Westside residents and environmental organizations will soon have the opportunity to express their thoughts on Playa Vista’s next phase of development.
The recirculated portion of an environmental impact report (EIR) was distributed to property owners and other interested parties on September 2nd, and city planning officials expect long and exhaustive public hearings, given the controversy that has plagued the affluent planned community over the years.
The environmental report is being distributed again due to deficiencies on three of the document’s components, which have stalled the Phase II construction of the commercial and residential development.
Nestled below the bluffs of Westchester and between the communities of Playa del Rey and Del Rey, Playa Vista has been a dream to many and a constant reminder of lost wetlands to others. The residential component, known as Phase I, was completed in 2002 and has drawn a combination of upscale families, singles and senior citizens who enjoy living in a planned community minutes from the ocean, Loyola Marymount University and Los Angeles International Airport.
The Village, the second stage of Playa Vista’s commercial and residential real estate venture, will feature 2,600 residential units, 175,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of “community serving retail,” say Playa Capital representatives.
In addition, the project includes an equivalency program that would allow flexibility to exchange a maximum of 125,000 square feet of office development for up to 56,832 square feet of retail use or 200 assisted living units, or a combination of the two.
Playa Vista residents like Deedee Brown say they are 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.”
Lily Liu Chan, who has lived in the planned community for almost two years, said that the shopping center will serve as the final piece of the dream that her husband and she had when they moved to Playa Vista.
“It will cement the idea of having a place where you can live, work, shop and play within walking distance of your home,” she told The Argonaut.
Brown also said that one of her principal attractions is 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.
Organizations that have long opposed Phase I do not see the merit of the development’s second component either.
“They have tried to frame this as building Phase II because the residents in Phase I want a shopping center,” asserted Marcia Hanscom, co-director of the Ballona Institute, a Playa del Rey-based environmental organization that opposed the first stage of Playa Vista. “What about all of the existing square footage in Phase I?”
The Los Angeles City Council approved the EIR for the Village five years ago, but numerous environmental organizations filed lawsuits to halt the development. A Superior Court judge sided with the developer, but an appellate court struck that verdict down in 2007. 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 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.
The recirculated portion of the EIR focuses on the analysis of the deficiencies of three specific areas that the appellate court identified — land use impacts, wastewater impacts and archaeological resources.
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa threw its support behind the revamped EIR in March.
“Based on the documentation that was provided to us by city officials, we concluded that we wanted to support the recirculated EIR,” Steve Donell, a resident of Playa Vista and the chair of the planning and land use committee, said in an earlier interview. “The deficiencies that were identified by the appellate court have been rectified, based on our review of the documents.”
The Venice Neighborhood Council, the Del Rey Neighborhood Council and the Mar Vista Community Council have expressed varying degrees of concern with the proposed project. They revolve around traffic, land use and the scarcity of water for the new development.
Playa Vista representatives say that the Village will not only benefit its residents, but also the surrounding communities of Westchester, Del Rey and Playa del Rey.
“Due to its proximity to the Marina Freeway, the Village has the potential to draw shoppers from several different areas,” said Steven Sugerman, a Playa Vista spokesman.
Sugerman said that the creation of thousands of new jobs for the retail and commercial center was not spotlighted when the development was in the midst of its approvals several years ago but it is very pertinent during a lingering recession.
“The economic message was downplayed somewhat, but now it’s even more relevant given the difficult economic times,” said the Playa Vista spokesman.
Hanscom’s group believes that there are still areas that require mitigation, including the ecological reserve that the developer plans to create, wildlife impacts and surrounding development.
“Wildlife impacts must be discussed and mitigated, especially related to the ecological reserve. We have reviewed photographs showing the American Osprey feeding directly on the Phase II site,” the institute wrote in a letter to the Planning Department in April.
“Mitigation for these and other wildlife impacts must be discussed and implemented if this project is to be approved lawfully under CEQA.”
Sugerman realizes that there is still opposition to the Village.
“People have made it clear that they will continue to oppose Playa Vista,” he acknowledged. “The analysis that the court ordered has been undertaken with tremendous care and detail, and we look forward to participating in the city process and moving forward.”
Chan is looking forward to the completion of the Village as well.
“Our minds are made up that we are staying in Playa Vista,” said Chan, who has a young son and another child on the way. “(The Village) will complete the perfect, well-rounded neighborhood that we envisioned when we moved here.”
Interested parties can review the EIR for the Village at the following local library branches: the Lloyd Taber in Marina del Rey, Venice, Playa Vista, Mar Vista and Westchester/Loyola Village.
The EIR and other environmental documents are also available online on the city’s Planning Department Web site at http://cityplanning.lacity.org/.
Sugerman said that the developer anticipates a hearing on the EIR later this fall. The council will likely hear public comment and vote on the environmental document early next year.