” Sokoloff said.

Hackman will have to address all of the comments on the project, including The Grove’s, to produce a final environmental review.

“I have never opposed a project in my life,” Caruso said at the panel. “And I don’t oppose this one.”

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