The Culver City Planning Commission has approved a second regional shopping mall in the city, despite opposition from nearby Los Angeles residents who say the project will bring unwanted traffic to the marina area.
Marina Place, an upscale shopping mall whose plans call for it to be slightly larger than the Westside Pavilion, is being proposed by Prudential Property Co. for the 18-acre site it owns on Washington Boulevard near Lincoln Boulevard at the western tip of Culver City.
Approved Plan Changes
On Wednesday, after four hours of discussion and public comment, the commission unanimously approved zoning and General Plan changes for the site, set guidelines for development and recommended that the City Council do the same.
"I feel that it is basically a good plan for the use of that property, it will end up a good development for Culver City, the community and for the surrounding area," said commission Chairman Charles S. Blum.
But roughly half of the 33 people who spoke at the public hearing Wednesday denounced the project.
"The whole regional shopping center concept is a traffic generator that the area does not need," said Martha Platt, president of the Zanja Neighborhood Residents Assn., whose members live in the area surrounding the proposed mall site.
Tom Bickhart, an aide to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, read a letter from Galanter to the commission.
"I fail to see how the Westside needs another regional shopping center, either at this location or at the nearby Admiralty Place location," Galanter said in the letter, which also criticized the project's impact on traffic in the area.
Other residents complained that the tax benefits of the development, to be located in Culver City but bounded on three sides by Los Angeles, would go to Culver City while its problems would affect Los Angeles.
"Culver City has a long finger of land headed toward Venice, and Marina Place is like a fist at the end of it headed toward our jaw," said Challis Macpherson, a vice president with the Venice Town Council.
But the project's proponents, pointing to the mall's unusually large number of parking spaces, the location of its driveways on Washington Boulevard away from side streets and Prudential's willingness to pay for street improvements, said that measures to mitigate traffic are more than adequate.
"Our goal was to take as much traffic away from the neighborhoods to the north and east and put it onto the main arteries," said Marianne Lowenthal, investment manager for Prudential.
But Platt, of the residents association, scoffed at promises to lessen the impact of additional traffic.
"Even if they are successful from the point of view of a traffic engineer, it still means that eight out of 10 intersections in the area will operate" . . . at near-capacity and capacity during peak hours. "Traffic will still be a mess out here."
Series of Proposals
The shopping mall proposal is Prudential's fifth since 1980, when it purchased the former site of a Hughes Helicopter factory. Other proposals included an office and movie production complex, an office complex with four 21-story towers, and a mixed-use project featuring 500 residential units, a 12-story office building and a 685,000-square-foot shopping mall.
After the City Council ordered it to reduce the density of the project by 40% last summer, Prudential came back with the current proposal for an 823,000-square-foot mall designed in a Mediterranean style. The plan features two large anchor department stores with 125 to 150 shops in between and a six-screen theater complex on the roof.
The theaters, especially, appealed to Culver City resident Ted Hatfield.
"The city motto is 'The Heart of Screenland,' " he said. "There are so many studios and entertainment companies in town we'd be really remiss if we didn't have a theater complex here."
But Carl Smith, who lives in the western part of the city, disagreed.
Smith called the area he lives in "the poor stepchild of Culver City" and suggested that if the mall and theaters were in the center of town it would not be approved.
"The sign that says 'Heart of Screenland' is 6 miles to the east," he said. "Put the six-screen theater in the 'Heart of Screenland,' which is where the (Pacific Theaters Studio) Drive-In is."
But former Culver City Councilman Ed Little told residents and the commission to remember what was on the site previously when weighing the merits of the mall proposal.
"There used to be 4,000 people employed there, and that wasn't too swift for the neighborhood," said Little. He added that if the mall is not approved, the site could revert back to industrial uses.
Blum said he thought a regional shopping mall would be the most productive use for the land and one that would be friendliest to the neighborhood. Culver City already has one regional shopping mall, the Fox Hills Mall, in the southern part of the city.
He said that possible competition from Admiralty Place, a shopping and residential complex proposed for a site less than a mile south on Lincoln Boulevard, had nothing to do with his decision to approve Marina Place.
"I don't think the Planning Commission would move any faster to get a plan in before someone else," he said. "I don't think we're motivated in that manner."
Prudential spokesman Carl Haglund estimated that the mall will net the city about $2.5 million in business license fees and sales and property taxes each year.
Macy's and Nordstrom department stores have signed letters of intent to become the mall's anchor tenants, Lowenthal said.
The proposal is tentatively scheduled to come before the City Council at its July 11 meeting, planning secretary Lynn Oshiro said.