Plans for a sprawling development project at Santa Monica Airport unexpectedly snarled the city's efforts to annex land from Los Angeles, but officials are moving quickly to untangle the snag.
For years Santa Monica has sought to annex a 15.69-acre plot that forms the eastern end of the Santa Monica Airport. The land, which includes the eastern tip of the airport's single runway, belongs to Santa Monica but sits on the Los Angeles side of the city boundary.
The Los Angeles Planning Commission approved the annexation in 1986 contingent on the land not being used for major development. Santa Monica agreed, and no environmental study was required.
Separately, however, Santa Monica decided that another 37.5-acre parcel south of the airport should be developed. Last year, officials chose a developer to draw up plans for a 1.3-million-square-foot complex of offices and movie studios for the site.
However, the two parcels--the one being developed and the one being annexed--overlap in one tiny corner. A sliver of land, just over half an acre, sits in Los Angeles but would be part of the development project.
And that, Los Angeles officials decided, changed the equation.
So when the annexation question came up again last week at a Los Angeles City Council committee meeting, the vote was to send the entire annexation request back to Santa Monica for additional environmental review.
"At the time it (the annexation request) went through the commission, we were not aware of the project on the Santa Monica Airport property," City Planner Patricia Brown told the council's Planning and Environment Committee on Tuesday. "A year and a half later, they have a project and in fact are processing an EIR (environmental impact report)."
Brown and representatives of council members Marvin Braude and Ruth Galanter, whose districts border the airport on the east and south, said they were concerned that traffic generated by the development would hurt neighboring Los Angeles communities.
Brown suggested that Los Angeles officials may want to use the annexation as leverage to get Santa Monica to consider the traffic and other effects the airport development would have on Los Angeles neighborhoods.
But Santa Monica, already studying ways to alleviate traffic congestion, insisted that the annexation and the development projects should be considered separately. Late last week, Santa Monica officials said they were removing the overlapping sliver of land from the annexation request.
"The annexation is the tail here, not the dog," said Santa Monica's director of community and economic development, Peggy Curran.
"We do not want to confuse the issues," Curran said. " . . . We're trying to have the two issues treated, appropriately, as two different issues. We are not expecting one to be used as leverage over the other in one way or another."
Santa Monica officials said the annexation is only intended as a "cleanup" operation, redrawing the boundary between the two cities at Bundy Drive instead of Centinela Avenue, where it is now, so as to have all of the airport on the Santa Monica side.
"I just wanted my runway and my taxiways in the same city," airport director Hank Dittmar said. "I'm resigning myself to turning old and gray before this is resolved."
Meanwhile, Santa Monica officials were turning their attention to an environmental impact report for the airport land development, amid complaints from nearby residents who fear the project will clog their streets with traffic.
A voluminous study by two consulting firms considered a 95-square-mile area around the Santa Monica Airport and projected traffic into 1997 in what Curran called a "worst-case scenario."
The study concluded that the airport project would mitigate traffic problems in all but one of 22 intersections in the area. Proposed measures to ease traffic included widening Bundy Drive, where most cars would enter and exit the project, and providing right- and left-turn lanes.
Traffic Plan 'Acceptable'
The $280-million project, which is being developed by Reliance Development Group, would have seven to nine six-story buildings for offices, restaurants and retail stores. In one version of the proposal, studios and sound stages would be included.
Since the only entryways empty onto Bundy, however, the city plans to recommend building an alternate route on a road going north-south along the edge of the airport to Centinela, which dead-ends on the northern side of the airport.
"Overall, we feel the traffic performance of this project is acceptable," Curran said. "It solves the traffic problems it generates."
Curran said the city limited the density of the project to allow for open spaces and keep traffic down. The project will have on-site sewage treatment facilities.
However, the report warns of air pollution from the project.