A public interest group comprised of residents from several Westside communities has filed a lawsuit against Culver City, alleging that it violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved the construction of a 176-foot-high building near the Westchester-Culver City border in April.
The Entrada Tower project is a 12-story, 342,409-square-foot edifice that was green-lighted by the outgoing Culver City Council on April 16th. Centinela Development Partners, the developer, is seeking to build the tower project adjacent to the Radisson Hotel in Culver City.
The project site lies across the street from the Westchester Bluffs and is one block from a major intersection, Centinela Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard.
Gina Koshak, a Westchester Bluffs homeowner and a member of United Neighbors of the Westside, the group that filed the lawsuit, took issue with the project’s height and what she believes are violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.
“The environmental process failed to address the impact of this huge project and the project height of almost 200 feet ignores the clear will of the voters who passed Measure One,” said Koshak, a landscape architect.
Measure One is a 1990 Culver City initiative that established the height limit in the city at 56 feet.
United Neighbors is comprised of homeowners from Westchester, Del Rey, Culver City and Ladera Heights.
Residents of of Culver City and neighboring Los Angeles communities took exception to the fact that the development was approved a week before three of the Culver City Council members — Carol Gross, Steven Rose and Alan Corlin — were slated to leave office due to term limits.
Culver City Mayor Scott Malsin voted for the project and Vice Mayor Gary Silbiger opposed the Entrada Tower. Both are members of the current council.
Many Culver City residents joined homeowners from Del Rey and Westchester in requesting that the council delay the vote until the new members, who were elected on April 8th, took office. All three of the new councilmen — Christopher Armenta, Andrew Weissman and Miche·l O’Leary — expressed deep reservations about the large-scale development during their campaigns.
Weismann had voted against the project as a planning commissioner prior to joining the City Council.
“I thought the project was too tall and too wide,” he said. “While it appears to be a beneficial project for Culver City economically, to me, the scale, with relation to the surrounding buildings, was way off.”
Culver City’s Web site states that the project’s environmental document acknowledges that constructing the project will have certain impacts on the immediate and surrounding areas.
“Based on the analyses contained in the final EIR [environmental impact report], with the incorporation of mitigation meas- ures, the project would have significant and unavoidable impacts in the following areas: operational air quality, cultural resources, noise, and traffic,” the Web site reads.
There are quite a few items in the environmental impact report that the plaintiffs feel are actionable, said Susan Brandt-Hawley, an environmental attorney who is representing the Westside residents.
“The city’s failure to consider any feasible project alternatives is one area, along with an inadequate analysis and unsupported conclusions of the EIR,” explained Brandt-Hawley, who has been practicing environmental law for 25 years.
Mark Redick, president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, also backs the litigation that his neighbors have initiated.
“I don’t believe that [Culver City] complied with CEQA,” said Redick, who spoke at the April 15th public hearing about the Entrada project.
Culver City has recently experienced problems with CEQA compliance. In April, a Superior Court judge ruled that the city government had violated the landmark state law when it sold a highly regarded developer a public parking lot in the Hayden Tract, a thriving business district in Culver City.
Residents and business owners near the commercial district objected to the sale, which was done without public participation and environmental review, two principal tenets of the California Environmental Quality Act.
“[Culver City] concedes that the development for which its purchaser is buying the property will potentially have a significant effect upon the environment, but its public officials do not wish to permit the public participation required by CEQA to the developer,” Judge David Yaffe, a CEQA jurist, wrote in court documents following an April hearing last year.
“Such desire on the part of the public officials of the city of Culver City is not consistent with the basic purpose of CEQA.”
The collection of homeowners who filed the suit preferred to resolve the matter without litigation, but after the new council’s refusal to reconsider the previous vote, they chose to retain legal counsel.
“We had always hoped that the public process would have worked,” Koshak said.
Redick also referred to a ballot initiative that Koshak mentioned which established the height limit in Culver City at 56 feet.
“The last council not only ignored CEQA, they also ignored their own municipal laws,” Redick noted.
Culver City officials have argued that the project site is in a designated redevelopment area, which allows a developer the option to request a height variance.
The developer’s representatives have focused on the economic incentives that they claim Culver City and its immediate neighbors will see from the project over the next several years.
Lisa Gritzner, a spokeswoman for Centinela Development Partners, said in a March interview with The Argonaut that the company anticipates that the project could generate in excess of a million dollars annually for the city.
“This added revenue will also attract businesses that add to the gateway of Culver City and to Los Angeles,” Gritzner said.
Brandon Taylor, vice president for Centinela Development Partners, reiterated that sentiment at a marathon Culver City Council meeting that lasted until 3 a.m. last month.
“We estimate that we will create over 1,000 high-paying jobs in Culver City,” Taylor predicted, outlining the possibility of attracting financial service firms and other large-scale businesses.
Centinela Development calculates that over a 15-year period, the project is estimated to bring in over $33 million dollars in tax revenues to Culver City.
Silbiger feels that the last council should have delayed the vote until the current members took over.
“That was one of many mistakes that was made when this project came up for discussion,” he said. “And now it’s left for this council to deal with a lot of angry residents and a lawsuit.”
Redick feels that few, if any, mitigation measures were considered for the communities that lie in close proximity to the development, such as Westchester and Del Rey.
“Anybody who doesn’t believe that this project will have adverse repercussions on its neighbors needs a serious rendezvous with reality,” he asserted.
For Koshak and others, having the height of the tower reduced and other environmental mitigation measures taken into account is what they initially sought in their discussions with the last council in Culver City.
“The best-case alternative would be for the project to be within its legal limits,” she said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said while he could not comment directly on the lawsuit, he would support his constituents in their pursuit of what they feel is their last resort to scale back the tower project.
“I continue to stand strongly behind my communities,” he said.