Playa Vista Project Vies For Ballona Wetlands

Tuesday, 25 May 2010, 6:36:00 AM

Katherine Peach

Development will continue on 111 acres of the Ballona wetlands after six years of court battles. The Los Angeles City Council tentatively approved the still controversial, yet revised second phase of the Playa Vista project and Environmental Impact Report that is “under a cloud of litigation” for Phase 1.

The council voted 12-2 on the ordinance after hearing hours of heated public comment from both sides at the March 26 council meeting. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the area, and Councilman Paul Koretz voted “no.” A second reading the development plan will be read before the council on Tuesday.

The Playa Capital Co. built the housing community named The Village, which is located on the corner of Jefferson and Lincoln Boulevards. Phase 2 will expand for 2,6000 new homes, 150,000 square feet of retailers, 175,000 square feet of office space, and 40,000 square feet of community uses. Several of the commercial and retail spaces remain unoccupied. The Ballona Wetlands are south of Marina del Rey and east of Playa del Rey.

“I saw what happened on the property, I saw the homes go up, beautiful, the people moved in terrific, they have created a tremendously beautiful community,” Rosendahl said. “I also saw the commercial side did not reach to a degree that it said it would to go on with Phase 2.”

Rosendahl said he made the decision after great consideration to honor a pledge he made in 2004 to not approve Phase 2 until the first phase was completed. The councilman announced that although it was a hard decision, he must stand by his word and vote “no.”

Playa Capital Co. President Steve Soboroff stood by the development saying the plan met all issues addressed by the City Attorney and was approved by the Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM). He cited the fire station and parks built by the company that are used by the entire community. Due to requests by the council, Soboroff said planned office space will be converted into assisted-living space.

“In 2004 the Council approved the same exact plan,” Soboroff said. “We are implementing a model of affordable housing that no one else has done.”

Playa Capital Co. representatives stated, upon request by the Council, plans opened up an underground corridor for animals under Lincoln Boulvard to walk from the marsh on west of Lincoln to Westchester bluffs creek.

Hundreds of Playa Vista supporters showed up to the meeting, emitting cheers and support for Soboroff and the project. A full line-up of opponents, including the four appellants of the case, stated arguments before the Council.

“There is a devastating shortage of affordable housing and a devastating shortage of parks and recreation,” said Rex Frankel of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project and appellant of the plan. “This development is going to pave over the last greatest open spaces in this city that is still in private hands.”

Anthony Morales, tribal chairperson for the Gabrieleno-Tongva Indian Nation, asked for Phase 2 to be put on hold until archeological issues can be addressed. Phase 1 construction uncovered burial grounds and artifacts of a tribe, Morales said are “direct descendant of people that founded the city.” Morales fears more burial grounds will be uncovered during Phase 2.

“We never want to experience another burial like the one that took place on December 2008, to the 411 ancestors in Phase 1,” Morales said. “They were buried in a mass grave, in layers, on top of one another. We ask for the same dignity as the Chinese people when their ancestors were uncovered in Boyle Heights during the construction of the Gold Line."

The alternative plan would use the area for a water treatment wetland, a native plant garden, to accommodate a range of wildlife and endangered species, and a cultural area where the Gabrielino Tongva Indians can rebury their ancestors.

Long History of Litigation

The Playa Capital Company LLC came under a fire of litigation in 2004 after the first development phase had begun for the Playa Vista neighborhood. Opponents, such as the Sierra Club, claim the development is incompatible with a State Ecological Preserve for which taxpayers paid Playa Capital $139 million in 2003.

The Playa Vista development, which was bought-out in 1998 due to financial instability by Morgan Stanly-Goldman Sachs, will get rezoning thanks to the new plan. The new zoning will give Playa Capital Company an immediate $150-$300 million increase in land value. Opponents push an alternative shopping center that would require developers to use existing zoning on the property, while leaving open space for the wetlands.

The City Council voted to deny appeals filed againt the EIR by the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, Surfrider Foundation, and Anthony Morales.

David Somers, Los Angeles City Planning Department, said the original EIR was challenged with the Court of Appeals ruling that the original final EIR contained legal deficiencies with respect to the land use, archeological resources, and wastewater impacts. Somers said the city addressed specific deficiencies found in the original impacts in a re-circulated Final EIR.

The contents of both the Court of Appeals ruling, and the re-circulated sections of the Final EIR can be found with the document available on the Planning Department website at planning.lacity.org

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