Berggruen Development Sacrifices Last Great LA Open Space And The NYT Likes It

Berggruen Development Sacrifices Last Great LA Open Space And The NYT Likes It

By Maria Fotopoulos

The New York Times has a history of journalistic infractions. Too-cozy relations with government operativesinaccurate reporting and outright plagiarism and fake stories. More recently, there’s been the unhinged writing of columnist Paul Krugman, the embrace of “Wokesters” and the meltdown of the commentary section, with resultant resignation of the publication’s opinion page editor.

With such a rich history of compromised content, it’s unsurprising that “the newspaper of record” would run a pure puff piece on real estate and investment mogul Nicolas Berggruen (net worth: $2.9 billion). The story’s fawning author, Michael Steinberger, who also manages to make himself part of the story, skirts the real story: A billionaire’s push for a vanity project that would sacrifice the last great open space in Los Angeles.

In opposition to the local community, Berggruen plans to plop a George Jetson-looking complex atop a Southern California mountain on a 447-acre holding that is home to rich flora and fauna, and offers respite to Los Angelenos via hard-won open space and public hiking trails. In the more than 3,500-word Times article, Steinberger gave only one line to the controversy: Berggruen “has yet to break ground on the project, which has drawn resistance from nearby residents.”

Architect’s rendering of Berggruen’s proposed SoCal project

Now based in Los Angeles, the Paris-born Berggruen is establishing himself as a philosopher, thinker and benefactor – the gushing Steinberger writes that Nic has been called a “latter-day Medici.” The physical manifestation of the “Philosopher King” and formerly “Homeless Billionaire,” as the Times headed the Steinberger article, is the Berggruen Institute. Created in 2010 with $100 million “to develop foundational ideas about how to reshape political and social institutions,” the Institute currently offices in Downtown Los Angeles in the iconic Bradbury Building.

In 2014, Berggruen purchased property in Los Angeles west of the 405 freeway and north of the Getty Center for $45 million (the NYT piece stated $15 million) to build his mountaintop retreat, which Town & Country described as “devoted to sheltering the world’s elite thinkers in a peaceful yet intellectually fervid sanctuary for reflection and dialogue.” There also are plans for Berggruen’s private quarters. Prior land owner and developer Castle & Cooke had been in a long, litigious battle over the 447 acres with various stakeholders, including area residents, the Canyon Back AllianceMountaingate Open Space Maintenance Association (MOSMA) and others. The end result in 2006 was zoning that allowed for 28 individual homes and unrestricted trail access – in other words, not a development such as what Berggruen desires.

Berggruen’s project “is blatantly illegal and cannot be built under existing law,” wrote the Sierra Club’s Santa Monica Taskforce in a seven-page January 2021 letter to the planning department for Los Angeles and to City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the disputed area.

Of the 447 acres, the Sierra Club letter outlines that 424 acres of open space and two historic trails are protected from development through conservation easements held by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a local public agency exercising joint powers of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Conejo Recreation and Park District, and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District.

In addition to the Sierra Club letter, MOSMABrentwood Residents CoalitionBel Air Skycrest Property Owners’ AssociationCenter for Biological Diversity and numerous other groups have all either expressed problems with the development as proposed or outright opposition to Berggruen’s vanity project at the proposed site. Community activists are prepared to fight.

In January 2018, more than 500 community members attended a meeting at the Skirball Cultural Center, located within the immediate area of the Berggruen development proposal. The audience, largely opposed to the project, listened to a presentation from Berggruen’s people, and opposition arguments. Nic Berggruen did not attend the meeting, nor has he since reached out to community organizations to discuss any compromises, according to an activist close to the issue.

Among concerns about the proposed development are fire. California has become a tinderbox in recent years. In December 2017, the Skirball Fire burned 475 acres, destroyed or damaged 18 structures and forced 46,000 residents to evacuate. The October 2019 Getty Fire burned 745 acres – blackening some of the Berggruen property – destroyed or damaged 25 residences and forced thousands to flee. On its face, building in a high fire zone seems foolhardy.

The Berggruen site is on top of a former landfill now monitored by the City of Los Angeles for methane. A massive Southern California methane gas leak in a neighboring community in October 2015 should be taken as a cautionary tale for this proposed project.

As the last great open space in Los Angeles, the Berggruen property features wild woodland with ferns, oak trees and sycamores. The natural habitat is home to cougars, coyotes, deer, falcons, great horned owls, raccoons, redtailed hawks and quail, among other animals, who navigate the Santa Monica Mountains. In addition to loss of wildlife habitat, the Berggruen project would bring more light pollution, which impacts the biology and ecology of wild animals. Additionally, the development would eliminate an important animal corridor, including for cougars, under severe pressure in the area. If Berggruen were to gift his land holding to remain as open space, it would continue to benefit area wildlife and help connectthe patchwork of land to support the movement of animals.

Cottontail rabbit in the Santa Monica Mountains

Berggruen Development Sacrifices Last Great LA Open Space And The NYT Likes It
Cougar in the Santa Monica Mountains

Why Berggruen would continue to want to develop in an area when the community is not receptive seems odd, given he could build his think tank anywhere. For a contemplative, meditative retreat, there is plenty of desert in California! Should he continue with his commitment to build on the 447 acres in L.A., “It’s going to become a hotly controversial issue,” said Eric Edmunds, Chair of the Sierra Club Santa Monica Mountains Task Force and President of the Brentwood Hills Homeowners Association.

Edmunds says he would like to see Berggruen “recognize the enormous public value of this land and cooperate with an agency such as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to donate the land to remain as wilderness and trails.”

Adds Edmunds, “I have no objection to him developing his project – just not here.”

The group Protect Our Woodlands recommends that Berggruen “consider locating his new institute in a part of Los Angeles that is already developed.”

In a state that’s horribly overpopulated and overdeveloped, preserving this intact area of precious wildland, wild animal habitat and trails forever would turn Berggruen – who is shaping up to be the local villain – into a local hero.

Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss, and from time to time other topics that confound her.

Billionaire Development Sacrifices Last Great LA Open Space And The NYT Likes It

Swarthmore Planners Reject Condo Monstrosity

Swarthmore Planners Reject Condo Monstrosity

By Bob Small

I wrote about citizen activists winning in Lancaster County, now I can say they’ve won in Swarthmore.

At least round one.

On April 26, the Swarthmore Borough Planning Commission met to consider the demolition of the historic Celia Building at 102-104 Park Ave along with buildings at 110 and 112 Park Ave. so that developers, William Cumby, Jr. and Don Delson, could proceed with construction of a five-story condominium.

The way these hearings proceed, public comment is followed by discussion among the nine-member panel followed by the vote, usually one of approval.

The various commissions rarely meet a proposal they don’t like.

However as the 35 or so members of the public spoke in the three-plus hour meeting, only two supported the proposal.  The night ended with the planners recommending that Borough Council deny the application.

Save Our Swarthmore has video of the meeting on their website.

The developers have vowed to fight on as they maintain that this will set “a precedent that will  preclude any revitalization of the Town Center”, irregardless of numerous developments like the Swarthmore Inn, the Roundabout, and three establishments in formally “dry” Swarthmore that now sell liquor, all of which were intimated to be part of the “revitalization” effort.

If this doesn’t work, maybe we could try “the Quaker Casino”.

At the Borough Council meeting on Monday, May 2, the developers had gathered 22 supporters against an opposition of 13.  Interestingly enough, Planning Commission Chair Chris DeBruyn who was absent at the April 26 meeting said that he had been there he would have backed demolition.

Walking out after three hours, before the end of the Borough Council Meeting but after all the public comment, none of us felt that a good enough case had been made for how the Condos would actually benefit Swarthmore.

Swarthmore Borough Council will meet May 19 to consider the recommendation from the planning commission.

Swarthmore Planners Reject Condo Monstrosity
Swarthmore Planners Reject Condo Monstrosity

Less Trees In Swarthmore And More Tension If Condo Plan Passes

Less Trees In Swarthmore And More Tension If Condo Plan Passes

By Bob Small

This has been a time of tensions in Swarthmore. First of all, there’s the proposed five-story Condominium on 110 Park Ave., Swarthmore’s main drag (we only have one main drag) that would displace two main stores, and the tenants above ,  would cause traffic day-and-night mares, and cost $700,000 per Condo, etc. along with demolition of an historic building.  There is the possibility of financial advantages if we can trust the Borough to tax equitably.

At the very same time, PECO is telling the residents of Swarthmore, that they will have 96 less trees because of towers needed for 5G. The state government bowing down to PECO was in a previous post of mine, from late August. Swarthmore has been a 30-year “Tree City USA” , one of only 3,400 in the US and surely one of the smallest, with a 2020 population of only 6,734.  

Less Trees In Swarthmore And More Tension If Condo Plan Passes

In the meantime, there’s also been a grassroots push for affordable housing, which runs counter to the condominium being proposed by long-time Swarthmoreans Bill Cumby and Don Delson, dubbed by some as “the Donstrosity”.  Continually rising taxes for those who have a “fixed income” have forced some Swarthmoreans out of Swarthmore and, just a few so far, temporary residence on the sidewalk of Park Avenue. Others have sold their houses, moving into one of the few apartment buildings still in Swarthmore Borough limits.  

There has been a great deal of organization on all three issues with one of the most successful being the Save our Swarthmore group who organized for the Dec. 15 Swarthmore Planning Commission which had to be adjourned after 15 minutes when over 100 citizens showed up , most in opposition to the proposed condo.  More on that in a future post.  This s a short video clip from that meeting.

We were unable to attend that event because we were 80 miles away in Lancaster at the 30th Annual Bill of Rights Dinner (Bill of Rights Bicentennial Commitee)  which we have attended for at least half those years.  We had been avoiding large crowds due to Covid  but we felt we needed to be here to support this group and to see some persons we hadn’t seen since 2019 ,  It was the right decision and there ‘s a great deal to post on that in the future, also.

Less Trees In Swarthmore And More Tension If Condo Plan Passes

In Praise of Delsonville

In Praise of Delsonville

By Bob Small

There has been a great deal of controversy about a proposed Condo Development at 110 Park Ave. which would house 36 Units and be five floors (plus parking garage) and is being proposed by long-time Swarthmoreans Bill Cumby, Jr. and Don Delson. The Condos would go for a modest $700,000. There has been a lot of opposition because two stores there, HOM and Gallery on Park would be evicted, the small town look of Swarthmore would be blown up, along with other disruptions.

For a long time, it’s been evident to me, and others, that the concept of Swathmore is outdated and needs to be blown up. Why should we live in a town whose archaic name, and many of it’s street names, such as Chester, harken back to England, a country that still has a Monarchy!

No, it’s well past time to end this madness, both actually and conceptually. This new Condo is but the first salvo in a long needed reset, both physically and spiritually.

In Praise of Delsonville

In honor of the re-founding fathers, we must change the name to Delsonville (I already have the t-shirt concession) in honor of one of the old Turks who is doing this, not for money or prestige, but because he sees the need, the want.

Now the College can continue to call itself Swarthmore. It won’t bother us, we won’t bother it. Septa can do what it will. It is of no matter.

This new Delsonville won’t require “cutesyî boutique stores, everything being Amazon now. Nor will we need food stores, as again this will be pick-up or delivery. New beer and wine and more stores, are sketched in, as part of the upcoming Quaker Casino(s).

Who will live here, you ask? Only those who can afford to, which, one is assured, will eliminate any remaining criminal element. We can advertise five minutes from Philly, which will be correct once the bullet trains are in place. A perfect place for the new breed of Professionals, etc.

What of the people now forced to move, you say? Well, they will be setting off on new adventures and we wish them well. They had become too dependent on an affordable Swarthmore, and need to retool and relearn. And pack their bags in the morning,

Tomorrowland is here today. And we call it Delsonville.

In Praise of Delsonville

Drexeline Project Stalled, Or Why Democrats Are Dumb

Drexeline Project Stalled, Or Why Democrats Are Dumb — Springfield and Drexel Hill residents ponder what’s finally going to replace the moved-to-Manoa Fisher’s Ace Hardware at the Drexeline Shopping Center at State Road and Township Line in Upper Darby, Pa. When is Shop Rite going to going to expand, they ask. Why is the CVS still vacant?

The reason, as the reason is for most idiocy, is Democrats. Democrat activists file a lawsuit to stop development of the eyesore. Remember, this is not a bucolic glade or peaceful woodland but a sea of asphalt sprinkled with vacant store fronts.

This video explains what is happening.

Yes, it’s from the Upper Darby Republican Party. So what? We invite the Upper Darby Dems to refute it.

Drexeline Project Stalled, Or Why Democrats Are Dumb
Drexeline Project Stalled, Or Why Democrats Are Dumb -- Springfield and Drexel Hill residents ponder what's finally going to replace the moved-

Republican Values Mean Boom For All

Republican Values Mean Boom For All — The Ardmore-Merion-Wynnewood Patch earlier this month attributed an economic boom in Montgomery County to tax-subsidized development in Lower Merion.

Retired businessman Bob Guzzardi points out in the below article that the growth in Montco is not coming from government-funded projects in Democrat Lower Merion but from free market policies in Republican-controlled King of Prussia, Hatfield and Lower Moreland.

Republican Values Mean Boom For AllBy Bob Guzzardi

Do Republican values and Republican governance lead to prosperity for all as well as more taxes to pay for necessary government services and infrastructure? Empirically, the real world says  “yes”. King of Prussia, Hatfield and Lower Moreland are governed by Republicans and they are growing.

I would think that Republican officeholders and those seeking office would want to make the case that Republicans governance means a higher standard of living.

It would seem to me that Republicans would be promoting themselves as the party of growth providing jobs with industrial projects and shopping centers/malls and which generate the tax revenue to build and maintain infrastructure and finance necessary government services.

Upper Merion is Republican, is it not? And the fastest growing municipality in MontCo, it seems.  Hatfield is Republican, is it not?  How many of these projects are built by free market, competitive contractors, that is, non-union contractors.

Of the 4,089 proposed units, how many were in Republican municipalities?  My point is to make the case that in the real world, it can be empirically verified that Republican values work.  Democratic Lower Merion is in decline; Republican Upper Merion and King of Prussia are growing raising their standard of living for everyone and creating jobs. So is Lower Moreland and Hatfield.

One of Lower Merion’s biggest projects, the Dranoff project, had to be subsidized and unionized.!

Democrats escaped Democratic (and union controlled) Philadelphia to Republican Lower Merion and, instead of embracing Republican ideas, they imposed a regime of more taxes, more spending and more debt. Lower Merion is in decline.  It is shabby and down scale.

Republican Values Mean Boom For All

Contractors And Philadelphia Permits

Contractors And Philadelphia Permits — Just had an interesting conversation with a contractor that segued from the fatal June 5 demolition gone bad in Philadelphia to his recent experience in trying to get a permit in the city.

He noted that he waited hours in line to be told the work had to be approved by the planning commission first despite the planning commission telling him otherwise. He went back to his clients who told them they never bothered with permits when doing improvements.

He said “expeditors” in the city get paid up to $25,000 to make speed up the process when necessary.

So those feeling some hate towards the developer might be wise to direct at least a little in the direction of the inherent corruption of the city’s government.

We will note that the city did not force Richard Basciano, known one-time as the “porn king of Times Square” to hire a stoner with a long rap sheet to run the backhoe.

Contractors And Philadelphia Permits

Contractors And Philadelphia Permits

Beaver Valley Applications Withdrawn But Return Expected

Beaver Valley Applications Withdrawn But Return Expected
The festival outside the meeting hall.

Beaver Valley Applications Withdrawn But Return Expected — A crowd of a thousand packed into the Garnet Valley Middle School auditorium, May 14, to hear the Concord Supervisors announce that the applications for a zoning change to allow three developers to put a big box store, and various residences on 324 acres belonging to
Woodlawn Trustees has been withdrawn.

It was pointedly noted, though, that new applications are expected.

The meeting scheduled to start at 7 p.m. began five minutes late and was officially closed at 7:15 although Woodlawn Chief Operating Officer Vernon Green gave an off-the-record statement afterwards noting that Woodlawn founder William Bancroft started the trust to provide parkland and inexpensive housing for workers with the expectation that some land would be sold to fund these goals.

Cameras for all the local television stations were present. The
supervisors noted that they had received a petition of 5,500 names
against the development.

Supervisor Dominic J. Cappelli said that it will be at least
60 days before  any new applications would be received and hearings
will be  announced well in advance on the township website.

Cappelli during the hearing noted that Supervisor Chairman Dominic
Pileggi had recused himself from the matter in October due to a conflict
of interest.

A note to Republicans: among those attending were Democrat County Council candidate Bill Clinton and Democrat Register of Wills candidate Frank Daly. Expect a fight this year.

Beaver Valley Applications Withdrawn But Return Expected
A plea to save the bridle trails


Beaver Valley Applications Withdrawn But Return Expected

Ardmore Greenlighted To Become Philly West

This article from Montco Tea Party activist Bob Guzzardi is just one more example of how the self-appointed smarter-than-thou set seeks to turn everyone else into Happy Hamsters.

By Bob Guzzardi

The Federal Transit Authority has greenlighted the Ardmore Transit Center project, which will put a mixed-used high-density development in the heart of the neighborhood’s business district.

How can this project NOT have a significant impact on surrounding area. Isn’t that the point? To revitalize Ardmore with a major and dramatic project.

Some of us like Ardmore uncongested with traffic and nonurban. What is the point of converting Ardmore or Bala Cynwyd or Lower Merion into Philadelphia West? If someone wanted urban, he or she would live in Philadelphia which is high density urban, not low density suburban which is why many moved here.
If this were a good idea, private investors would invest as saver-investors are doing at the Palmer Theological Seminary project.

If someone wanted urban, he or she would live in Philadelphia which is high density urban, not low density suburban which is why many moved here.

Ardmore Greenlighted

Ardmore Greenlighted To Become Philly West

Development Trend For Peasantization

There is set of people that has the strange desire for order in the lives of other people and that, that they have been somehow ordained to be the means to do so. Development Trend For Peasantization

One of their latest conceits is the transit-oriented development which is basically putting in a high density development of homes, apartments and offices around a 19th century commuter rail station in the middle of a successful suburb.

Peasant homes for peasants you could call it.

If done properly, the developer will be able to sip a Chablis before the gas-fire in the fireplace of his McMansion’s living room as he watches through arched windows the deer play in the snow of his two-acre backyard and think warm thoughts about his “little people” scurrying about like happy hamsters in his new community, and feel as though he has just saved the world.

An attempt is being made to put one of these in Middletown Township, Delaware County, Pa. on the old Franklin Mint property with the proposed Wawa Station on SEPTA’s Media-Elwyn rail line as the transit hub.

It would have 1,200 residences including “luxury” apartments; 798,000 square feet of office space, and 235,000 square feet of retail space.

And in Montgomery County, Abington Township has signed on to a  transit-oriented development centered on SEPTA’s Noble Station on the West Trenton Line which will allow for increasing the residential unit density from eight per acre to 300 on an 8-acre tract next to the Baederwood Shopping Mall.

Someone is going to point out that starter homes and apartments are needed, and they would be right. But rather than break things that are fixed — like low-density, affluent suburban townships — how about we try to fix things that are broken.

Like, well, Philadelphia.

In 1950, Philly had a population of 2.07 million ; a population density of 16,286 per square mile. Today, it has a population of 1.55 million and a population density of 11,457 per square mile.

Clearly, it can fit more people.

And  historic North Philadelphia Station and the Broad Street Subway line would make great hubs for transit-oriented developments.

Now, some will point out that nobody who loves their children would willingly subject them to the city’s public school system. True!

But  school vouchers would easily solve that.

Other cynics might say that these are very high crime areas. Also true! But if you really had confidence in your ability to order the lives of others you would have the faith that responsible homeowners in self-contained communities would push out the “no-snitch” crowd.

And if not, well, maybe you shouldn’t try to break things that are fixed.

Development Trend For Peasantization

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