Some residents of neighboring communities protest the Council’s decision

BY GARY WALKER

After two contentious marathon meetings that featured emotional testimony from residents from three neighboring communities, the Culver City Council authorized the Entrada Tower project to go forward Tuesday, April 16th, a move decried by some homeowners in Del Rey and Westchester as well as Culver City.

A standing-room-only crowd came to hear the council — in one of its last meetings as a group, as three councilmembers are leaving at the end of this month — decide the fate of the controversial project, which has been blasted by its critics for its substantial height and density.

The tower, which is slated to be built adjacent to the Radisson Hotel near the Culver City-Westchester border, was approved at 176 feet and 12 stories. In the original proposal, it had been projected to reach 220 feet, with 13 stories above nine levels of parking, seven of which would be subterranean.

The joint meeting of the council and the Redevelopment Agency, which began at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 14th, was continued until the following day due to the extensive public comment that the council was obligated to hear.

Residents from Culver City and neighboring communities of Westchester and Del Rey filled the council chambers and an overflow room next door was opened, where many watched the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

Although there was some support for the planned development, the majority of the speakers were against the project as it was submitted.

Culver City deputy clerk Ella Valladares said that the audience was one of the largest that she has seen at City Hall in recent months.

“We had some fairly large crowds last year, but this one was certainly the biggest this year,” she said.

Approximately 60 speakers addressed the council the first evening and another 45 to 50 submitted written comments, extending the evening into the early hours of the morning until Mayor Alan Corlin called a halt to the proceedings at 3 a.m.

A notice was posted outside City Hall by assistant city manager Martin Cole at 3:20 a.m. Tuesday morning notifying the public that the meeting would continue later that day at 6 p.m.

“It was a good turnout,” said Corlin the morning after the first meeting. “I thought that most of the councilmembers were diligent in proceeding with the business at hand.”

Councilman Gary Silbiger asked his colleagues to delay voting on the matter until hearing comment from the applicant and the public.

“It’s not time to have this kind of meeting,” the councilman said. Silbiger felt that he and others had not been able to fully digest all of the necessary information concerning the project, especially the environmental impact report (EIR), which is thousands of pages long.

Silbiger said he felt that newly elected councilmembers should be the body that rules on the tower project, since three of his colleagues — Steven Rose, Carol Gross and Corlin — will be leaving the council at the end of April.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the adjacent Del Rey and Westchester areas of Los Angeles, like Silbiger, had lobbied Culver City’s elected leaders to postpone the decision until the three new councilmembers, who were elected on April 8th, are sworn in.

“This is really a proper item for the new council,” said Silbiger. “This council is going to continue to work on items. However, this is an ongoing item of extreme difficulty and consequences to our communities. Three of [the councilmembers] were elected because of their reasonable positions on development, and they would not have gotten elected if they had taken a position of just listening to the developer.”

Silbiger recommended postponing the vote for at least a month. He then made a motion to that effect Monday, but it was denied.

The other councilmembers expressed a commitment to discuss the project before them, and commented at length on the merits of the project.

Rose, Gross and councilman Scott Malsin weighed in at the Monday meeting, and Silbiger and Corlin discussed it the next evening.

Westchester United Neighbors, a group of homeowners who are opposed to the tower project’s size and density, filed an appeal after Culver City’s Planning Commission approved the proposed development in February.

Lori Alexander, a Westchester homeowner, gave a 15-minute presentation detailing what she said were deficiencies in the EIR and substantial negative impacts that the planned development would bring to Westchester and Del Rey, including congested intersections and a loss of scenic views from Westchester Bluff homeowners.

Like many of the Westchester and Culver City residents, who are in opposition to the building in its current form, Alexander talked about the height of the project, which exceeds Culver City’s height limit of 56 feet.

“We’ve really taken a lot of time to think about these issues and we’ve tried to confine our arguments to the legal facts,” she said.

Douglas Carstens, a land use attorney and partner at the Santa Monica-based law firm of Chatten-Brown and Carstens, who represents Westchester United Neighbors, said the developer’s EIR does not meet the necessary guidelines outlined in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a landmark state environmental law that governs land use.

“We know CEQA, and I can tell you that this [EIR] is not in compliance with CEQA,” the attorney asserted.

“We recognize that development can be allowed and can go forward, but this is just pushing it to far,” Carstens insisted. “I think that you need to give this more time, a consideration of 30 more days, and what is that in the scheme of things?

“This decision will be with all of you for many, many years.”

Brandon Taylor, a vice president of Centinela Development Partners, championed his company’s project as one that was economically and culturally feasible.

“Over the last two and a half years, we have put together a ‘dream team’ of experts from various fields such as architecture, design, traffic engineering and economics,” he said.

Taylor described the project as the realization of a vision several years ago when his company purchased the Radisson Hotel and Pacific Plaza, the office building adjacent to the hotel.

“When you get to the core of it, we purchased these assets knowing that we could do better,” Taylor told the council.

He highlighted, as previous representatives of the company had, the economic benefits that the project will bring to Culver City.

“We estimate that we will create over 1,000, high-paying jobs in Culver City,” Taylor predicted, outlining the possibility of attracting financial service firms and other large-scale businesses.

They calculate that over a 15-year period, the project is estimated to bring in over $33 million dollars in tax revenues to Culver City.

“Over half of that will go to the Redevelopment Agency,” the company vice president pointed out.

There will also be a cultural enhancement to the building.

“As part of our mission, we will be putting almost $1 million in art projects on the property,” Taylor said. The developer plans to use local artists for the artwork, according Taylor.

Monday, the developer did offer to reduce the project by one floor, which brought jeers from many in the audience. That was the proposal that the council ultimately accepted.

Westchester resident Gina Koshack complimented the council for allowing so many speakers — many from outside Culver City — to be heard.

“I think that it was very commendable that no one’s voice was silenced,” she said.

Myra Kriwanek, who also lives in Westchester, was dismayed that the building was approved, even at a reduced height.

“I think that the developer got what he wanted,” she said. “The developer did not give very much to the community benefit.”

Chris Nevil, the president of the Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association, was one of many speakers who had strong feelings about the project.

“My board and I feel that this is completely out of context and perspective with the neighborhood,” Nevil said prior to the public hearing. “In the long run, we all suffer the consequences if we don’t build responsible development.”

Corlin was not entirely pleased by the outcome, but feels that there could have been a result where all parties benefited more.

“In my opinion, if Mr. Silbiger had been more cooperative, there could have been a better outcome for the people of Westchester and Culver City,” he said.

Kriwanek said that increased traffic and the height of the tower were her primary concerns. “It’s going to be twice as big as the bluffs,” she said. “I’m thoroughly disappointed with the result.”

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