A Los Angeles Superior Court handed Playa Vista Capital a victory on November 10th when it upheld an earlier decision that determined that no further environmental review was needed for underground water systems used at the sprawling Playa Vista residential development.
“Playa is gratified that the court found that the City Council acted correctly on this matter,” reads a statement released by Playa Vista after the ruling. “Extensive expert scientific reports concluded that there were no significant environmental effects, and the court’s ruling today upholds those conclusions.
“In the detailed ruling, the trial court reviewed and found no merit to the numerous claims made by longstanding opponents of the Playa Vista project.”
The court ruling is the latest in a series of legal actions that have occurred since the inception of the luxury residential complex in 2002. Various environmental groups have filed numerous lawsuits against the developer, with varying degrees of success.
The Los Angeles City Council determined in February that the water systems that the developer was required to install in 2001 as part of its methane gas mitigation were sound, prompting two environmental organizations to file legal actions. Although a lower court upheld the council’s study, the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, stating that the city had not adequately analyzed whether contaminated groundwater would be moved or the underground water system would cause sinkage.
“The city did not follow any process of California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA] whatsoever,” asserted Todd Cariff, the attorney representing the plaintiff in the case, Environmentalism Through Inspiration and Nonviolent Action and Grassroots Coalition. “The City Council is allowing Playa Vista to build residential high-rises on one of the largest methane gas areas in the western United States.”
Rex Frankel added, “I don’t think that the City Council’s decision to ignore the impacts was correct.” Frankel is an environmental consultant who has joined other organizations in filing lawsuits against the developer.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the Playa Vista area, feels that the court’s ruling was proper.
“This lawsuit was about the narrow issue of whether [the City Council] met its legal obligations for ensuring methane mitigation and monitoring for Phase II of that project, and the court clearly stated that the city has done so,” Rosendahl explained. “For me, the issue of methane mitigation at Playa Vista has always been about one thing: public safety, for my constituents who live at and nearby Playa.”
The verdict applies to Phase I of the residential development. The Village, which is the second stage of Playa Vista, was halted in September last year after an appeals court found “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.”
Amenities for The Village would include new public parks, a neighborhood retail center and 2,600 residential units. It is slated to have 175,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of other uses.
The council is currently working with Playa Vista to remedy the California Environmental Quality Act violations.
In the September 2007 ruling, Playa Vista prevailed on two other issues that were challenged by the plaintiffs — the analysis of methane gas mitigation and transportation impacts.
“Despite what the project opponents attempted to allege in this case, this matter was not about the safety and effectiveness of the methane systems,” say Playa Vista representatives. “Even the state appeals court, which requested additional environmental review of the dewatering systems back in 2005, determined that there was “substantial evidence supporting the conclusion that the methane mitigation measures are feasible and will reduce methane concentrations to an insignificant level.”
Rosendahl said that his next priority would be not only to ensure that all of the legislative actions were implemented, but also to make certain that his constituents are safe.
“Now it is my job to make sure that the relevant city departments work tirelessly to follow and implement all of those requirements, so that there will be no doubt that the residents and
neighbors of Playa Vista are and will remain safe,” the councilman said.
Cardiff’s client has vowed to appeal the ruling.