Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
The Appeals Court found that the backers of this project had falsely described the project as a huge reduction in what they were already allowed to build. Instead the Court found that the project needed a huge"upzoning" to proceed, but the truth of this was covered up from the public's view. It is BEEP's view that this was a $300 million gift from the taxpayers and residents of Los Angeles that should not have been allowed to happen without the public's knowledge and without them being given the right to reject it.
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California Court of Appeal Overturns L.A. City Council’s
Approval to Expand the Playa
Ballona Southeast Safe for Now
LOS ANGELES –(September 13th, 2007) – The California Court of Appeal today overturned all approvals of the 111 acre Phase 2 of the massive Playa Vista development in West Los Angeles – essentially stopping the project – because the City of Los Angeles violated state and local environmental laws.
The court’s landmark ruling is a major victory for the citizens of
The Court ruled: “We conclude that 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.”
In addition, the Court ordered all project activities cease immediately: “All construction activities on the project by any person are hereby ordered to be stayed effective immediately. The superior court is directed to issue an order enjoining all project activities that it finds would prejudice the City’s consideration or implementation of mitigation measures or alternatives and that could result in an adverse change to the physical environment, until the City fully complies with CEQA.”
The Court’s injunction is much tougher than those usually granted to land use lawsuits: “The relief can be limited to those portions of the determination, finding, or decision or to specific project activities that are not in compliance with CEQA, but only if the court finds that those portions or activities are severable, that severance will not prejudice full compliance with CEQA, and that the remainder of the project is not in noncompliance with CEQA…We conclude that the misleading analysis of land use impacts, failure to discuss preservation in place of historical archaeological resources, and failure to properly analyze wastewater impacts rendered the EIR as a whole deficient as an informational document, and that these matters collectively are not severable from the project as a whole.” (Page 113)
The full ruling may be read at the Court’s website:
The Court of Appeal directed that all City approvals be overturned and permits revoked. The City must now comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, write a new Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) and hold new public hearings. They must respond to public comments and give the public and City Council an opportunity to reconsider the proposed project or some alternative to it.
THE FALSE DOWNZONING (ISSUE IS IN BEEP’S CASE) :
The Land Use impact analysis that the court found so troubling was that the project was claimed as a huge downzoning, and therefore a huge down-sizing of impacts to the surrounding communities compared to a project Playa Vista claimed they were legally entitled to build. Playa
The reason Playa Vista claimed they were entitled to such a huge project was based on proposals they had made in the 1990’s. However, the Court agreed with BEEP that Playa Vista had used up those development rights in their 300-plus acre First Phase project approved in 1993 and 1995, , which was marked by controversies over wetlands, endangered species, traffic and a huge taxpayer-subsidized benefit package granted by then-Governor Pete Wilson and then-Mayor Richard Riordan.
Because Playa Vista and the City claimed that the zoning of the land allowed such a huge amount of development, it tainted the review of the legally mandated alternatives to the project, such as a regional park or wetlands restoration, by making them all “infeasible” due to the cost of buying the land.
The Court’s action returns the zoning on the land back to the 108,000 square foot office building that was the true zoning at the beginning of the EIR process.
Rex Frankel, Director of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project stated, “If Playa Vista wants to build more than that, they will have to honestly admit to the public what they want and why they should be granted such a huge upzoning gift by the City Council, and why they deserve even more corporate welfare than they got in their first phase project. This victory for the people of
Briefs in BEEP's case can be found on their website, http://saveallofballona.org/
Tax deductible donations to BEEP’s legal fund can be mailed to BEEP at
Tom Francis of the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust stated, “The Court has given the City Council another chance to get it right. The Council can save taxpayers millions of dollars, clean up
Surfrider Foundation’s California Policy Coordinator, Joe Geever, responded: “We are ecstatic that this issue is finally seeing the light of day. Our major concern was that the City was approving more pressure on out-dated sewage treatment capacity and unabated urban runoff without fully understanding the additional adverse impacts on coastal and ocean water quality and human health risks.”
The Court ruled that the City of
In dealing with sewage, the EIR admitted that Playa Vista would cause the City’s Hyperion treatment plant to overflow, and therefore require expansion. But the EIR contained no evaluation of the impacts on
Playa Vista’s 111-acre Phase 2 is the largest, undeveloped, privately-owned parcel of land in the City of
Numerous health and safety issues to residents and the environment have plagued Playa Vista since its inception. Media investigations have exposed a series of methane dangers at Playa Vista including methane gas leaking through the so-called impermeable membranes placed under buildings at Playa Vista Phase 1.
# # #
Tom Francis, Ballona Wetlands Land Trust (310) 570-0547 http://ballona.org/
Joe Geever, Surfrider Foundation (310) 410-2890 http://surfrider.org/
Anthony Morales, Chief, Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council of
(626) 286-1758 http://tongva.com/
Sabrina Venskus, Law Offices of Sabrina Venskus (310) 985-3168
Contacts for Ballona Ecosystem Education Project case:
Brian Acree, Law Office of Brian Acree (925) 899-7060
Rex Frankel, Ballona Ecosystem Education Project (310)-572-6491
MORE NEWS COVERAGE:
Playa Vista Quicksand
A rare court ruling against the developer puts the kibosh — for now — on a vast Phase Two
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - 6:00 pm
But in 20 years of legal battles over the biggest residential construction project in city history, whose cheek-by-jowl, $3,000-per-month apartments have ushered in East Coast densities and tiny patches dubbed green space, last week’s decision by the California 2nd District Court of Appeal could wreak havoc on the extensive Phase Two. It couldn’t come at a more uncertain time for developers, or at a better time for Westsiders who hate the hulking, multistory community, as Southern California confronts an iffy housing market — and as some Angelenos begin to decry a crush of overbuilding citywide.
“The modifications are relatively minor,” sniffs Steve Soboroff, president of Playa Capital, pledging unequivocally that Playa Vista “will continue to completion.”
In fact, the 114-page brief written by the three judges on the Court of Appeal is anything but minor. The jurists didn’t just snatch away the keys for the bulldozers, handing the project’s opponents their biggest courtroom victory in roughly two decades. The three judges also ordered the city of Los Angeles to “vacate” long-standing approvals by the Los Angeles City Council for the second and final phase — and to decertify Playa Capital’s massive, multimillion-dollar environmental-impact report.
The court says that the EIR — years in the writing, and which contains hundreds of paragraphs that set off word-by-word fights between federal and local agencies, environmental organizations and politicians — must now “revise” analysis of land-use impacts, “discuss” better preservation at the site, and “identify” and “analyze” the disposal and environmental impacts of wastewater.
In other words, developer Playa Capital, for now, is screwed.
“The court stopped the development cold,” says Doug Carstens, an environmental attorney with the Santa Monica–based law firm Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “It’s a sweeping decision.”
Carstens worked as co-counsel at the trial that culminated in last week’s appellate ruling. At the trial last year, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger found that the city and Playa Capital followed proper approval procedures and that the environmental-impact report was valid. But the appellate court overturned Highberger’s decision last Thursday.
“People have been through a long, hard struggle,” says Carstens, “and they’ve been vindicated by the [state appeals] court.”
From the start, developers, environmentalists and journalists have described Playa Vista as one of the most expensive, highly studied and fought-over mixed-use projects in Los Angeles — with a price tag between $4 billion and $7 billion. After years of negotiations and studies, the 3,246-unit first phase of imposing condos, pricey apartments and $1.9 million homes with postage-stamp yards is nearly complete. The final phase — 111 acres of proposed housing, retail and office space dubbed “The Village at Playa Vista” — now sits at the red-hot center of the dispute.
BY NOW, THE TWO WARRING SIDES are sick of each other. Playa Capital Co. and the city are the defendants in the current lawsuit; the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, Surfrider Foundation, city of Santa Monica, Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel and Ballona Ecosystem Education Project are the plaintiffs. Playa Capital has won most of the 19 or so lawsuits over the past 20 years. It wasn’t until 2005 that things stopped consistently going Playa Capital’s way. That year, environmentalists won a comparatively minor appellate-court decision forcing the city to someday fix a methane-gas removal system installed beneath the housing, which sits atop an ancient riverbed and pockets of potentially explosive gas.
Soboroff describes the environmentalists as a “small group of people” who are “extremists.” Rex Frankel, director of Ballona Ecosystem Education Project, counters that Soboroff is a “desperate man” who heads a project that’s “one of the biggest examples of corporate welfare in the history of Los Angeles.”
So when last week’s ruling was handed down, both sides grabbed for their glory. Playa Capital released a press statement touting the appellate court as having sided with “the city and Playa Capital on the vast majority of issues raised,” with Soboroff sniping, “Despite the professional project opponents, we remain confident that the Playa Vista vision will ultimately be realized.”
Frankel sent out a three-page missive the same day, declaring that “the court’s landmark ruling is a major victory for the citizens of Los Angeles, the environment, civil rights of Native Americans, and overall quality of life.” Frankel throws his own verbal jab, saying, “The court didn’t accept the developer’s masquerade about benefits to the public that didn’t actually exist.”
Indeed, the state appeals court was very specific in the three areas that went against Playa Capital and City Hall. Wrote the judges, “The misleading analysis of land use impacts, failure to discuss preservation in place of historical archeological resources, and failure to properly analyze wastewater impacts rendered the EIR as a whole deficient.” Those problems “collectively are not severable from the project as a whole. The City can achieve full compliance with CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] only by vacating the project approvals that were based on the certified EIR and revising the EIR to remedy these deficiencies. Only then can the City . . . grant the project approvals.”
“It’s a very thorough, well-supported opinion,” says Frank P. Angel, a highly regarded Santa Monica–based environmental lawyer, who is not involved in the case. “It requires definite measures that need to be followed up.”
Angel believes construction will be delayed several months, at a minimum, to fix the environmental-impact report and then guide it through a City Hall approval process that includes a public-comment period, planning-department hearings and council meetings — all potentially contentious and heavily lobbied. “A rush job on this EIR won’t do,” says Angel. “It’s not a matter of one or two months.”
Steve Soboroff, though, sounds like a man who doesn’t plan to satisfy the appellate court. “The idea of now going back and changing that plan is not good public policy,” he says, “and it’s not going to happen.” He ridiculed the appellate court as having merely “found some flint” — small issues in the EIR upon which to base their ruling.
Playa Capital, according to Soboroff, is looking at legal options that might release the project from construction limbo and push it forward. The developer is uncertain if he’ll seek an appeal with the California Supreme Court or request a rehearing with the appeals court. The city, according to City Attorney’s Office spokesman Nick Velasquez, is “still reviewing its options.”
Frank Angel and Doug Carstens, however, note that the state Supreme Court considers only 5 percent of the appeal requests it receives. And since the appellate court’s ruling was “not published,” meaning it doesn’t set any precedent for other cases, the Supreme Court will probably be even less interested in Playa Capital’s appeal. “It’s highly unlikely,” says Angel.
In the meantime, Soboroff says, Playa Vista workers will face job cutbacks, and Westside renters and buyers will have to wait longer for the Village’s new housing, slated to rise between the 405 freeway and what remains of the wetlands.
“[The Village] is for working people,” Soboroff says excitedly during a phone interview. “It’s work-force housing!” When Rex Frankel hears these things, he can only laugh. “For Soboroff to claim he’s for the workingman is ridiculous,” he says with a chuckle. “It’s a super-rich man’s community.”
It’s still unclear if the appellate court’s ruling means the end of development at Playa Vista. Frankel, of course, hopes so. Soboroff says no. Eric Sussman, a real estate expert and award-winning lecturer at UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management, also thinks not, citing pressure for housing on the Westside and Playa Capital’s tenacity.
“There hasn’t been a roadblock they haven’t encountered,” says Sussman. “I doubt it would kill the project entirely. I would be very surprised.”
Then again, the environmentalists haven’t gone away either, and now they’ve had their first big victory in the court of appeals, following their more modest victory over methane control. Frankel, who’s been fighting the Ballona Wetlands battle for 22 years, calls it “karmic payback.” The momentum, so long on the side of Playa Capital, may be shifting.
Playa Vista Phase 2 construction halted
The appeals court overturned all city approvals for the project and revoked all the construction permits
BY GARY WALKER
A state appeals court in Los Angeles voted unanimously to halt construction on the second stage of commercial and residential development for Playa Vista, dealing the Playa Vista Capital real estate group a powerful and potentially costly legal setback.
The California Second District Court of Appeal found that the Los Angeles City Council violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) after it approved 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 California Environmental Quality Act, a landmark state environmental statute, is the basis for environmental law and policy to protect environmental quality in California.
The judicial order covers two consolidated cases involving groups as diverse as the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, the Tongva/Gabrieleno Tribal Council of San Gabriel, the City of Santa Monica, the Surfrider Foundation and the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project.
The verdict calls for the immediate stoppage of construction of the 111-acre Phase 2 project, which includes The Village at Playa Vista, the commercial linchpin of the development.
The appellate court overturned all city approvals for the project and revoked all of the permits acquired for the construction work.
Under the court ruling, Los Angeles City Council is mandated to comply with CEQA, write a new environmental impact report (EIR) and hold new public hearings.
Amenities for The Village include new public parks, a neighborhood retail center and 2,600 residential units. It was slated to have 175,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of other uses.
As part of the second phase, traffic improvements have been added to increase the flow of traffic on Jefferson Boulevard.
"All construction activities on the project by any person are hereby ordered to be stayed effective immediately," the court ordered. "The Superior Court is directed to issue an order enjoining all project activities that it finds would prejudice the city's consideration or implementation of mitigation measures or alternatives and that could result in an adverse change to the physical environment, until the city fully complies with CEQA."
The legal action overturns a previous decision by a lower court that upheld the City Council's approval of the EIR on January 10th.
Environmental organizations that have opposed Playa Vista throughout its development wasted no time in cheering the court edict.
Rex Frankel, president of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project stated, "This victory for the people of Los Angeles is a victory for telling the truth on development decisions. The court rejected the developer's masquerade about benefits to the public, which in fact did not actually exist.
"The Playa Vista developers threatened the public with a monster development to beat the public into submission to accept a slightly smaller, but still enormous, project. However, the court agreed with us that the developers never had the rights to build this monster project in the first place."
Joe Geever, the Surfrider Foundation's state policy director, also focused on the size and scope of the development project.
"We are ecstatic that the issue of questionable wastewater planning and associated environmental impacts is finally seeing the light of day," Geever said. "Our major concern was that the city was approving more pressure on outdated sewage treatment capacity and unabated urban runoff without fully understanding the additional adverse impacts on coastal and ocean water quality and human health risks."
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Playa Vista, called the court's decision "a very significant judgment and important news for our community."
Rosendahl, who was not on the City Council when Phase 1 was approved, pointed out that he opposed the second stage of the development.
During the 2005 campaign for the council seat that he currently holds, Rosendahl believes that his opposition to the second stage of Playa Vista's development project was, in his words, "the defining moment of the campaign."
Anthony Morales, chief of the Tongva/Gabrieleno Tribal Council of San Gabriel, views the verdict as a victory for his tribe.
"We're hoping that a right can be done after enduring all of the wrongs that we've had to suffer during this case," he told The Argonaut.
Part of the recent construction project encompasses a Tongva/ Gabrieleno burial ground, which Native Americans consider to be sacred.
"The developer was desecrating our burial grounds," Morales alleged. "Building a development there was an atrocity."
The tribal chief is pleased that construction has been halted after his prior pleas in front of the council were rebuffed.
"Our message from the beginning has been that the council should have stepped in and stopped the developer from desecrating our sacred burial grounds," he said. "What the Los Angeles City Council did was shameful."
Typically, if a gravesite or burial ground is within a project of this magnitude, it would have been stopped earlier, says Robin Turner, an archeologist and paleontologist who works on EIR projects throughout California and is very familiar with CEQA regulations.
"(Los Angeles) should have stepped in and looked at this much more closely," Turner said.
Sabrina Venskus, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, feels that the decision to stop further construction of the project was not typical of the way most appellate decisions are handed down.
"This is somewhat unusual for a court to issue an immediate stay," Venskus said. "Usually an injunction is sent to the trial court where the injunction or remedy is implemented.
"I think that it was compelling to the court that we provided evidence that Playa Vista continued to do construction work in the face of litigation."
The subject of the Native American burial ground also has significance, Venskus said.
"The court gave the council the authority to have the remains of the Tongva/Gabrieleno tribe's ancestors re-interred on the hillside burial grounds," she said. "The question is, 'Will the council request that the developer bring those remains back to their burial ground?'"
Steven Sugerman, a Playa Vista spokesman, believes that there is a silver lining to the court's verdict. Despite the court siding with the plaintiffs on land use, the availability of wastewater and the preservation of archaeological resources, Playa Vista did prevail on the the analysis of methane gas mitigation and transportation impacts, he pointed out.
"The same opponent groups who have been alleging Playa Vista has not mitigated these issues were a part of the lawsuit and they were rejected," Sugerman noted.
Although the appellate court sided against the development company on the major issues of the case, Playa Vista president Steve Soboroff stated that several components of the residential and commercial complex would continue.
"The Playa Vista community continues to thrive, and this ruling will not in any way alter our plans to achieve the ultimate vision of this wonderful community that is now home to 5,000 residents and growing," Soboroff said. "Development of the commercial campus is proceeding with the best developers in America, and the Clippers [basketball team] training facility is expected to be completed next year.
"Despite the professional project opponents, we remain confident that the Playa Vista vision will ultimately be realized."
Venskus, an attorney who specializes in environmental law, acknowledged that the defendant's arguments regarding methane gas mitigation and transportation were upheld by the court, but she feels the ruling addressed the most important environmental aspects of the case.
"There are no other cases that I am aware of that address wastewater treatment and availability, and that was one of the key issues that the court ruled on in this case," Venskus said. She mentioned a recent California Supreme Court ruling where the plaintiffs in a land use case prevailed, and the appellate court touched on similar points in its verdict last week.
"That's why this case is so important," Venskus asserted. "It is a landmark decision in the sense that it applies Supreme Court reasoning to the process of availability of water treatment."
Morales, the Native American tribal chief, was primarily concerned about his tribe's ancestral burial grounds but also about the large swath of wetlands that was used to build Playa Vista.
"Part of our culture is respect for the land," he explained. "Our people used to camp near the wetlands, and when we see what the developer has done there, it's like part of our history and our culture has been destroyed."
Venskus believes that the appellate court edict can serve as a cautionary tale to agencies that are charged with reviewing environmental impact reports and the consequences of failing to take into account the definition of CEQA, the landmark state environmental statute.
"City councils need to read their EIRs very carefully and not rely on developers to interpret them," Venskus recommends. "They need to start listening to the public and do the right thing for all parties involved."
Turner agrees, adding, "If a city is smart, they should have a CEQA expert on staff so that they won't have to go through litigation. A lot of cities don't understand the law, but that's no excuse."
Rosendahl said that the next step for him would be to explore all of the legal possibilities and ramifications of the verdict and where he and his council colleagues go from here.
"Right now, we don't know what the immediate effects (of the judgment) are," said the councilman. "I will be meeting with our city attorney to see what the next course of action should be to fully digest and understand the implications of the ruling, and to get a better sense of what issues will return to the City Council for review."
Executives of Playa Vista Capital are contemplating whether or not to consider further litigation of the case. Their options include requesting another hearing in front of the appellate court or petitioning the California Supreme Court.
"Playa Vista is a model community for the nation," said Soboroff. "We look forward to completing the necessary legal steps and proceeding with the second and final phase that will deliver substantial community benefits, including workforce housing, open space, public parks, regional transportation improvements and neighborhood -serving retail."
Venskus is hopeful that the City Council will consider the wishes of her clients, the environmental community and the significance of the verdict if they decide to craft another EIR.
"This is an opportunity for the City Council to do the right thing by its constituents, and my clients are confident in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was against the second phase of Playa Vista, and councilmembers like Bill Rosendahl — we are optimistic that they will do what's right."