Angels Landing Developers: ‘We Can No Longer Work With’ De León After Audio Scandal

The CEOs behind the tallest project in the U.S. created by Black-owned real estate firms also want an investigation into how L.A. does business

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The developers of the Angels Landing project in Downtown Los Angeles — the tallest project in the country being built by Black-owned real estate firms — said they can no longer work with City Councilman Kevin de León in the wake of the leaked conversation between De León and other high-level officials that included several racist and disparaging comments.

The scandal has already led to the resignation of Council President Nury Martinez, while De León and Councilman Gil Cedillo the two remaining people in the leaked conversation who refuse to step down — were removed from their committee roles on Monday that deal with real estate development, housing, homelessness and other issues.

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R. Donahue Peebles, CEO of The Peebles Corporation, and Victor MacFarlane, CEO of MacFarlane Partners, lead the Angels Landing project. It’s a 1.2 million-square-foot high-rise that secured entitlements earlier this year in the Fourteenth Council District, which is represented by De León. The CEOs sent a letter to the Council President decrying the councilman’s “conduct, demeanor, and demonstrated racist actions” and called for his resignation.

“We cannot, in good conscience, go forward and work with Council Member Kevin de León on the Angels Landing project and call for his immediate resignation from the Los Angeles City Council,” the letter read. De León’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In the leaked audio recording of a conversation regarding redistricting maps, Martinez said Councilman Mike Bonin carried his young Black son like an “accessory,” and described the child as “parece changuito,” or “like a monkey,” while De León jokingly compared Bonin with his son to Martinez carrying her luxury handbags. De León also derided Bonin as the City Council’s “fourth Black member.”

Martinez also complained that District Attorney George Gascón is “with the Blacks,” among other comments about other elected officials that were focused on race.

“As two African Americans who have spent their careers championing inclusiveness, we find [De León’s] actions offensive to ourselves and the number of dignified, qualified, respectable and proud individuals of our culture,” the letter from Peebles and MacFarland read. “However, the unfortunate truth is that comments and actions (and inactions) taken by Council Member de León, such as those heard on the recording, are not uncommon or entirely unexpected in today’s climate and continue to cause a divide in our society.”

News of the leaked audio led to an unprecedented wave of leaders calling for council members’ resignations, including President Joe Biden; Mayor Eric Garcetti; members of Congress; state legislators; other council members; the two mayoral candidates, Karen Bass and Rick Caruso; and a long list of prominent organizations and labor groups.

Peebles and MacFarland said the Angels Landing development team tried for two years to work with De León and others to finalize the approval process.

“To date, Council Member De León met with us exactly once on March  28, 2022,” the letter read. “For a mere 15 minutes in a hotel lobby immediately prior to a press conference we held on the project securing all land use entitlements and entering into agreements with the hotel and building trades unions.”

The CEOs also called for further investigation of operations at City Hall as a whole.

“[The scandal] must be the impetus behind a deeper investigation into racial and gender biases and barriers — not only of the three Council Members on the recording but of the systems elected to govern the City of Los Angeles and tasked with its continued equitable prosperity,” the letter read.

Angels Landing is projected to initially inject $1.6 billion into the local economy and create more than 8,300 new jobs for construction. The development is committed to a minimum of 30 percent minority-owned and women-owned business procurement and 20 percent affordable housing for L.A. residents. 

Angels Landing will include two hotels, condominium and rental units, as well as retail and restaurant space and an urban park called Angels Landing Plaza. The two towers in the Bunker Hill neighborhood will stand 854 feet tall with 88 floors and 494 feet with 42 stories.

When the project received city approval, Peebles said the developers were focused on bringing increased diversity and equity to L.A. through his affirmative development policy, and that the “transformative impact of empowerment and economic inclusion” from the project will benefit Black-, Latino- and Asian-owned businesses.

Gregory Cornfield can be reached at gcornfield@commercialobserver.com.