Local environmental groups and wetlands advocates cheered a state Supreme Court decision Wednesday, December 12th, that upheld an appellate ruling to halt further development of the second stage of the planned community of Playa Vista, known as The Village.
The Second District Court of Appeals in September ordered the last phase of the residential and commercial development project shut down after it found that the Los Angeles City Council had violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved an Environmental Impact Report in 2005 that allowed construction of Playa Vista’s Phase II.
“The Superior Court is directed to issue an order enjoining all project activities that it finds would prejudice the city’s consideration or implementation of mitigation measures or alternatives and that could result in an adverse change to the physical environment, until the city fully complies with CEQA,” the court wrote. “The [environmental impact report on the project] was deficient in its analysis of land use impacts, mitigation of impacts on historical archaeological resources, and wastewater impacts.”
The California Environmental Quality Act, a landmark environmental statute, is the basis for environmental law and policy to protect environmental quality in California.
Environmental organizations hailed the court’s decision as another victory for the preservation of the remaining wetlands and the environment. Tom Francis, executive director of the Ballona Wetlands Trust, a nonprofit organization that was one of the plaintiffs in the case, feels that this should serve as wakeup call to elected officials who put money before the public interest.
“[The Los Angeles City Council] has been controlled by developers for too long,” Francis told The Argonaut after the verdict. “It’s time for the council to begin to develop a vision for the community regarding its land use policy.”
Francis and his fellow plaintiffs are hopeful that in the next environmental review, there will be more of an effort to address alternatives for the expansion of a natural wastewater treatment system at Playa Vista.
Representatives of Playa Vista said that the state high court’s ruling was expected because only a small number of cases are reviewed at the highest judicial level.
“We look forward to working with Los Angeles to satisfy those issues that the appellate court has identified for further analysis,” said Playa Vista spokesman Steven Sugerman. He noted that the appellate court had ruled in favor of the developer on all other areas in the lawsuit, which included methane gas mitigation and traffic impacts.
Steve Soboroff, president of Playa Vista Capital, issued the following statement: “Playa Vista is a model community for the nation. We look forward to completing the necessary steps to remedy the EIR for the Village and proceeding with Playa Vista’s final phase, which will deliver substantial community benefits, including workforce housing, open space, regional transportation improvements and neighborhood serving retail.”
The Village component of Playa Vista includes a neighborhood retail center, 2,600 new residential units and new public parks, spanning 111 acres. Playa Vista officials say that it also includes state-of-the-art traffic improvements that will increase the safety and efficiency of traffic flow in the region.
Soboroff told the Los Angeles Times that the company expected to present the city with an analysis of the three issues that the appellate court cited “in a couple of months.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Playa Vista, said in a recent interview that he would be meeting soon with both the plaintiffs and the developers to confer with each side regarding their visions of how to proceed regarding Playa Vista Phase II.
Rosendahl also plans to meet with City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and his staff to find out what legal strategy can be activated to ensure that the next environmental review meets with the court’s findings.
“After I meet with all of the parties and do my homework, I will then give my direction on where I think the council should go,” the councilman said.
Francis is hopeful that city hall and the council will look at this latest court decision as a vindication of what environmental organizations have been fighting for several years. “We trust that Councilman Rosendahl and [Los Angeles] Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will say no to developer-driven land use planning and lead the way toward greening Los Angeles,” he said.
Rosendahl said one of his top priorities in the immediate future will be to assist members of the Tongva/Gabrieleno Native American tribe in recovering the bodies of their ancestors that were disinterred during construction of Playa Vista.
“I want the remains of the deceased Native Americans to be put back in their sacred burial ground and given the respect that they deserve,” Rosendahl asserted. “That’s my first priority, and I will not rest until they are at rest in their burial ground.”
The councilman would also like to see what he called a “supermarket package” for the residents of Playa Vista. “I would like to see that happen in a reasonable time frame,” he said.
Francis reiterated that the council now has a chance to set what he feels is sound environmental policy that benefits the public.
“It’s time that the council starts following the will of the community instead of profit-seeking land speculators,” Francis concluded.