Two months after a Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that a portion of an environmental impact report (EIR) for a Marina del Rey commercial development was flawed, the county’s governing body has revoked all of the planning approvals that it had originally granted to the developer.
The Board of Supervisors voted July 8th to set aside various land use entitlements and certification of the final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) that it had granted in 2007 for The Shores project, a 544-unit, five-story development on Via Marina.
Last year, a group of homeowners from the nearby Marina Strand Colony Homeowners Association filed a lawsuit against the county and the lessee, Jerry Epstein, to stop the development, which they contended was too large and would have an adverse effect on traffic in the area.
Epstein, a longtime Marina del Rey developer, is the lessee of the parcel where the proposed new project was slated to be built, replacing Del Rey Shores Apartments, which he owns.
Rose Zoia, the plaintiff’s attorney, learned of the board’s plans to withdraw the entitlements on July 7th.
“My assessment is that, based on the court’s ruling, [the developer and the county] need to correct the errors contained in the EIR and recirculate it to the public,” she said.
The action stemmed from a motion made July 1st by Supervisor Don Knabe, whose district includes Marina del Rey.
“Just so we understand, I just didn’t make this motion up,” Knabe told his colleagues on the board. “We reviewed it with county counsel.”
Superior Court Judge David Yaffe, a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) jurist, ordered all demolition and construction at the project site stopped due to the CEQA infraction. He issued his ruling to set aside all of the land use entitlements in May.
The judge focused on the portion of the EIR that related to grading work of the soil at the project site, its transportation from the area and the potential impact that this could have on the immediate area.
In the initial environmental document, county officials described the excavation site as “balanced” and declared that it would require moving approximately 40,000 cubic yards of soil and construction debris.
However, in the county’s final draft document, the characterization of the site being “imbalanced” appeared for the first time and was never circulated for public review.
“Due to changes in the site alteration, grading on the project is not balanced and approximately 25,940 cubic yards of earth would require export from the project site,” the FEIR reads.
The demolition of the existing buildings on the site, together with construction debris generated after demolition would total approximately 92,576 cubic yards of solid waste that would be transported from the site, according to the report.
“Balanced excavation” suggests that all of the material that is removed would be used to make fills on the site, requiring no fill material to be imported and no surplus excavation material to be removed from the site.
How stable the soil is under a new development, especially when the building that it replaces is taller and denser than the prior building, is an important consideration, says Gina Koshak, a Westchester landscape architect.
“Anytime that soil is moved from or changed on a site, and what’s being left behind and what it is being used for is always a concern,” Koshak said.
Yaffe criticized county planners for not including the additional soil and debris from the point of excavation in the initial environmental document.
“By failing to adequately treat the effects of its design change in the FEIR, the county has concealed from the public the true basis upon which the FEIR was approved,” the judge wrote in his ruling.
The court noted that the removal from the project of 28 percent more waste material would constitute “significant new information, which was added to the EIR after public notice was given of the availability of the draft EIR for public review, but before certification.”
The court declined to entertain other discrepancies that the plaintiffs alleged.
Michael Rosenfeld, the treasurer at Marina Strand Colony, applauded the supervisors’ decision to revoke all of the land use approvals for the Shores project.
“I’m happy that they are requiring that the county recirculate the EIR to the public,” said Rosenfeld, who also owns a home at Marina Strand. “We feel that the process is now moving along in the proper manner.”
Some who contend that they will be adversely affected by the five-story development want to see the entire environmental document released to the public for its review.
“There are many issues that were not addressed properly, like traffic, height and density,” said Dan Christy, president of the homeowners association at Marina Strand Colony.
Daniel Gottlieb, a Marina del Rey resident who spoke before the supervisors, also asked that the entire EIR be redistributed.
“It is defective in all kinds of different ways,” he alleged.
David Levine, Epstein’s chief of staff, pledged to cooperate with county officials in implementing Yaffe’s order before the board.
“The judge specifically and explicitly stated that none of the other contentions made by the plaintiffs in this suit had any merit,” Levine noted. “What we are going to do is assist the county in providing the additional analysis on the question of soil export.
“We believe that we’ll demonstrate to the public and to the judge’s satisfaction that the amount of export required by this project is relatively insignificant, given the scope of this project, and it falls well within the boundaries and parameters of what is acceptable in a project this size. And we’ll look forward to coming back to you as quickly as possible with the additional analysis that is consistent with the court’s order.”
Elaine Lemke, an attorney with the county, said that representatives from the county Department of Regional Planning would be evaluating the board’s directions and begin instituting them in a timely fashion.
“The EIR consultant will go back and discuss the issues that we were told to address,” Lemke told The Argonaut. “Once all of the supervisors’ directions are implemented and the EIR is recirculated, [the EIR] will then go back before the board.”
Rosenfeld said that he, like other Marina residents, is not opposed to development, but would like to see it configured in a different fashion.
“I would like to see [the Shores project] redesigned in a manner that is more consistent with the current scale and scope that exists in the Marina,” he explained.
In addition to stripping the project of its planning and land use permits, the Board of Supervisors directed the Department of Regional Planning to prepare an additional analysis of “reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts that are associated with 25,940 cubic yards of soil from the construction site, [and] circulate the additional analysis for public review.”
If the Department of Regional Planning fully complies with all of the Board of Supervisors’ instructions, there will be another hearing before the board for possible recertification of the EIR and possible restoration of the land use entitlements.