The recirculated draft environmental impact report for Phase II of Playa Vista, a long-awaited document by a variety of Westside homeowners and coalitions, is now being debated among environmental organizations, the public and eventually the Los Angeles City Council. Its release last month has triggered deep interest in how the planned community will look over the next several years.
The EIR for the commercial component of the planned community, called the Village, was supported by the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa del Rey on Tuesday, March 3rd. The council’s Land Use and Planning Committee had supported the EIR a week earlier.
The environmental report is being redistributed among the public due to a decision by the United States Second Court of Appeals in September 2007.
The court ruled that the City Council violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) following its approval and certification of an environmental impact report that permitted construction for the development’s second phase in 2005.
“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.
The appellate court overturned all city approvals for the project and revoked all of the permits acquired for the construction work, which had been granted by a lower court in January 2007.
CEQA, a landmark state environmental statute created in 1970, is the basis for environmental law and policy to protect environmental quality in California.
The City Council was ordered to comply with CEQA procedures, write an EIR and hold new public hearings.
Steve Donell, a member of the land use and planning committee of the local Neighborhood Council, said that committee members spent a great deal of time poring over all of the documentation that was provided to them by city officials.
“Based on the documentation that was provided to us by city officials, we concluded that we wanted to support the recirculated EIR,” Donell, a resident of Playa Vista, said. “The deficiencies that were identified by the appellate court have been rectified, based on our review of the documents.”
Playa Capital officials say they are confident that the three areas that the court ordered the developer to correct have been addressed in the new analysis.
“We’re looking forward to beginning the process and we hope that the public understands what the EIR is all about,” said Steven Sugerman, a spokesman for Playa Capital. “The Village will be the completion of what has always been the vision of Playa Vista — an urban planned community where residents can work, live and shop, all in close proximity.”
Amenities for the Village 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 additional uses.
“We’re pleased with last night’s outcome, and we’re excited about moving ahead with the project,” Mark Huffman, Playa Vista’s vice-president of planning entitlements, told The Argonaut the day after the vote.
Deedee Brown is looking forward to seeing the Village built.
“That’s why I moved to Playa Vista,” she said. “The housing was the main reason, but the Village was a close second.”
One of the principal attractions for Brown was that she says that most of the amenities will be within walking distance of her home.
“I won’t have to drive, and I will be able to walk to so many things in my community,” she said.
David Coffin, a Westchester resident and a member of the local council, voted against the commercial development. Coffin, who once backed Phase II, cited possible water shortages and the city’s housing policies among his reasons.
Environmental and conservation groups who opposed the first stage of residential development at Playa Vista are gearing up in preparation of the new EIR.
Sabrina Venskus, an environmental attorney, believes that a new EIR is required due to the fact that the circumstances are no longer the same when the Village’s environmental analysis was approved nearly five years ago.
“The world has changed since 2004,” Venskus, the lead attorney in the September 2007 appellate case, told The Argonaut. “The city really should do an alternative analysis (instead of a recirculated EIR).”
Sugerman countered, “The Village, as it was proposed and passed in 2004, is still the same project.”
Rex Frankel of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project thinks that Playa Vista officials might have more difficulty getting the EIR certified than they suspect.
“The political climate is much less favorable to the developer than it was in the 1990s,” Frankel said. “I think that Playa Vista still faces enormous legal and political challenges to this new EIR.”
Venskus says that although the appellate court did not rule against topics like methane gas and traffic in the earlier verdict, she believes that they should be reviewed again.
“We are in a much more dire situation regarding water and our water supply than we were in 2004,” the attorney noted. “Will there be sufficient water supply for such a large population at Playa Vista?”
Venskus also contends that despite what Playa Vista officials say regarding their remedies to the portions of the EIR that the court ordered them to correct, CEQA must be followed.
“The law requires that if there is new information discovered, then you have to exercise discretion to address it,” she said.
Sugerman mentioned that the commercial development would also have a beneficial financial impact on the surrounding communities, as well as Playa Vista.
“In today’s environment, the creation of thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in revenue is significant,” he said.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Playa Vista, Playa del Rey and Westchester, had proposed an additional 45 days to allow more time for the environmental study to be reviewed, due to its complicated nature. That request was denied last month by a council zoning committee.
“I’m disappointed that my request was denied, but I would urge my constituents to take a good, long hard look at it and be a part of the process,” Rosendahl recommended.
The councilman has previously stated that he believes his opposition to the second stage of Playa Vista’s development project during his 2005 campaign for City Council was “the defining moment of the campaign.”
The EIR will be reviewed by the City Council in late spring or early summer this year.