Say Hello To the Gigamansion

Want yet another indicator of economic inequality, both global and local? Check out this New York Times piece from Peter Haldeman about a land-use fight breaking out in Los Angeles led by multi-millionaires fighting the avaricious construction plans for billionaires. Seriously.

At the end of a narrow, twisting side street not far from the Hotel Bel-Air rises a knoll that until recently was largely covered with scrub brush and Algerian ivy. Now the hilltop is sheared and graded, girded by caissons sprouting exposed rebar. “They took 50- or 60,000 cubic yards of dirt out of the place,” said Fred Rosen, a neighbor, glowering at the site from behind the wheel of his Cadillac Escalade on a sunny October afternoon.

Mr. Rosen, who used to run Ticketmaster, has lately devoted himself to the homeowners alliance he helped form shortly after this construction project was approved. When it is finished, a modern compound of glass and steel will rise two stories, encompass several structures and span — wait for it — some 90,000 square feet….

“Twenty-thousand-square-foot homes have become teardowns for people who want to build 70-, 80-, and 90,000-square-foot homes,” Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz said. So long, megamansion. Say hello to the gigamansion….

Why are people building houses the size of shopping malls? Because they can. “Why do you see a yacht 500 feet long when you could easily have the same fun in one half the size?” asked Jeffrey Hyland, a partner in the Beverly Hills real estate firm Hilton & Hyland, who is developing five 50,000-square-foot properties on the site of the old Merv Griffin estate in Beverly Hills….

Perhaps it is a bit comforting to know that it’s other people’s economic overlords who are driving the insanity in LA real estate:

According to Mr. Hyland, the market for these Versailles knockoffs is “flight capital.” “It’s oligarchs, oilgarchs, people from Asia, people who came up with the next app for the iPhone,” he said. While global wealth is pouring into other American cities as well, Los Angeles is still a relative bargain, Mr. Hyland said, adding: “Here you can buy the best house for $3,000 a square foot. In Manhattan, you’re looking at $11,000 a square foot and you get a skybox.”

Middle Eastern wealth, of course, makes political resistance to these developments more viable, even if the NIMBYs in this case are living in unbelievable splendor themselves:

Mr. Rosen is hardly alone in his objection to the disruptions created by these pumped-up projects. Another house in Bel Air developed by Mr. [Mohamed] Hadid — a Palestinian émigré with a flowing gray mane and a burnt sienna tan — is the scourge of nearby residents. The 30,000-square-foot house, a modern, circular colossus that has been nicknamed the Starship Enterprise by angry neighbors, who include Leonard Nimoy, looms 67 feet above grade (the height limit in Los Angeles is 36 feet). “He’s violated just about every regulation that applies,” said Joseph Horacek, an entertainment lawyer who lives directly below the home and has filed numerous appeals against the project. Last month, the city revoked the developer’s permits.

Such is what passes for a war on inequality in one location.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.