Construction at the Shores Project, a 544-unit, five-story development at 4201 Via Marina in Marina del Rey, has been temporarily put on hold due to a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), under a ruling by Superior Court Judge David Yaffe.
A portion of the final environmental impact (EIR) report for the proposed high-rise did not disclose a key change that was addressed in a previous report, which led to a court ruling that invalidated that section of the environmental document and halted all construction until a final determination is made by the court.
The homeowners association of Marina Strand Colony II, a townhouse complex near the proposed development, sued Los Angeles County and the lessee of the property, Jerry Epstein, to stop the development.
The County Board of Supervisors approved the project last year.
The developer plans to raze the existing 202-unit apartment building called Del Rey Shores Apartments and construct a new project at the site.
“We believe this ruling represents among the first successful victories halting the runaway development in Marina del Rey,” said Dan Christy, president of the Marina Strand Colony II Homeowners Association. “We are elated that the court has recognized the detrimental effect that massive, unchecked development is having on our community’s environment and quality of life.”
Yaffe ordered all construction and demolition stopped and will issue a final remedy in the case after both sides submit their legal writs later this month.
Yaffe focused on the portion of the EIR that related to grading work of the soil at the project site, its transportation from the area and the potential impact that this could have on the immediate area.
“The first time that grading was addressed, it was discussed as a ‘balanced site’,” said Rose Zoia, the petitioner’s attorney.
Zoia was referring to the initial environmental document, in which county officials described the excavation site as “balanced,” and that it would require moving approximately 40,000 cubic yards of soil and construction debris.
Balanced excavation suggests that all of the material that is removed would be used to make fills on the site, requiring no fill material to be imported and no surplus excavation material to be removed from the site.
However, in the county’s final draft document, the characterization of the site being imbalanced appeared for the first time and was never circulated for public review.
“Due to changes in the site alteration, grading on the project is not balanced and approximately 25,940 cubic yards of earth would require export from the project site,” the FEIR (final environmental impact report) reads. “Excavation on the project site is expected to require approximately 40 working days to complete.”
The demolition of the existing buildings on the site, together with construction debris generated after demolition will total approximately 92,576 cubic yards of solid waste that will be transported from the site, the final environmental impact report states.
The court noted that the removal from the project of 28 percent more waste material would constitute “significant new information, which was added to the EIR after public notice was given of the availability of the draft EIR for public review, but before certification.”
Paragraph 2.3.2 in the final environmental impact report discusses the environmental impact of the additional hauling due to changes in the design of the grading of the project with respect to the noise that it would cause.
“The FEIR concludes that because of the use of heavy trucks to haul equipment and materials to the site, as well as transport debris and earth excavated during demolition of existing structures and grading at the site, already cause a temporary significant impact and the additional hauling of surplus material would not cause a significant change from the impact already recognized in the draft EIR,” the court ruled. “The FEIR does not discuss the effect of the additional hauling on traffic in the area of the site, on air quality in the area of the site and upon the amount of solid waste that will be produced by the demolition and construction on the site and which will have to be hauled from the project site to a solid waste disposal site and deposited therein.”
Zoia commented, “The court correctly recognized that the amount of waste material that would have to be hauled away from the project constitutes significant new information which was added to the EIR after the public review and comment period ended.”
Zoia has been a land use attorney for nearly 20 years.
Michael Rosenfeld, who owns a townhouse at Marina Strand Colony II, raised many of the same concerns highlighted in the EIR during the public comment period last year prior to the project winning approval from the county.
“Over the last five to ten years, the traffic in and around the Marina has become unbearable,” said Rosenfeld, a 25-year Marina resident. “This has put tremendous stress on the infrastructure, and without the proper planning and review of this development, it could make things worse for the community.”
David Levine, Epstein’s chief of staff, characterized Yaffe’s ruling as “tentative.”
“It is not completely clear what the county and the lessee will be required to do by the court to ensure that all of the project approvals comply fully with CEQA,” said Levine. He said that the project was “not at a standstill,” as some of the petitioners have suggested.
The court found that the change in grading should have been recirculated to allow the public to comment on it, said Elaine Lemke, the county’s legal representative. That narrow segment of the EIR was the only part of the document where the judge found a CEQA violation.
“All of the other issues that the petitioner raised were thrown out,” she noted.
Yaffe ruled that county planners violated one of the principal tenets of CEQA, the landmark environmental state law, which is full and transparent participation by the public.
“By failing to adequately treat the effect of its design in the FEIR, the county has concealed from the public the true basis upon which the FEIR was approved,” the judge wrote. “CEQA has not been scrupulously followed.”
Zoia has submitted a writ asking the project to be set aside.
County officials have the option to file a response to the petitioner’s writ, and Yaffe is expected to issue his final directions at the end of the month.
Lemke said that county officials would await the court’s decision before deciding what course of action to take.
“If the county decides to go forward with the project, it would [most likely] have to recirculate the [grading portion] of the EIR,” she said.
David Sommers, County Supervisor Don Knabe’s press deputy, referred a reporter’s inquiries to Epstein or the county counsel’s office.
The Marina Strand Colony II Homeowners Association’s Christy said that he and his fellow board members at the homeowners association opposed the project for a variety of reasons.
“We believe that the traffic and the shadow and light studies were erroneous, and the height of the project would have been over 100 feet,” the association president said. “Not only would this affect our quality of life, but it will affect our financial situation as well.
“So we’re also fighting to preserve our financial investments as well.”
Added Rosenfeld, a former print reporter who is now a business consultant, “We’re not opposed to redevelopment, refurbishment and modernization. We are opposed to projects like the Shores, of which the size and scale would loom considerably over the current footprint of the existing project.”
Levine views the court ruling as “a part of the construction process,” and he said that Epstein, one of the Marina’s most prominent developers, plans to move forward with the Shores project.
Levine appeared to take the court ruling in stride.
“EIRs are complicated documents and the approvals process is a lengthy and difficult process,” he said. “That has become a fact of life for developers.”
Christy feels that the county and the developer will almost certainly appeal the court’s decision if they are not happy with Yaffe’s final judicial finding. “This is a small victory in what will probably be a long war,” he predicted.