Promises, past and present, took on a prominent role a week before the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee approved the environmental impact report for the Village at Playa Vista.
At a March 3rd meeting in the planned community, a standing-room-only crowd of Playa Vista residents told City Councilman Bill Rosendahl that they were frustrated by the delays in approving the mixed-use component of the residential community’s Phase II and asked him to sign a promise to fully support the EIR.
In addition, opponents of the Village are asking about a pledge that the councilman and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed as candidates in 2005, which states that they would not support the building of Phase II until the first phase is completely occupied. Phase I, the residential component and commercial section of Playa Vista, has some commercial buildings that do not have tenants.
“What I want to know is: does that pledge still mean anything?” Sabrina Venskus, an attorney who represented an environmental group that sued to stop Phase II, asked.
The Land Use and Planning Committee approved the EIR Tuesday, March 9th, and the environmental analysis will now go to the City Council on Friday, March 26th.
Residents who live in Phase I have been increasingly vocal about their desires to have the second stage of its community plan completed over the last several weeks. The Village, as Phase II is called, is slated to bring thousands of square feet of commercial and retail opportunities to Playa Vista’s 6,000-plus residents, many of whom say they moved to the affluent community to be able to walk to their neighborhood amenities.
Agitated residents asked the councilman to sign the pledge in favor of the Village, but Rosendahl said that he could not because it skipped an important step in the approval process.
“The residents at the meeting have tremendous passion for where they live, and I appreciated that,” Rosendahl told The Argonaut. “But there are certain steps that must be followed in a democracy, and every time that I tried to explain that, they were unable to listen.”
Rosendahl was referring to the land use and planning meeting, which was six days away at the time of the community meeting.
The pledge stated, “I pledge my full support for the Village at Playa Vista as it was approved unanimously by the Los Angeles City Planning Commission.”
Rosendahl attempted to write in the words “City Council” instead of Planning Commission, which angered many of the audience members and compelled others to walk out of the community meeting, according to Mike Laib.
Laib, who lives in Playa Vista and attended the meeting, watched as many residents left the room following Rosendahl’s attempt to edit and sign the pledge.
“What happened at that meeting is no way to show mutual respect and work with people who are trying to help us. There was way too much drama which led to this,” Laib wrote in an e-mail comment.
Rosendahl pointed out that supporting the planning committee recommendation and voting in favor of the Village at the council level were two completely different things.
“The commission is accountable to the mayor, not to me,” he clarified.
Chris Udall has lived at Playa Vista since 2004, and he was one of the nearly 300 residents who attended the meeting with Rosendahl.
“Many of the residents seemed to be quite frustrated by (Rosendahl’s) lack of support with this project,” Udall said. “This is not a question of perhaps anymore; this is a question of yes or no.”
H.L. Boihem came to Playa Vista in 2006 and sees the Village as an extension of what the planned community already has.
“We’ve made a lot of good friends here, and I think that the time has come for Councilman Rosendahl not to be hesitant or conservative,” Boihem said.
Rosendahl said he favored much of what is in the recirculated EIR, but would like to see certain conditions addressed.
“I would like to see the supermarket, which many of my constituents want very much, be among the first things that are built there,” he said. “Second, I would like to see senior housing on the table as well.”
The councilman said that balancing the needs and desires of Playa Vista residents and the larger concerns of protecting the environment and the city were his ultimate goal.
“I understand and appreciate the passion that (Playa Vista residents) have. They have invested their time, their lives and their money there,” he said. “But it’s very important that all of the controls not be left in the hands of the developer.”
Udall said he found Rosendahl’s statements to the audience that night “vague and meandering,” and he feels that the councilman did not convince many people at the meeting.
“I think that he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat that night,” Udall quipped. “The underlying suspicion is that he was seen making changes to what had already been approved.”
Laib thinks that the meeting could have been handled much better, especially the rhetoric directed at Rosendahl.
“I know Playa Capital has a vested interest in seeing the Village go through, as we homeowners do, but this goes beyond that,” he said.
The March 3rd pledge is not the only one that surfaced recently. Rosendahl, along with Villaraigosa and two other city council candidates, signed pledges from the Ballona Wetlands Trust in 2005 that stated that they would vote to withhold their approval of Phase II until certain conditions are met.
The pledge reads: “If the Playa Vista Phase II development is reconsidered by the Los Angeles City Council, I will work to withhold approval of Phase II until:
“The promise made by Los Angeles and Playa Vista in 1993 of providing community serving businesses within the Phase I development sufficient to support the needs of Phase I residents is honored and (b) Phase I is completely built, occupied and its traffic impacts quantified and adequately mitigated, as the conditions of approval for Phase I.
“Regardless of whether or not Phase II is reconsidered by the Los Angles City Council, I will support efforts to acquire the unprotected and undeveloped land at Ballona (which currently constitutes Phase II and Phase I ‘East’ land) for preservation, recreation and cleansing urban runoff, assuming there is a willing seller,” the pledge states.
Rosendahl recalled signing the pledge, but says that times have changed since 2005.
“This doesn’t have to do with the pledge; it has to do with the reality of the economy and I can’t wait for it to get any better,” he said. “I and my constituents have to live within the reality of the moment.”
The councilman added that the process was still open and he was in “serious discussions with the developer over the development agreement.”
Tom Francis of the Ballona Land Trust said his organization and others supported Rosendahl because of his 2005 campaign promise.
“We know him to be a man of integrity, and we’re confident that he will stay strong and honor his pledge,” Francis said.
Villaraigosa’s office did not return calls for comment on the mayor’s 2005 pledge.