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Westchester Project Gets a Tentative OK

September 20, 1986|CATHLEEN DECKER | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council, moving for the second time in three days to circumvent a November voter initiative to limit the city's growth, gave tentative approval Friday to a 3.1-million-square-foot development in Westchester's Howard Hughes Center.

The contract agreement governing the 69-acre development followed Wednesday's tentative council approval of the Continental City project near Los Angeles International Airport that will contain about 2 million square feet of office space and two hotels.

If the agreements are confirmed by the council in coming weeks, the projects could be shielded from restrictions included in Proposition U, the slow-growth initiative on the November ballot.

Asked to Wait

Council members did not debate that aspect at length, but it was clearly on the minds of Westchester homeowners, who asked the council to hold off its approval until after the November election.

"We are asking you to listen to the people you represent in the initiative before making a decision," said Judy May, an opponent of the Hughes Center development.

But council members voted 10 to 2 to tentatively approve the measure. Only Councilmen Marvin Braude and Ernani Bernardi opposed the motion, as they did on Wednesday when the council approved the Continental City agreement.

Braude, in comments before the vote, was highly critical of the development agreement. Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, co-author with Braude of Proposition U, appeared to remain neutral. He left the council chamber during the discussion--returning when it ended--and did not vote on the matter. He likewise did not vote on Wednesday's Continental City agreement.

Like a No Vote

Questioned about the omissions, he contended that not voting was the same as voting no.

"It's the same difference," Yaroslavsky said. "It's taking a stand. It's very much taking a stand."

Proposition U would slash by 50% the allowable size of new buildings on about 85% of the city's commercial and industrial property, including the Westchester-Airport area. The only exemptions would be downtown, the Wilshire corridor and some small commercial areas.

But the council, by setting up binding contracts through development agreements, is able to exempt those areas from the initiative, according to the city attorney's office. The Howard Hughes Center and Continental City transactions are examples of that process in action.

"There is a state statute that protects development agreements from future changes in the law (such as the planning change prompted by the initiative)," said Gary Netzer, senior assistant city attorney.

Size Considerations

In addition to angering backers of the initiative, consideration of the Howard Hughes Center development reopened divisions in the Westchester area over how extensive development should be.

Council President Pat Russell, who represents the area, has come under repeated fire from some constituents for backing large development projects. The Coalition of Concerned Communities, a group of homeowner associations, has vowed to sponsor a candidate to run against Russell when her four-year term expires in 1987.

The fighting continued Friday as several homeowners raised concerns that the 20-year term of the Hughes development agreement could lock them into an untenable situation allowing no check on development.

20-Year Pact

"We don't want the city lumped into a 20-year agreement with a developer," said Challis Macpherson. "We don't like it and we will vote thusly."

Braude likewise criticized the length of the contract, prompting Russell to remind him that the development agreement would bring the city $30 million in street improvements and fees, as well as property taxes and salaries.

"Do not make light of $30 million, Mr. Braude," Russell warned. "That is far and above any requirements the city could legally make."

The dispute between the two drew in council members Hal Bernson, Dave Cunningham and Gilbert Lindsay, who praised Russell and the agreement.

"You got my vote and if I can slip in an extra one, I'll do it," Lindsay joked.

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