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Thread: They built towering new cities in China. Now they're trying it in downtown L.A.

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  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    They built towering new cities in China. Now they're trying it in downtown L.A.

    They built towering new cities in China. Now they're trying it in downtown L.A.

    Chinese developers are pouring billions into the city which will fundamentally change its downtown skyline.

    David Pierson

    Winston Yan stood atop the largest real estate project of its kind in downtown Los Angeles, a monstrous patchwork of glass and concrete next to the 110 Freeway, and marveled at the bustle of workers, construction vehicles and cranes 38 stories below.

    The scope of development in this mixed-use project, called Metropolis, is unprecedented for L.A. but quite familiar to Yan. As an architect and executive for Chinese real estate giant Greenland, he’s witnessed firsthand China’s dramatic urbanization in recent decades.

    “It reminds me of what’s happening in Beijing and Shanghai,” said Yan, chief technical officer for Greenland’s U.S. subsidiary. “Now it’s happening here.”

    Los Angeles real estate has long attracted foreign investment, be it from Japan, Canada and South Korea. But no one is building from the ground up the way the Chinese are today.

    Chinese developers such as Greenland, Oceanwide and Shenzhen Hazens are pouring billions into the neighborhood, adding thousands of new residential units in soaring skyscrapers that will fundamentally change the city’s skyline.

    Since 2014, Chinese developers have been involved in at least seven of 18 land deals downtown in excess of $19 million, according to real estate firm Transwestern.

    “When all these megaprojects are finished, they’re going to have to reshoot the postcard picture of downtown L.A.,” said Mark Tarczynski, executive vice president for Colliers International’s L.A. office.

    By investing in Los Angeles, the builders are staking downtown’s revival closer to the Chinese economy. A sizable share of home buyers for the new downtown developments are expected to come from China, where many in the middle and upper class are looking to the perceived safety of foreign real estate to diversify their wealth. That trend has been exacerbated by the uncertainty of China’s slowing economy.

    The building boom is something of a showcase for Chinese real estate companies, which are willing to pay a premium to establish themselves as global brands. The foray overseas has also demonstrated the many differences between building in both countries — an experience both sides will need to learn from if the U.S. is to remain a prime destination for Chinese capital.

    “The speed is so dramatically different in China,” said Sonnet Hui, executive project director for Shenzhen Hazens, which is building a $700-million mixed-use project across from Staples Center. “There’s a lot of planning and study here, whereas in China it’s just ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’”

    Before the Chinese landed, things were going nowhere at a 6-acre site on the corner of W. 8th Street and the Harbor Freeway. Plans to develop the parcel, which had been a parking lot, were scuttled by one economic downturn after another.

    Then in 2014, Shanghai’s Greenland paid $150 million for the plot and announced plans to build a “city within a city” with about 70,000 square feet of retail space, an 18-story boutique hotel and 1,500 residential units in three condo towers, some with ocean views. They priced properties at between $500,000 for the lowest end and $6.9 million for the premier penthouses.

    (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

    When completed in 2018, the $1-billion project will require a total of 300,000 tons of concrete and 650,000 square feet of glass, much of it in Greendland’s namesake color.

    “They need a certain amount of scale to make it worth their while,” said Laurie Lustig-Bower, executive vice president at CBRE and broker for the Metropolis land deal. “Of course, what we consider large is not relatively large to them coming from China.”

    When the chairman of Greenland came to visit Metropolis, it was the first time he didn’t require a car to traverse one of his building sites, an executive told Tony Natsis, a partner at Allen Matkins and chairman of the law firm's real estate practice.

    “Their ability to build on this scale is completely child’s play to them.” Natsis said.

    Around the same time Greenland bought its site, another Chinese real estate giant called Oceanwide Holdings paid $174.8 million for a 4.6-acre site across from Staples Center.

    The Beijing-based builder is in the early stages of another $1-billion mixed-use project, this one with nearly 170,000 square feet of retail space, a luxury hotel and two sleek condo towers that together will offer more than 500 residences.

    In a design flourish popular in China, a massive LED screen will wrap the west facing side of Oceanwide Plaza overlooking Figueroa Street. The project is set to open by the end of 2018.

    We buy it at the right time and we build right away.— Thomas Feng, Oceanwide Plaza’s chief executive and president

    Across the street are plans for an almost equally extravagant mixed-use development on the current Luxe City Center Hotel site. Shenzhen Hazens is proposing razing the hotel for a pair of gleaming condo towers and a W Hotel steps away from the arena.

    “Our chairman [Yan Fuer] is a big basketball fan and went to a game at Staples Center and saw the property and said ‘I want that property,’” said Hui, the project’s director.

    Shenzhen Hazens paid $104 million for the 2.5-acre site. The $925.11 paid per square foot is the highest of any major land purchase in the area since 2014, according to Transwestern.

    The next three highest prices per square foot in the last two years also belong to Chinese buyers. The Greenland, Oceanwide and Shenzhen Hazens developments represent three of the four most-expensive land deals downtown, and they highlight the Chinese appetite for splashy and ambitious projects.

    “The Chinese can come in with a lot of money and execute deals quickly,” said Michael Soto, an analyst for Transwestern.

    Other smaller Chinese projects in the works include Shanghai Construction Group’s proposed 35-story apartment tower on 4th Street and Broadway, Fulton Street Ventures’ 28-story condo building at 1133 S. Hope Street and City Century’s 37- and 22-story condo towers at 1201 S. Grand Avenue.

    Meanwhile, Lifan Group, a motorcycle manufacturer from the Western Chinese metropolis of Chongqing, paid more than $19 million for a former union hall at the intersection of West 7th and Witmer streets. Naturally, it’s for another apartment high-rise.

    Chinese developers can afford to outbid the competition in markets like L.A. because they are willing to wait longer than most to reap returns and can rely on both local and Chinese-based home buyers to scoop-up their condos. It’s also advantageous to move capital overseas to hedge against inflation and a weakening Chinese renminbi.

    “They look at risk a lot differently because of these factors that relate to what’s going on in China and what’s going on with their currency,” said Tarczynski of Colliers International.

    After a boom period that saw property values skyrocket, China’s real estate market has quieted down. Deep-pocketed investors, having exhausted Beijing and Shanghai, looked to foreign markets like Vancouver, Canada; Sydney, Australia; and the San Gabriel Valley to park their cash (some in the belief China’s economic miracle was due for a reckoning).

    Chinese developers followed in kind by building overseas, figuring their brand appeal would extend beyond its borders.

    Greenland, for example, has developments in Australia, Canada, Malaysia, South Korea, Germany and Spain in addition to U.S. projects in L.A., San Francisco and New York.

    That dependence on Chinese buyers could just as easily become a source of risk. Some downtown L.A. residents have expressed concern that Chinese investors will leave their properties empty — a phenomenon common in China and antithetical to the dense urban neighborhood many local boosters have long championed.

    Some Chinese developers in L.A. are expecting Chinese buyers to constitute up to 40% of their clients. As a result, they could be beholden to the whims of Chinese regulators who are currently making it harder to get cash out of China — a move prompted by a steep decline in the country’s foreign exchange reserves. That’s led to the first dip in Chinese home-buying activity in the U.S. this year since 2011, according to the National Assn. of Realtors.

    Chinese firms in L.A. may have to rely on domestic buyers more than they had planned. If so, they’ll have to hope the surge in construction downtown won’t result in a glut of condos and apartments.

    There are currently 6,260 residences under construction Downtown by all developers, not just Chinese, according to Transwestern. When completed, that will boost the number of existing homes in the neighborhood by 15% to more than 40,000. Thousands more units are planned.

    That risk has already steered some major Chinese developers such as Gemdale to forgo downtown and build in Hollywood instead.

    “What we have experienced in China is that when there is too much supply coming to the same place, then there will be a stop in investment,” said Jason Zhu, chief executive of Gemdale’s U.S. subsidiary.

    Zhu said Gemdale had the luxury of studying the U.S. real estate market for years before making a move.

    But for most builders, it’s been a steep learning curve. That’s especially true when it comes to the city’s permitting process for building -- something L.A. officials recently streamlined but is considered too time consuming by the Chinese.

    “Chinese developers are not into buying land, letting it sit there for years and waiting for better times,” said Thomas Feng, Oceanwide Plaza’s chief executive and president. “We buy it at the right time and we build right away.”

    Part of that disconnect is over safety and planning, which is more stringent in the U.S. But it also underscores the different role real estate plays in the world’s second-largest economy. In China, there’s no real property tax, so local governments rely on land sales for more than a quarter of their revenue. That gives them every incentive to expedite real estate development. (It’s one of the reasons why a 57-story skyscraper can be built in 19 days in China).

    That’s not how things are moving in L.A. for Shenzhen Hazens, which still hasn’t broken ground two years after purchasing its land across from Staples Center. The company is still grappling with getting its project entitled.

    Raymond Chan, a Los Angeles deputy mayor for economic development who headed the city’s Department of Building and Safety when many of the downtown Chinese projects were first announced, said the city “threw the book” at Shenzhen Hazens at first. Since then, regulators have been more accommodating, seeking ways for the builder to meet all the city’s requirements. The company hopes to have the entitlement completed by early next year.

    “It’s been an education,” said Hui of Shenzhen Hazens. “That’s why we have so many attorneys and consultants.

    Every decision we make is so that we follow U.S. law to a T. … I think the city recognizes that.”

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  2. #2
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    We can be living with wall to wall people like china - no thanks.

  4. #4
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Downtown Development: Updates on 90 Projects - Los Angeles ...

    Los Angeles Downtown News
    DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - If there is any question that the ... South Park projects, more than 5,500 housing units are in construction ...

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    So that's why Chinese buyers snapped up the troubled Malibu Golf Club site

    The Malibu Golf Club held a tournament as recently as 2013. The property has since fallen into disrepair. (Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)

    David Pierson

    There are no golf carts or carefully manicured putting greens left at the twice-bankrupt Malibu Golf Club. Its restaurant and clubhouse have been empty for years.

    But that didn’t deter a little-known Chinese investment firm, Shinhan Golden Faith International Development, from paying $30.5 million for the rundown property in an all-cash deal that closed Tuesday.

    The 650-acre site in the Santa Monica Mountains was put in receivership after its previous owner, Malibu Associates, defaulted on a $47-million loan it had obtained from U.S. Bank to help pay for a massive makeover. Malibu Associates was founded in 2005 by Dick Fuld, the former head of Lehman Bros.

    “We had lots of offers, some with higher prices, but with lots of contingencies,” said Bill Hoffman, chief executive of Trigild, a San Diego property management company appointed by the court to handle the sale. “The Chinese company showed they had the cash and they could perform quickly.”

    Not much is known about Shinhan Golden Faith International Development, a Hong Kong-based holding company with shareholders in mainland China, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, according to the Panama Papers database.

    Hoffman said confidentiality agreements prohibited him from saying much about the firm. Negotiating the deal, which was first reported by the Real Deal, took several months.

    Principals from the Chinese company visited the 18-hole course twice, though Hoffman did not meet them.

    “They have lots of arms and businesses around the world,” Hoffman said. “I’m not sure I know much about them.”

    Golf courses are a popular target for Chinese investors looking to diversify their assets overseas. The properties are a relative bargain, thanks to diminishing interest in the sport.

    Once acquired, the courses can often be expanded to generate more revenue — as is the case with the Malibu Golf Club, which already has city approval to build guest rooms, a spa and a golf institute.

    “Golf courses are increasingly becoming a more popular investment and redevelopment play due to the golf industry bubble bursting and many owners deciding they can no longer make money operating golf courses,” said Michael Soto, an analyst for real estate firm Transwestern.

    For Chinese investors, the properties also double as an effective place to stash money to hedge against China’s fluctuating currency and slowing economy.

    “It's still real estate, so you can park your money in that and know it will still be safe,” Soto said. The properties “act as long-term redevelopment sites so overseas investors from China are basically land banking.”

    In one of the more recent deals, China Oceanwide Holdings paid $280 million for 26 acres in West Oahu, Hawaii, where it plans to open a golf resort, according to stock filings in Hong Kong.

    Oceanwide, whose parent company is based in Beijing, is behind a $1-billion mixed-used development in downtown Los Angeles.

    One of the most recognized Chinese forays into golf is through Pacific Links, a company founded by a home improvement store tycoon in China. The company owns or partly owns hundreds of golf courses around the world.

    Chinese money has also been pouring into Myrtle Beach, S.C., one of the nation’s premier golf destinations. However, one of the biggest investors in golf courses there, Founders Group International, has reportedly seen its parent company come under investigation in China for fraud.

    Once banned under communist rule, golf enjoyed a brief revival in China as an offshoot of the nation’s entrepreneurial success. The sport, however, has been shunned again as one of the spoils of corruption and waste in a country with a shrinking supply of arable land. Authorities have banned construction of new golf courses in China since 2004, though with varying degrees of enforcement.

    Real estate and hospitality remain among the primary investment channels for Chinese firms in the U.S., accounting for about one-third of the $15.3 billion in direct investment from China last year, according to Rhodium Group.


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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Los Angeles skyscraper tops out as tallest Western building

    Reed Saxon
    A 160-foot spire is seen atop the Wilshire Grand Tower building after a crane hoisted it into place early Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. The 10-ton spire makes the building the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. It's now 1,099 feet high, 81 feet higher than the nearby U.S. Bank Tower, which held the tallest building record since 1989. The $1-billion hotel and office complex is scheduled to open next March. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    Posted: Saturday, September 3, 2016 4:01 pm
    Updated: 5:04 pm, Sat Sep 3, 2016.

    Associated Press |

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — A new skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles has become the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

    Construction workers on Saturday placed a 10-ton spire atop the Wilshire Grand Tower. The spire adds 160 feet to the 73-story building. That makes it 1,099 feet high.

    That's 81 feet higher than nearby U.S. Bank Tower, which held the tallest building record since 1989.

    The Wilshire Grand still has some construction work scheduled. The $1 billion hotel and office complex is scheduled to open next March.

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    Mysterious Buyer Pays $62 Million for Two Apartments at 432 Park Avenue

    The building is the tallest residential tower in the world


    A mysterious buyer closed on two condominium units at 432 Park Avenue, the tallest residential tower in the world, for a total of $62 million.

    The buyer, under the shell of Blessings Investments, paid $18.6 million for unit 82A, public records show. But the same buyer also bought 82B for $43.3 million, according to The Real Deal.

    Unit 82A has 2,633-square-foot floor space, including three bedrooms and three bathrooms. It was previously listed for $21.5 million. Meanwhile, the 5,421-square-foot 82B has four bedrooms, five bathrooms and two powder rooms. It was not publicly listed.

    This came on the heels of the sale of the $87.7-million penthouse at 432 Park Avenue, developed by Macklowe Properties and the CIM Group. Earlier this month, Saudi retail magnate Fawaz Al Hokair closed on the unit for $87.7 million, the most expensive closing in the building to date.

    Closings in the Rafael Viñoly-designed 1,396-foot skyscraper began last fall. Last month, 68A closed for $28 million and 84A for $21 million..

    There are eight units currently available in the building, with prices ranging from $17.5 million to $44.25 million.


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    PARADISE (San Diego)
    A $72-million apartment project. Top politicians. Unlikely donors.

    Who wrote the checks to elected officials weighing approval?
    OCT. 30, 2016
    No one is registered to vote at the run-down house on 223rd Street. The living room window has been broken for months. A grit-covered pickup sits in the dirt front yard with a flat tire.

    Yet dozens of donations to local politicians — totaling more than $40,000 — have come from four of the people who have lived there over the last eight years.

    Victor Blanco, a repairman originally from El Salvador, gave the most: 22 donations totaling $20,300 since 2008, according to contribution reports. More than half that money went to U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Los Angeles) while she was pursuing local, state and federal office, according to contribution reports.

    Asked about those donations, Blanco could not explain why he gave Hahn so much money.

    Campaign contribution records show that people who have lived at this house on West 223rd Street in unincorporated West Carson were the source of dozens of donations. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

    “I do not remember,” he said, standing in the driveway of the home, located in West Carson.
    Blanco is among more than 100 campaign contributors with a direct or indirect connection to Samuel Leung, a Torrance-based developer who was lobbying public officials to approve a 352-unit apartment complex, a Times investigation has found.
    Those donors gave more than $600,000 to support Hahn, Mayor Eric Garcetti and other L.A.-area politicians between 2008 and 2015, as Leung was seeking city approval for the $72-million development in L.A.’s Harbor Gateway neighborhood, north of the Port of Los Angeles, The Times found.

    Donors directly or indirectly linked to developer Samuel Leung gave more than $600,000 over eight years. Among those who benefited from the money were:

    Janice Hahn

    U.S. Congress


    Joe Buscaino

    City Council


    Mitchell Englander

    City Council


    Eric Garcetti*



    Jose Huizar

    City Council


    Nury Martinez

    City Council


    *Contributions went to an independent campaign committee that supported Garcetti, but was not controlled by him.
    Photos: Irfan Khan, Francine Orr, Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times

    The fundraising effort is a case study in the myriad ways money can flow to City Hall when developers seek changes to local planning rules. The pattern of donations from unlikely sources, some of whom profess to have no knowledge of contributions made in their name, suggests an effort to bypass campaign finance laws designed to make political giving transparent to the public.
    At one critical point, Garcetti invoked a mayoral prerogative — which he has used only twice — to reduce the number of council votes required to approve the project. In several cases, elected officials received the money as they were poised to make key decisions about the development, known as Sea Breeze.

    Many of the contributions were reported on the same day, in the same amounts, for the same politician, contribution records show. They came from the handymen who fixed Leung’s buildings; the landscaper who tended his gardens; the chef who prepared meals in a hotel run by his company.
    Blanco, for instance, has worked at several Leung properties; the house where he lives is owned by one of Leung’s companies.
    By the time the contributions stopped, Leung had overcome stiff opposition from city planners, winning approval of a project that had divided neighborhood businesses and residents. His victory came as City Hall faced mounting criticism that campaign cash drives such decisions.
    Hahn, Buscaino and others 2008-2015
    Victor Blanco, $20,300
    Blanco, a repairman, said he could not remember why he made donations to Hahn. Records show he contributed $10,500 to her campaigns and office holder account.
    See more connections
    The Times uncovered the fundraising efforts by examining public campaign contribution reports, property records, business filings and court records, and in interviews with dozens of donors.
    Among the donors contacted by The Times, 11 denied making contributions or said they didn’t remember giving. Several others were unable to provide basic details about their donations, such as why they gave, to whom and how many times. One donor said she had been reimbursed for at least one contribution by a relative.
    Dozens of other contributors refused to comment or did not respond to interview requests.
    That some contributors denied giving, or didn’t remember making donations, raises questions about whether someone else was the source of the money, according to several campaign finance experts. That practice is not permitted under campaign finance laws.
    “A person of normal means — i.e. not a millionaire — would remember checks of this size,” said Richard Skinner, a policy analyst on campaign finance for the Washington, D.C.-based Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses on government transparency. “That’s not the sort of expense one usually makes casually and then forgets.”
    Leung and his representatives declined requests from The Times to discuss his development and campaign contributions. Approached by reporters at the Department of Building and Safety, Leung said he did not reimburse any donors but refused further comment.

    A hard sell: apartments in an industrial zone

    Leung, 66, was born in China and lives in Palos Verdes Estates, on a street with commanding ocean views. He has been in the real estate business for at least three decades, constructing new apartments, buying and leasing single-family homes, and building or running hotels across Los Angeles County.
    In Harbor Gateway, he and one of his companies, A&M Properties, sought approval to build hundreds of new apartments in an area zoned for industrial rather than residential uses. Their argument: The area was in dire need of housing.

    Real estate developer Samuel Leung, seated at the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety in July. (Emily Alpert Reyes / Los Angeles Times)

    The Department of City Planning opposed the plan and, in March 2014, the nine-member Planning Commission — composed of Garcetti appointees — rejected the proposal, saying new homes should not be built so close to properties zoned for heavy industry.
    But Garcetti and the council overruled the Planning Commission in February 2015, changing the zoning for the site.
    Neighborhood activists who favor limits on development charge that Garcetti and the council are too quick to rewrite city rules in ways that benefit politically connected developers, especially those that provide campaign cash.
    As the project was under review, donors tied to Leung contributed at least $94,700 to Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents Harbor Gateway and was an enthusiastic supporter of the project. That was nearly 10% of the money raised by Buscaino during the period examined by The Times.

    If I didn’t get one penny for this project I’d still support it— Councilman Joe Buscaino

    More than $30,000 went to Councilman Jose Huizar, who heads the powerful council committee that reversed the Planning Commission’s decision and approved Leung’s project. At least $65,800 went to Councilman Mitch Englander, who sits on that committee with Huizar.
    Donors with some connection to Leung also provided $60,000 to a campaign group that supported Garcetti’s 2013 mayoral bid. And more than $200,000 went to Hahn, who wrote a letter favorable to Sea Breeze before she left the council.
    Hahn, Garcetti and several other politicians contacted by The Times said the donations played no role in their positions on Sea Breeze. Buscaino said the development would bring new homes to a property that had long sat vacant “at a time when people are thirsting for workforce housing.”
    “If I didn’t get one penny for this project, I’d still support it,” he said in an interview.

    Some unlikely political donors

    The political contributions came from across Southern California. Among the donors were affluent professionals living on winding hillside streets in Granada Hills and Palos Verdes Estates. But others were working-class laborers renting modest apartments in Koreatown, South Los Angeles and North Hollywood.
    The donors included Leung’s relatives, his employees and their relatives. Leung’s business associates also made contributions, as did their family members, their companies, their co-workers and their own business associates. Relatives and co-workers of some of those donors also gave.
    Some contributors said they had no interest in local politics, even though records identify them as giving hundreds — sometimes thousands — of dollars to the L.A. politicians. Many also lived far outside the districts of the candidates to whom they gave money.
    One of Hahn’s donors, construction worker Johnny Ruiz, was living in Reseda, about 25 miles from Hahn’s Watts-to-San Pedro council district, according to campaign contribution records. He said he is the brother-in-law of Hector Molina, whose construction company has worked on several of Leung’s buildings. And he previously was employed by Seems Plumbing, a company that was hired on a Leung project in 2008.
    Interviewed at a Torrance construction site, Ruiz said he did not know who Hahn was and did not recall giving her political contributions. Yet Ethics Commission records show he gave her two $500 contributions in 2009 while she was on the City Council and representing the district that included the Sea Breeze site.
    “I’ve given donations to a lot of things, like Goodwill,” Ruiz said in Spanish. “But not to politicians.”
    Hahn donations, 2009
    Johnny Ruiz, $1,000
    Ruiz, a construction worker, said he did not know who Hahn is and did not recall giving her political contributions.
    See more connections
    Molina did not respond to several requests for comment.
    Political donors are legally required to give their names and other details, and that information is publicly reported by the campaigns.
    Federal, state and city laws prohibit contributors from reimbursing other donors — a practice sometimes called campaign money laundering — to prevent such “straw donors” from circumventing legal limits on political giving. In City Council races, that limit is currently $700.
    Violations of those laws can result in serious consequences. Two months ago, the father of U.S. Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for organizing a money-laundering scheme that helped fund his son’s campaigns.
    Hahn, who is running for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said in an interview that she had no knowledge of any donors being reimbursed. If that occurred, she said, “that’s illegal.” She said that she was troubled by that possibility and takes campaign finance law “very seriously.”

    Support our investigative journalism

    Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber today to support stories like this one.

    “All my committees were audited. I have a lawyer, a treasurer who looked at all my campaign donations. There was never any indication that anybody got reimbursed for a donation to me,” Hahn said.
    Some donors readily acknowledged making contributions.
    “I give to the symphony. I give to the opera. We give to who we believe in,” said Lorraine New, who was identified in court documents in 2013 as executive vice president of A&M Properties, which pushed for approval of Sea Breeze.
    New gave more than $46,000 to local politicians between 2008 and 2015, according to campaign contribution records.

    A burst of donations

    When Sea Breeze was first proposed, some critics saw the site as a less-than-ideal spot for a six-story apartment complex.
    At one neighboring business, construction crews frequently work outdoors, building stages and scenery for music festivals. Nearby, trucks at a Los Angeles Times distribution facility load up for early-morning deliveries.
    The area north of Sepulveda Boulevard was designated by the city for heavy manufacturing. Under the zoning rules, homes were not allowed and any new structure could be no taller than 45 feet.

    A rendering of the Sea Breeze residential complex. (Los Angeles Department of City Planning)

    But like many other developers in Los Angeles, Leung set out to persuade the planning department, and then the City Council, to change the rules for the site.
    Five weeks before Leung filed his application for the Sea Breeze project, a burst of donations came in for the reelection bid of Hahn, who represented the area. On Dec. 29, 2008, she reported receiving 22 separate donations, for a total of $11,000. Each was $500, the maximum allowed under city rules at the time.
    At least 21 of the 22 contributions came from donors connected to Leung, including family members, business associates and family members of those business associates, according to interviews and public records.
    The money arrived from workers at Best Western Golden Sails Hotel in Long Beach, where Leung was president, according to court documents; Park Parthenia, a collection of apartment buildings in Northridge where Leung was CEO; Harbor Court apartments, a 44-unit building in Harbor Gateway developed by Leung; and Seaport Homes, an apartment complex in San Pedro developed by one of Leung’s companies.

    Workers at Best Western Golden Sails Hotel in Long Beach gave repeatedly between 2008 and 2015, according to contribution reports. Court documents show Leung was president of the company that runs the hotel.(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

    Donations came from employees at Park Parthenia, a residential complex in Northridge where Leung was listed as CEO, according to contribution reports. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

    Because Harbor Gateway was in her district, Hahn’s support was critical. At City Hall, council members have a longstanding practice of deferring to their colleagues on development decisions in their districts.
    Hahn handily won her 2009 reelection campaign. Three days later, she took in more Leung-related donations. Each contribution was reported on the same day and in the same amount. Hahn received at least $15,500 from 31 donors with ties to Leung and his properties the week of her reelection, records show.
    Hahn reported a $500 donation from Pamela Rojas, a Panorama City homemaker. In an interview, Rojas said she was a friend of Johnny Ruiz, the construction worker who worked at Leung properties. Like Ruiz, she said she doesn’t remember giving Hahn any money.
    Hahn donation, 2009
    Pamela Rojas $500
    Rojas described herself as a friend of a construction worker who worked at Leung properties. She said she does not remember giving any money to Hahn.
    See more connections

    Rojas’ ex-husband also was listed as a $500 donor. He told The Times in a separate interview that he does not remember contributing to Hahn either.
    Donors also gave to Hahn’s officeholder account, which council members are allowed to use for meals, travel and other expenses.
    During 2008 and part of 2009, the go-between for most of those donations was the lobbying firm Rose & Kindel, according to Ethics Commission reports. The firm represented A&M Properties for roughly a year on the Sea Breeze project.
    At the end of 2009, Hahn launched a bid for lieutenant governor, a contest with much higher contribution limits. Leung’s associates, their companies and their family members gave $103,000 to her statewide campaign — nearly 10% of the total collected.
    Blanco, the repairman, contributed $6,500 — the maximum allowed under state law. So did Francisco Matamoros, an employee of Molina Construction, which worked on at least four Leung properties, according to city building records.
    Between 2010 and 2012, Matamoros and a family member gave more than $12,000 to politicians who represented, or were campaigning to represent, the San Pedro area, according to donation forms.
    Hahn, Buscaino and others, 2010-2012
    Francisco Matamoros, $11,000
    Matamoros, listed in contribution reports as an employee of Molina Construction, denied making political donations. “We don’t insert ourselves in politics,” he said.
    Hahn, 2009-2011
    Jesus Galguera-Garcia, $3,000
    Galguera-Garcia, a construction worker, said one of his contributions was equal to about 20 days' pay.
    See more connections

    Times reporters met with Matamoros at his apartment in North Hills and, sitting at the family’s desktop computer, showed him the Ethics Commission website that lists contributions made in his name. He denied giving contributions to Hahn or the other candidates for her seat.
    “We don’t insert ourselves in politics,” he said in Spanish.
    Hahn lost her bid for statewide office. A few months later, she turned her sights on another prize: a congressional seat that covered much of the South Bay.
    Within months, her campaign picked up $52,500 in donations from Leung’s network of associates. Each donor gave $2,500, the maximum allowed under federal election law at the time, according to donation records.
    One $2,500 donor was Jesus Galguera-Garcia, a construction worker who lives in South Los Angeles. At the time, he was doing carpentry and other construction jobs for Molina Construction, a company that worked at Leung properties.
    Galguera-Garcia described the contribution as being equal to about 20 days of his pay. Like Matamoros, he said he is not interested in politics.

    Matute$20,300$22,800$6,500$1,000RuthRosalesMatuteRelativesJesusGalguera-GarciaSergioMiramontesFranciscoBautistaFranciscoMatamorosHector Molina$4,500 in contributionsMolina Construction

    $11,000$1,200$3,000$3,500$500$40,600Sofia DavidVictor BlancoOwned by MolinaBest Building ServicesMolina, executiveMolina Construction employeesBest Building Services employees

    Source: Times reporting, based on interviews, campaign contribution reports, business filings and other public documents

    Hector Molina owns Molina Construction, which has worked on properties belonging to developer Samuel Leung. Molina’s companies, relatives, employees and business associates made political donations between 2008 and 2015

    Explore those connections, as well as details about other contributors and the politicians who got the money

    Hahn won her race for Congress. In one of her last acts as a council member, she sent a letter to a representative for A&M Properties, offering her “conditional support” for the Sea Breeze project. She said it would provide “new housing units in an area that has had little if any significant development in recent years.”
    Hahn said it was important for A&M to work “in good faith with the Harbor City Neighborhood Council” and address traffic, parks and design issues.
    That letter became a key selling point over the next five years, with Buscaino and other Sea Breeze backers describing Hahn as a supporter of the project. Hahn later disputed that portrayal.
    “I wouldn’t consider my letter a support letter,” she told The Times.

    Contributions for three contenders

    With Hahn heading to Washington, D.C., in 2011, and the fate of Sea Breeze still undecided, people with ties to Leung began sending contributions to three men running to replace her.
    The contributors first gave to former Councilman Rudy Svorinich, who had served on the council from 1993 to 2001 and was running again. Weeks later, they sent contributions to one of his rivals: then-Assemblyman Warren Furutani, who also was campaigning for Hahn’s seat.

    Buscaino and Hahn, pictured in June. Donors with direct and indirect ties to developer Samuel Leung provided at least $298,200 to the two politicians combined. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

    Among those donors was Chin-Lung Lee, who is listed in campaign records as giving to both Svorinich and Furutani. The Chatsworth resident also had made an earlier donation to Hahn.
    In an interview at her home, Lee said her sister-in-law Diane Lee had paid her back for at least one of those contributions but declined to provide details.
    Hahn, Svorinich and Furutani, 2009-2011
    Chin-Lung Lee, $1,500
    Lee, who lives in Chatsworth, said she was reimbursed by her sister-in-law for at least one contribution.

    See more connections

    “She already told me not to tell anything about it,” Chin-Lung Lee said. She declined to answer further questions about the donations.

    Diane Lee, also known as Peiann, works at the Park Parthenia apartment complex, where Leung has served as CEO, according to county business filings. She did not respond to messages seeking comment.
    Furutani said he knew nothing about any reimbursed contributions. Svorinich did not respond to messages seeking comment.
    At the time that Chin-Lung Lee and other donors were giving to Svorinich and Furutani, both men seemed to be strong contenders for Hahn’s seat. But in the November 2011 primary election, the top vote getter was a political newcomer — LAPD Officer Joe Buscaino.

    Szupin Peter

    Peiann (Diane)Lee$45,300$1,500Chin-Lung Leesister-in-law$15,000Advanced Control TechSzupin Lee, president

    MariaTonione$1,000Philip Lee$10,000Vineland OneInvestmentssonwifewifewife$500EmilyTong$1,000Kevin Leeson$500LinHe$1,000George Leesonowned by Szupin Leeand Samuel Leung$10,500Estancia LPSzupin and Peiann Lee,owners

    Source: Times reporting, based on interviews, campaign contribution reports, business filings and other public documents

    Szupin Peter Lee and Peiann (Diane) Lee have worked with developer Samuel Leung on at least two real estate ventures in the San Fernando Valley. The Lees, their companies and their relatives made multiple political donations between 2008 and 2015.

    Explore those connections, as well as details about other contributors and the politicians who got the money

    Soon, money began pouring into Buscaino’s campaign from donors affiliated with Leung and his real estate holdings.
    By the end of March 2012, some of the donors connected to Leung had given as many as six times to three of the contenders to replace Hahn. Buscaino won the race.
    The following year, Buscaino raised money for a committee to support Garcetti’s mayoral bid. Because it was run independently from Garcetti’s campaign, the committee could accept donations of any size.
    The pro-Garcetti group reported receiving $60,000 from six donors linked to Leung on April 1, 2013. A day later, Buscaino met in San Pedro with Nancy Bush, Leung’s representative, and discussed the Sea Breeze project.

    Gearing up for a zoning fight

    By 2014, local opposition to Sea Breeze had begun to emerge. The Harbor City Neighborhood Council, which represents homes on the south side of Sepulveda, came out against the development.
    So did L&B Realty, which owns industrial buildings just north of the Sea Breeze site. L&B argued that noise from its business tenants would lead to complaints from future residents and demands for limits on company operations.
    In correspondence with the city, Leung’s attorneys countered that new homes and shopping centers were already changing the face of the area.
    Buscaino endorsed the project, as did the Harbor Gateway South Neighborhood Council, which represents properties on the north side of Sepulveda. Adrienne O’Niell, the group’s former president, said Sea Breeze would provide much-needed “workforce housing,” the kind that serves lower-income families.
    Business representatives for The Times also raised questions, pointing out that the homes would be built next to a distribution center that operates late at night. However, the company ultimately took no position, a spokeswoman said.
    To get approval for Sea Breeze, Leung needed to navigate a lengthy review process. First, the project would be considered by the Planning Commission, which is made up of Garcetti appointees. Then it would face a City Council committee on development. Finally, it would need a vote from the full council and the blessing of the mayor.
    Garcetti's planning commissioners took up the proposal in March 2014. The commission, acting on the recommendation of city planners, voted 7 to 0 to reject the project.

    Mayor Eric Garcetti threw his support behind the Sea Breeze project, despite opposition from his own appointees on the City Planning Commission. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

    Commissioners said the city needed to preserve manufacturing sites and the well-paying jobs that come with them. They also argued it was a mistake to put apartments so close to industrial businesses.
    The outright rejection of Sea Breeze was unusual. In the vast majority of cases, the commission approves real estate projects, though it does sometimes insist on alterations to development proposals.
    The Sea Breeze proposal headed to the council's three-member Planning and Land Use Management Committee with two strikes against it: a negative recommendation from the city's planning department, and a rejection by the Planning Commission.
    At that point, Garcetti stepped in and used a rarely exercised power, granted to him under the City Charter, to smooth the path. He backed the change in city rules sought by Leung, reducing the number of votes needed for the City Council to approve it from 12 to 10.
    Asked why he took that unusual step, Garcetti issued a statement saying that he supported the Sea Breeze project because it would help meet his goal of building 100,000 housing units across the city by 2021. He also noted that both Buscaino and key community groups supported the project.
    Garcetti declined an interview request. His spokeswoman, Connie Llanos, said that the donations played no role in the mayor’s decision and that he had “no involvement whatsoever” with the group that took in the money. She added that Garcetti was unaware of the contributions.

    A focus on fundraising

    With Sea Breeze heading for a vote, the contributors with ties to Leung focused their fundraising efforts on the three members of the City Council’s planning committee — Englander, Huizar and Councilman Gil Cedillo.
    Within six months, Buscaino and the committee's three members had received at least $70,200 from contributors tied to Leung. The committee ultimately voted to endorse the Sea Breeze development.
    In the run-up to the final council vote, donors linked to Leung also gave money to support candidates backed by Buscaino. One of the biggest beneficiaries was an independent committee to support former Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver, who was running for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
    Buscaino, the honorary chairman of a Shriver fundraising committee, went to the Sea Breeze site to meet with Leung’s representative on Aug. 12, 2014. Two days later, that pro-Shriver campaign committee reported $120,000 in contributions from donors affiliated with Leung.

    Buscaino met with a Sea Breeze representative in August 2014 to discuss the project. Two days later, a campaign committee that had Buscaino as its honorary chairman took in $120,000 from people and companies directly and indirectly tied to the developer. (Office of Councilman Joe Buscaino)Buscaino said there was no connection between his Sea Breeze meeting and the fundraising for Shriver. “You can’t put two and two together,” he said.
    Sea Breeze was outside the district where Shriver was running; he said he did not know Leung and had never heard of the project.
    In the final weeks before the City Council vote, Buscaino co-hosted a fundraiser in San Pedro for the reelection campaign of Councilwoman Nury Martinez. Within three days, Martinez reported receiving at least $7,700 in donations connected to Leung.
    Victor Blanco, the repairman living in the house on 223rd Street, was one of those donors. So was one of his longtime housemates. Two others who had worked at Leung properties also gave.
    All four of their checks had the same date and what appears to be the same handwriting. The city’s Ethics Commission, which turned over copies of the checks in response to a public records request, blacked out the signatures.

    Four donors to Martinez turned in checks on the same day in the same amounts in what appears to be the same handwriting. Signatures and donor addresses were redacted by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which provided check copies to The Times.Two weeks after the Martinez fundraiser, the council approved Sea Breeze unanimously, without discussion. A spokesman for Martinez said that she had never met Leung or his representatives — and that the contributions played no role in her support.
    The Leung-affiliated donors kept giving for a few more months, providing funds to Englander’s bid to replace Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Buscaino’s officeholder account.
    Buscaino tapped that account in July to help pay for an official city trip to Italy.

    Support our investigative journalism

    Construction recently began on the Sea Breeze site along Sepulveda Boulevard, seven years after it was first proposed.
    On an August afternoon, a lone man in a hard hat and orange vest was working on the site, loading items into a pickup. It was Victor Blanco, the repairman from the house on 223rd Street, whose residents gave more than $40,000 in political donations, according to contribution records.
    When reporters attempted to ask him again about the contributions made by him and his housemates, Blanco told them to go away.
    “I’m not opening my mouth,” he said.

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