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Los Angeles Times

Monday May 11, 2015

Council Candidate Returns Donation Amid Hollywood Tenant Protests

By Emily Alpert Reyes

Residents and their supporters gather outside the Villa Carlotta apartment building on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood last month in an effort to stop evictions from the complex after the new owners expressed interest in converting the building into a hotel. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Council candidate Carolyn Ramsay returned a campaign contribution from the manager of a Hollywood apartment building that has become the center of tenant protests..

"Carolyn has consistently stood with the tenants and neighbors against that development project so she returned the developer’s unsolicited contribution," Ramsay campaign strategist Doug Herman said in a statement Friday after The Times asked about the donation.

CGI Strategies, property manager for the Villa Carlotta, has said it is considering opening a hotel there and has sought to remove tenants from the historic building.

"We had no choice but to ask them to leave so that we could renovate it," said Adrian Goldstein, principal and founder of CGI Strategies. He said the company had offered tenants much more money in relocation aid than the law requires.

Tenants and activists have ringed the Franklin Avenue building in protest and prodded candidates to promise they would oppose converting the building.

Several residents who have refused payments to leave are now formally being evicted. Both Ramsay and her May 19 runoff opponent, David Ryu, stopped by Villa Carlotta to express their support for tenants during a protest at the building last month.

Coalition for Economic Survival executive director Larry Gross, whose group has advocated for the Villa Carlotta tenants, was troubled after spotting the $700 donation CGI Strategies made to Ramsay on campaign reports. The donation came days after the demonstration.

Ryu campaign spokeswoman Rachel Estrada was more sharply critical. "Ms. Ramsay's hypocritical actions with the Villa Carlotta beg the question: how can the residents of [Los Angeles City Council District 4] ever trust her to protect their neighborhoods?" she said.

When The Times asked about the campaign contribution, the Ramsay campaign said the donation was unsolicited and would be returned. Goldstein of CGI Strategies said he wasn’t personally aware of the donation and had not been solicited for it.

Gross said he was glad Ramsay was returning the contribution, but still wanted to see the candidate advocate to stop tenants from being removed and extend a one-year notice to vacate to all remaining Villa Carlotta residents, instead of only seniors and the disabled.

Villa Carlotta resident Sylvie Shain has also pressed both Ramsay and Ryu to sign a pledge promising to "oppose a zoning change or variance, or any conversion" for the Hollywood building, and to "do whatever is in my political power to insist that the other council members support my position on this issue."

"People want that reassurance," Shain said. "Words are very easy to forget."

Both candidates said Monday that they would sign the pledge.

Ramsay had earlier said she did not support converting the Villa Carlotta into a hotel, calling it "a unique jewel in our neighborhood that we need to protect."

Ryu spokeswoman Estrada said Ryu was concerned about any zoning change "that turns a vibrant housing community into a for-profit hotel."

The Villa Carlotta is being vacated under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows property owners to evict residents from rent-controlled units if they get out of the rental business or tear down their buildings. Such evictions have surged in Los Angeles as the economy recovers, raising concerns among tenant advocates about the elimination of rent-controlled housing.

Ramsay and Ryu are competing to represent a Los Angeles City Council district that stretches from Sherman Oaks to the Miracle Mile. Whoever is elected will replace Councilman Tom LaBonge, who will be termed out this year.

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