A public hearing regarding a methane mitigation system at the Playa Vista Phase I development is scheduled for 6 p.m., Tuesday, August 15th, at Venice High School Auditorium, 13000 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista.

The purpose of the hearing is “to offer comments and evidence on two issues relating to groundwater dewatering at Playa Vista’s Phase I development, and to determine whether the dewatering will cause local subsidence (a settling or sinking to a lower level) and mobilization of plumes (a vertically or longitudinally moving, rising or expanding fluid body of water) in the groundwater underlying the Playa Vista Phase I site, according to city documents.

The hearing will be conducted by the City of Los Angeles chief legislative analyst on behalf of the Los Angeles City Council.

The public hearing concerns two separate lawsuits against the City of Los Angeles.

On January 11th, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a motion in connection with litigation in which the city was a defendant — the plaintiff was Environmentalism Through Inspiration and Non-Violent Action (ETINA) — regarding the Playa Vista Phase I methane mitigation system.

The City Council motion authorized the hiring of consultants (peer reviewers) to analyze the work of two previous consultants that prepared reports and performed services regarding the methane mitigation process at Playa Vista Phase I. The two peer review companies were chosen based on not having prior employment with Playa Vista, the Southern California Gas Company or the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering.

The two firms chosen for the peer review were Geocon Inland Empire, Inc. (Burbank), and Fugro West, Inc. (Ventura).

In separate letters to the City of Los Angeles office of the chief legislative analyst and the Bureau of Engineering, the two firms each stated, in separate reports issued in July, that after a third-party review of the work and reports completed at the Playa Vista Phase I development by Camp, Dresser and McKee and Group Delta Consultants (reports completed in 2005), they concurred with the results of the 2005 reports that there are no significant environmental effects.

In February, Los Angeles Superior Court judge George Wu issued a writ of mandate ordering the City of Los Angeles to “vacate your approval of the methane mitigation measures for the Playa Vista Phase I project, for the purposes of determining whether a subsequent environmental impact report or supplemental impact report is required with respect to groundwater dewatering, and proceed accordingly as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.”

At a March 31st City Council meeting, Councilmen Bill Rosendahl — who represents Council District 11, which includes Playa Vista — and Ed Reyes again called for the City to “vacate approval of the methane mitigation measures” regarding Playa Vista.

A second lawsuit was filed July 14th in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that the City of Los Angeles should be held in contempt of court for violating both a judge’s order and the California Environmental Quality Act, and for failure to ensure the safety of methane gas mitigations at Playa Vista Phase I.

“We believe the city is in full compliance with the appeals court ruling, and all of the projects listed by the petitioners, with one exception, have no dewatering systems,” said Patti Sinclair, Playa Vista general counsel.

“Moreover, the methane systems, including the one project with a dewatering system for the buildings listed by the petitioners, were in place well before February 23rd, 2006,” said Sinclair.

“Despite what the professional project opponents allege, this case isn’t about the safety and effectiveness of the methane systems, as the only question raised by the appeals court was whether or not the dewatering systems associated with the methane mitigation systems at Playa Vista Phase I had any environmental effects,” Sinclair said.

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit, represented by attorney Richard Fine, include a party to the first lawsuit — Environmentalism Through Inspiration and Non-Violent Action (ETINA) — the Grassroots Coalition, Spirit of the Sage Council, and two individuals, John Davis and Daniel Cohen.

Respondents are the City of Los Angeles, The City Council of Los Angeles (Does 1-10) and Playa Capital Company, LLC (Playa Vista).

“The City’s own experts, Exploration Technologies, Inc., a Texas-based company, have labeled the site at Playa Vista as ‘the largest oil field and methane gas seat in the country’,” said Patricia McPherson of Grassroots Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The motion by Rosendahl and Reyes, after a closed-session discussion between the City Council and the City Attorney’s (Rocky Delgadillo) Office, failed to specify the need to proceed according to the California Environmental Quality Act, said Fine.

“A judge’s order required the City of Los Angeles to approve methane mitigation measures according to the California Environmental Quality Act, and the City Attorney’s Office advised the City Council to ignore that legal requirement,” Fine alleged.

“That is more than avoidance of the law. That is contempt and is the basis for the motion filed,” Fine alleged.

The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety issued 26 permits for the methane system and thousands of occupancy certificates on the advice of the City Attorney’s Office, without answering environmental and health and safety guidelines, leading to a major liability for the city, plaintiffs allege.

“The City Attorney’s Office is in full compliance with the law, and we believe the court will agree after we file our response in mid-August,” said a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office.

“With the methane system in question, the tax-free $135 million bonds that the City of Los Angeles issued in the Playa Vista development could come back to haunt them,” said Fine.

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