Concerned that the advent of three developments within close proximity of each other may have a deleterious effect on downtown Playa del Rey, Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl is requesting that the projects’ developer initiate a complete environmental analysis of the planned projects.
In a letter obtained by The Argonaut, Rosendahl issued a request to city Planning Director Michael Lo Grande to insist that the real estate development firm begin the process for an environmental impact review in conjunction with city planning personnel for its three proposed projects.
“Dear Mr. LoGrande:
I am writing to urge you to require Legado Companies to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for three projects that could have a significant and profound cumulative impact upon the small residential community of Playa del Rey,” the councilman, who represents the beachside community, wrote in a May 4 letter.
“I have serious concerns that the charm and unique character of Playa del Rey could be drastically altered by Legado’s projects at 138 Culver Blvd., 230 Culver Blvd. and Toes Beach, all located in Playa del Rey.”
Rosendahl’s urging of an EIR for the area comes nearly two weeks after an April 19 Argonaut story cited concerns over the apparent lack of environmental analysis by Legado on the three proposed projects.
“I understand that Legado Company intends to build a 72-apartment mixed-use project with 16,000 square feet of retail space at 138 Culver Blvd. and a 63-apartment mixed-use project with 11,000 square feet of retail at 230 Culver Blvd.,” the councilman wrote.
“This information has been stated publicly by the applicant at community meetings and was most recently published in the local newspaper, The Argonaut.”
Playa del Rey resident Cheryl Burnett applauded Rosendahl for asking city planners to initiate an EIR. “We’re very excited that the councilman has formally requested (an environmental review),” said Burnett, who represents lower Playa del Rey on the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa.
Rosendahl cites in his letter how the developments could pose certain residual ramifications on the coastal community with respect to the California Environmental Quality Act, a 1970 landmark state law that makes environmental protection a mandatory part of every state and local agency’s decision-making process.
“The cumulative impact of these projects could prove detrimental to the small coastal community of Playa del Rey. Section 15355 of the CEQA guidelines defines cumulative impacts as ‘two or more individual effects which, when considered together, are considerable or which compound or increase other environmental impacts,’” Rosendahl wrote.
Section 15355 (b) of the environmental statute states, “The cumulative impact from several projects is the change in the environment which results from the incremental impact of the project when added to other closely related past, present, and reasonably foreseeable probable future projects.
“Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant projects taking place over a period of time.”
Burnett, who lives within a few blocks of the proposed developments, agrees that the trio of projects that Legado is planning has the potential to alter the downtown area, perhaps irreparably.
“Adding nearly 150 units of housing could have a huge impact on an infrastructure that’s already overburdened,” she noted. “These are three major projects that could transform Playa del Rey.”
The councilman added that two primary concerns of merchants and residents of downtown Playa del Rey – parking and traffic – could only be addressed adequately with a complete environmental analysis.
“Analyzed on a case by case basis, these three projects may not reveal the full breadth of impact on air quality, water quality, traffic, parking and coastal views. Thus, given the property owner has expressed his intent to develop all three parcels, a full EIR should be required,” Rosendahl concluded.
“For the aforementioned reasons, I recommend and ask that the planning department consider these projects collectively to ensure that all potential impacts are properly mitigated. No single project should move forward until this deficiency is corrected.”
Legado Chief Executive Officer Derek Jones said there has “never been any doubt” about two of the company’s projects being subjected to some form of environmental review. According to Jones, city planners have said the two that are closest together at 138 and 230 Culver Blvd. would require a mitigated negative declaration.
“Professional planning staff has indicated that a mitigated negative declaration would be the appropriate review for these projects,” Jones said.
The Legado executive said a full EIR and a mitigated negative declaration were “fundamentally the same,” because both environmental processes use the same checklist during an environmental analysis.
According to Section 15070 of CEQA, a negative declaration is a document that states upon completion of an initial study, that there is no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, and an EIR is an informational document which will inform the public agency decision-makers and the public generally of: the significant environmental effects of a project; the possible ways to minimize significant effects; and the reasonable alternatives to the project.
Rosendahl disputes Jones’ claim about the two types of analysis. “A mitigated negative declaration is not an EIR,” the councilman told The Argonaut.
“That’s an EIR-lite.”
Mark Redick, who moved to Playa del Rey last year, agrees with the assessment that all three developments should be considered in the aggregate due to their proximity to each other.
“If the developer doesn’t want community complaints and the loss of community trust, they should conduct a full EIR and get that off the table,” asserted Redick, who was appointed to Burnett’s council earlier this year.
A group working on a community design overlay for downtown Playa del Rey recently completed its work on design guidelines and streetscape recommendations. It did not include solutions for parking and traffic, which have plagued the downtown area for decades.
Burnett agrees that an EIR could be a vehicle to have these twin themes fleshed out in greater detail.
“That’s been an issue that many people have talked about during the (community design overlay) meetings,” the neighborhood council representative said. “Until now, there’s been no avenue to discuss them.”
Jones referenced the community overlay plan when expressing curiosity about inquiries from Burnett and others regarding environmental review of his firm’s planned projects.
“We fully appreciate the importance that our projects have for redevelopment of lower Playa del Rey and we continue to be pleased by the apparent commitment by the stakeholders to bring about needed improvements in that community,” he said. “But the (community design overlay) conversation was never intended to be a referendum on our projects.”
Redick said the amount of traffic that will be generated at the corner of Vista del Mar and Culver, where 138 and 230 Culver Blvd. meet, will certainly be an area of concern without a traffic study.
“What’s going to happen when there are 72 new units there? Are we going to assume that they all will be freelance, self-employed individuals that will depart (their homes) only during off-peak hours?” asked Redick, a former Del Rey Neighborhood Council president.
There are some who do not think a complete EIR is necessary.
Real estate broker Steven Matilla, who owns ERA Matilla Realty, welcomes the Legado projects and thinks the developer should not be hampered with additional analysis.
“I think Legado has done enough mitigation, and I don’t think that a project with 72 units is going to affect traffic that much,” he said.
Legado has turned in a traffic study, which Jones says will be “refreshed.” He also said there was a previous discussion about an EIR for the Toes Beach site due to “perceived environmental concerns, and that will be updated if we decide to reinitiate any conversation about Toes Beach.”
“We’re deferring all professional judgment (on environmental review) to the city planning staff,” the Legado executive added.
Jones said his company wants to cooperate as much as it can with the merchants and residents of Playa del Rey, but expressed the hope that politics would not lead to any further controversy.
“I would hope that people would not try and politicize a process that is otherwise a fairly objective one,” he said.
Rosendahl said his primary obligation is to his constituents’ well being, and he feels a complete EIR is in their best interests.
“(All of the projects) are connected,” he said. “The community has been asking for a full EIR from the very beginning and for me, this is the next logical step in the (planning) process.”