Twentieth Century Fox won a crucial preliminary victory at City Hall Wednesday with a 14-to-1 City Council vote in favor of the studio’s $ 200 million expansion plan.
Councilman Joel Wachs’ sole nay means a second, full-council vote will be required next Wednesday for final approval. Only eight thumbs up are required in the second reading, and all council members interviewed after the hearing said they expected it will pass. It’s likely then that Mayor Tom Bradley will sign the expansion approval that day, his last in office.
Fox is already celebrating. The studio plans to begin construction on the first of the three approved phases by the end of the year at the latest, said David Handelman, Fox’s senior VP of external and legal affairs, after the hearing.
“We have some rehabilitations and renovations that we wanted to start yesterday,” Handelman laughed. “We want to start remodeling instantly.”
Other construction will begin when final building plans are approved later this year.
In the 771,000-square-foot expansion, Fox plans to consolidate all its TV and film operations on its 53-acre Century City lot.
The centralization means Fox will move its KTTV station from Hollywood to Century City, which was the reason for Wach’s vote against the plan.
Wachs told the standing-room-only crowd that moving KTTV would be adding “another nail in Hollywood’s coffin.”
Councilman Mike Hernandez was quick to counterattack. “I didn’t hear the same concern when KMEX (Channel 34) moved from Hollywood to Westchester,” he quipped.
Councilman Mike Woo also made a passionate plea to other council members not to base their votes on Wach’s argument.
“You shouldn’t base your decision on the fact that Fox is going to move KTTV from Hollywood to Century City,” Woo said, arguing that Hollywood has other development plans in the works.
“KTLA is going to expand. Paramount is going to expand on its site. We succeeded in convincing Capitol Records to stay in Hollywood and not move out,” Woo said. “It’s important to look at the city overall and not pit Hollywood against Century City. The most important thing is to keep the Fox jobs within the city of Los Angeles.”
Fox employs 1,700 people directly and another 700 are employed by Fox-based production company at its existing lot. The studio said the expansion could create as many as 1,600 new jobs, which almost all council members cited as a reason to support the project.
“I felt that Fox is part of Los Angeles and it’s an industry that hires people,” Hernandez said. “In the city of Los Angeles, we have to recognize opportunities, and this is one of those opportunities. I also felt there’s been a lot of work to make this happen, and for us not to recognize that would be a shame.”
Some 500 restrictions in a three-inch-thick document have been put on the expansion plan by the Planning and Land Use Management committee, which approved the plan last week (Daily Variety, June 11, 17).
The toughest restriction is rigorous traffic control, according to George Vradenburg, exec VP of Fox Inc.
“We have 24-hour-a-day real time monitoring on a computer that’s plugged into the city,” Vradenburg explained. (UCLA is the only other L.A. institution subjected to such car trip monitoring.)
However, Councilman Nate Holden — who abstained from voting at the committee hearing — told Daily Variety he thinks the Council “rushed it through” and that traffic control rules should be even tougher.
Historic zone change
Zev Yaroslavsky — who’s the Councilman for the Westside neighborhood — is calling the vote a victory, and said it’s a historical victory.
“The historical element is that a change in zoning has taken place from residential to studio, and that would have been unfathomable four or five years ago,” Yaroslavsky told Daily Variety.
All Council members interviewed believe the City Council will get the required eight votes next week.
Nonetheless, the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees isplanning a rally on June 29 at City Hall to protest Wach’s no vote.
In a news release, IATSE said it will send a letter to Wachs, Mayor Bradley and Mayor-elect Richard Riordan and the entire City Council stating “that ‘Hollywood’ is comprised of artists and craftsmen working and living throughout Los Angeles County and not, as Mr. Wachs seems to believe, only in Hollywood.”
Asked if there was any chance of a “12 Angry Men” scenario erupting between now and June 30, Hernandez acknowledged that “it’s happened before.”
However, “Not to the point where you’d lose eight votes. I think the majority of the council realizes the work that went on, and to lose Fox would be foolish.”