One of the most anticipated environmental analyses in recent years will soon be heard by a Los Angeles City Council committee that will help decide whether the second stage of a Westside development will gain steam or lose traction.
The recirculated environmental impact report for the Village, Playa Vista’s commercial component of its planned community structure, will come before the city’s Land Use and Planning Committee Tuesday, March 9th.
Playa Capital, the developers of the Village and Phase I, the residential component of the affluent bedroom community, are confident that their document has covered all the necessary bases, and hailed the support of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.
“There is tremendous support citywide for the passage of the Village,” said Steven Sugerman, a Playa Vista spokesman. “The big boost of support, especially from an organization like the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, is indicative of the support for job creation and economic development.”
Sugerman said the project would create approximately 7,000 new jobs and “hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and property tax revenues over the years.”
The Village, which will feature 2,600 residential units, 175,000 square feet of office space, and 150,000 square feet of retail space, was approved by the City Council in 2005. But local environmental groups quickly filed legal action against the EIR and an appellate court sided with the plaintiffs, striking down an earlier lower court ruling upholding the environmental analysis.
The court found that the analysis was deficient in three areas: land use impacts, mitigation of impacts on historical archaeological resources and wastewater impacts.
The recirculated EIR was made public in September, four years after the appellate court stripped the project of its approvals.
María Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the labor federation, has indicated that her union will lobby for the committee to approve the EIR, which will then move to the City Council.
“We request that the City Council and the Department of City Planning move quickly to revise the three sections of the EIR as required by the court to bring the matter to the City Council for approval,” Durazo wrote in a letter last month to City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Playa Vista. “Playa Vista represents great public policy and is an important center for quality union jobs and union investment.”
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa has overwhelmingly given its support to the Village, voting 18-2 last year in favor of the project.
“The Village will have a positive effect on property values, and the impact of well-paying jobs coming to the area cannot be understated,” said David Voss, a member of the council’s land use and planning committee. “Attracting these well-paying jobs is also very good for the local economy.”
Opponents of the project are still hoping that city planners will listen to their objections to the Village.
“I don’t think (the committee) should approve the EIR until Phase I is complete and fully occupied,” said Marcia Hanscom, co-director of the Ballona Institute, a Playa del Rey-based organization that works to preserve the Ballona Wetlands. “(Playa Vista) says that they will have open space, but if it’s not contiguous, it doesn’t help the wildlife (in Phase II).”
Sabrina Venskus, the attorney who won the 2007 appeal, says the council should wait until after the budget hearings have subsided before they consider re-examining the EIR.
“I have a hard time understanding how the council can focus on one of the most important land use issues of our times in the middle of a budget crisis,” Venskus said. “I cannot fathom why they’re trying to address this important project now.”
Venskus, who lives in Venice, said the approach that the City Council has taken regarding many pending projects is to table them, and the reason given is that it is working on arguably its most pressing matter — reducing its $212 million budget deficit.
“Every time we try to bring other projects before the council, we’re told that there’s no time to hear them until after the budget (has been adopted),” she said.
Durazo also touched on the economic impact that the second stage of the project would bring.
“The Village phase alone represents more than $2 million of direct investments in Los Angeles and is expected to create more than 5,000 union construction jobs and hundreds of apprenticeships,” she said.
Hanscom feels that there are questions surrounding Native American remains in Phase II that she says have not been fully addressed.
“That’s a very big problem,” Hanscom said. “In my view, they should be reburied in Phase II, where they were discovered.”
Playa Vista agreed in 2008 to inter thousands of Native American ancestral remains after a protracted standoff with the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe, which once inhabited the region below the bluffs of Loyola Marymount University and as far west as the Ballona Wetlands in what is now Playa del Rey.
The tribe’s most likely descendant Robert Dorame and Playa Vista reached an accord brokered by Rosendahl to rebury the remains below LMU during a ceremony attended by hundreds of tribal members, environmentalists and city and state officials.
H.L. Boihem, who moved to Playa Vista in 2006, thinks the time has come to build the second stage of the planned community.
“There’s been so many challenges to the Village,” Boihem said. “There comes a time when you have to stop the divergence and start the convergence.”
“There are those who wish that everything would stay underdeveloped, but that’s not very realistic,” he said. “I respect (Playa Vista’s opponents’) fervent desire to do whatever they can to stop this exemplary project, but I think at this point they’re grasping at straws.”
Venskus reiterated her desire to see the city postpone the review of Phase II.
“This is the largest privately owned undeveloped parcel in the city,” she noted. “There’s too much going on with the budget for the council to focus on this important issue.”
But residents like Boihem have encouraged Rosendahl to support the mixed-use project.
“My expectation is given the circumstances that we are in today, I would like to have him help us get what we want,” said the Playa Vista resident.
The City Council is slated to review the EIR for the Village later this month.