Nearly six years after the second stage of development was first approved and after facing a jarring setback from a state appellate court with the recirculation of the environmental impact report, Playa Vista residents have cause for celebration.
The Los Angeles City Council approved the second phase of the planned community’s 111-acre mixed-use component March 26th by a 12-2 vote before a packed council chambers. The Village, which the council greenlighted in 2004, will feature 2,600 residential units, 175,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of retail space. A name-brand supermarket will serve as one of the linchpins of the shopping center, say Playa Vista officials, who are eager to begin the next phase of their vision of 21st century urban living.
Steve Soboroff, Playa Capital’s principal, said that he feels a sense of validation now that the project has been greenlighted.
“Our goals have always been to have good public policy in helping the community and the region,” Soboroff told The Argonaut days after the council vote. “It’s always been about making traffic work better, creating jobs, parks and housing.
“I’m delighted for the people who live (in Playa Vista) and for the people who live in the surrounding areas.”
Playa Vista resident Lily Liu Chan is also happy that the Village has been given the council’s stamp of approval.
“It seems like it’s been a long time in coming,” said Chan as she cradled her baby daughter Calliope and kept a watchful eye on her two-year-old son Benjamin in Concert Park.
The Village had been delayed due to a 2007 state Supreme Court decision that sent the project’s environmental impact report back to the council for a second review.
The court ruled that the council violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) following its approval and certification of the EIR, which permitted construction for the development’s second phase.
“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 court declared in its ruling.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl joined his colleague Paul Koretz in casting his vote against the project. Rosendahl, who represents Playa Vista in the 11th Council District, cited a pledge he made as a council candidate in 2005 as his reason for voting no.
“I voted with my conscience,” Rosendahl told The Argonaut March 25th. “It’s the hardest decision that I’ve made in my political life.”
The councilman discussed the pledge March 11th after the promise was brought to his attention by the Argonaut following the Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve the Village March 9th. The pledge, which was also signed by then- mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, states that the candidates, upon their election, would not vote for Phase II under certain conditions, which included Phase I being completely built and fully occupied.
Tom Francis, director of the Santa Monica-based Ballona Wetlands Trust, believed the councilman would honor his pledge. In an interview last month, Francis expressed confidence that Rosendahl would not back away from the promise he made as a candidate for City Council five years ago.
“We know Bill to be a man of integrity,” Francis said after the council vote to approve Phase II. “In spite of intense pressure, he stuck to his pledge.”
Rosendahl said that the first stage of Playa Vista has thousands of residents but the commercial portion was “stumbling along” and had vacancies in the residential and commercial sections. The councilman, who convinced Playa Vista officials to rebury thousands of Native American ancestral remains in the first phase of the planned community’s development, said it was a matter of not breaking his promise to his constituents.
“All that we have in this life is our word, and our word is our bond,” he said.
Rosendahl pointed out that he negotiated with Soboroff to add 260 units of affordable housing and an agreement to accelerate the parks and supermarket for the Village.
For his part, Soboroff said he understood Rosendahl’s decision to vote against the project, which he learned the day of the vote.
“I was disappointed,” the developer admitted. “But I think that he felt that it was important to live up to his word.”
Chris Udall, a five-year homeowner at Playa Vista, was not as understanding.
“I think that (Rosendahl) represents the 11th District very well except for his constituents in Playa Vista,” Udall said. “I don’t believe that the pledge that he took five years ago is a legally binding agreement, and what he did by voting no is a signal that he doesn’t care about jobs, more taxes for the city and more revenues.”
Steve Donell, chair of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, had mixed feelings about Rosendahl’s vote.
“I find (Rosendahl’s no vote) to be an example of a promise kept on the one hand, and inconsistency, lack of perspective and pure politics on the other,” Donell, who lives in Playa Vista, wrote in an e-mail response. “The councilman ran partially on a platform of opposing Playa Vista. He made that campaign promise and he has kept it.
“However, at the end of the day, our councilman did not vote based on the facts and the law; rather, he voted based on a campaign promise to oppose Playa Vista,” Donell continued. “What is very disappointing to me as a resident of Playa Vista as well as a constituent, is that he exercised his vote in a manner that simply did not address the issue, nor did it address the facts or the law. This is pure politics at its very worst.”
Kathy Knight joined Francis in her admiration for Rosendahl keeping his word.
“We are very glad that Councilman Rosendahl voted against the project and upheld his pledge,” said Knight, conservation chair of the Sierra Club’s Airport Marina Group.
Soboroff says that the opponents of the Village have not done anything with the wetlands west of Lincoln Boulevard that Playa Vista sold to the state several years ago, and have objected to how he has improved the land for its residents and tenants.
“They have not walked the walk,” he said. “It leads me to believe that they’re just in this for the sport of it.”
Soboroff said not having the shopping center for the residents would have interrupted the synergy of the two development phases and the completion of the planned community’s vision of having recreation and amenities within walking distance.
“It would be like having Thanksgiving dinner without the turkey,” Soboroff asserted.
Udall said he is happy that the Village can now go forward, but remains wary that some of the environmental organizations that filed lawsuits to halt Phase II might do so gain.
“It’s good that it was approved, but there’s nothing to stop those who are against it from trying to stop it with litigation,” he noted.
Francis accused the councilmembers who voted in favor of the Village of not having the city’s or the residents’ best interests in mind.
“Those 12 councilmembers have catered to special interests for so long, they really don’t know any other way,” he accused.
Rosendahl realizes that he has angered Playa Vista residents, but was compelled to honor his promise to them.
“I received over 1,000 letters and e-mails saying, ‘honor your pledge,’” the councilman said. “It was a last minute decision that I made as I was driving downtown on the day of the vote.
“It was very tough, but I’m at peace with myself.”
Thomas Schulte had perhaps the strongest words for Rosendahl.
“I think that the councilman should grow (some courage),” said Schulte, a certified public accountant who has lived at Playa Vista for six years. “This was one of the most passive-aggressive moves that I have ever seen.”
Despite the litigation, the continued animosity and the delays in getting to this point, Soboroff is ready to begin putting the finishing touches on his dream of having a community where residents play, work and shop within blocks of where they live.
“It’s the completion of a long held vision,” he concluded. “This is the future of urban America.”