Water may be in short supply, but there seems to be no shortage of development projects in the planning stages throughout Los Angeles.
Several large-scale initiatives, including the second phase of Playa Vista, the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester and proposed multi-story developments in Del Rey and Venice are being considered, to the consternation of various neighborhood councils and residents.
They say that because the city government has moved to Phase III of the municipal water ordinance that includes mandatory conservation measures, high-density projects should be reexamined, scaled back or have water agencies and planners include the effects and consequences of the drought.
Westchester resident David Coffin thinks that city leaders have not taken the water shortage into account regarding large scale development, and he disagrees with those who suggest that state laws that direct cities and counties to request that developers obtain a water assessment prior to approval are sufficient.
“They are relying on water management plans that are four years old,” Coffin, who is a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, asserted.
Coffin was referring to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (DWP) Urban Water Management Plan, which was written in 2005 and includes estimates of past, current and projected potable and recycled water use, identifies conservation and reclamation measures currently in place and provides an urban water contingency plan.
Joseph Reichenberger, a professor of civil engineering at Loyola Marymount University, noted that Senate Bill 610 mandates that a “city or county under certain circumstances that determines an environmental impact report is required in connection with a proj- ect, as defined, to request each public water system that supplies water for the project to access, among other things, whether its total projected water supplies will meet the projected water demand associated with the proposed project.”
Coffin says that he raised the specter of SB 610 with city planners and representatives from Equity Office Properties, the master developer for the Howard Hughes Center, where plans are underway to construct two towers that would house approximately 600 residential units and 487,000 square feet of commercial space.
“When I asked the Hughes Center planners if they needed a water assessment as noted by SB 610, they said that the DWP 2005 water assessment plan was their assessment and that it stated that it has sufficient water supplies to meet growth through 2020,” he said. “There’s a huge disconnect when we’re in Phase III of our city’s water ordinance and there is a statewide drought.
“So in this regard, SB 610 is not an effective tool in L.A.,” he added.
The Mar Vista Community Council has asked that a water assessment be reevaluated for a project within its jurisdiction. The council’s transportation and infrastructure committee issued this request on June 9th after reading the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the newly proposed Bundy Village.
“According to a water supply assessment performed for the proposed project, adequate water supplies would be available to meet the water demands of the proposed project,” the DEIR states.
“DWP anticipates that the projected water demands from the proposed project could be met during normal, single dry and multiple dry water years, in addition to the existing and planned future demands on (the agency). As such, no new or expanded water supplies would be necessary for the operation of the project and a less than significant impact would occur.”
Committee chair Albert Olson found it ironic that city officials are warning consumers of the consequences of not conserving water but are still considering large-scale mixed use projects.
“The concept of telling us that we are in a situation where there is a serious water shortage and then approving high-density projects that necessitate more water is ridiculous,” said Olson. “There needs to be a new discussion on how density increasing development is reviewed.”
Mark Redick, the president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, views the water shortage and how it may affect development in broader terms.
“The entire water system in California needs to reevaluated,” he told The Argonaut. “One or two large projects really isn’t the problem.”
Redick advocates having more water desalination projects and believes that initiatives that redirect and eventually reuse stormwater runoff should be implemented.
“Conservation only goes so far,” said the Del Rey Neighborhood Council president.
“(City and county governments) are going to have to consider how to recharge aquifers and make better use of reusing water for landscaping and irrigation,” he said. “A lot has changed over the last several years, and that includes what to consider when new projects are being built.”
Citing the new rates due to the drought that the city implemented on June 1st, the Mar Vista council recommended that no density increasing development project be approved “so long as shortage year rates are in effect and unless the city has signed contracts guaranteeing at least a 20-year water supply for existing Los Angeles residents, plus the density increase effectuated by the proposed land development project.”
Playa Vista’s Phase II will feature a neighborhood retail center and 2,600 residential units over 111 acres. While residents from Playa Vista and neighboring communities are looking forward to the opening of the shopping center, Sabrina Venskus, a Venice attorney, believes that a new water assessment should be included in the EIR that the City Council will consider later this year.
“There are studies that indicate that due to global warming, parts of our coast will be underwater by the end of the century,” said Venskus, who was the attorney of record when an appeals court halted Phase II in 2007. “The city and the state should adopt policies to really look at development in coastal areas.”
City Councilman Bill Rosen- dahl, who represents Westchester, Del Rey, Venice and Mar Vista, says that all new projects should be reviewed with as much information as possible regarding the drought included in their planning documents.
“With the kind of population growth that we will be seeing, every project should be looked at from the perspective of water scarcity,” he said.
Despite what he says is inattention on the part of city officials to development and the water shortage, Coffin said he is pleased that the Mar Vista Community Council and other organizations and individuals have taken greater interest in how the drought can impact the city’s infrastructure.
“It’s very encouraging to see people finally starting to notice that we’re in a water crisis,” he said.
DWP officials did not return phone calls for comment as of Argonaut press time.