Santa Monica and Los Angeles may be headed for a political showdown over a multimillion-dollar office complex planned for a vast section of land south of Santa Monica Municipal Airport.
A chorus of objections to the project from Los Angeles officials has compounded complaints from neighboring residents.
The land in question is a 37.5-acre parcel at the far southeast corner of Santa Monica, bordering Los Angeles.
The fear expressed by Los Angeles officials is that their city's neighborhoods will be forced to bear the brunt of the traffic, noise and pollution generated by the $280-million, 1.4-million-square-foot complex, while Santa Monica reaps the financial benefits.
Santa Monica officials countered with suggestions that a bit of political posturing was afoot, adding that Santa Monica has been a "good neighbor" by working to lessen the problems caused by the project.
Los Angeles city planners, in a letter sent to Santa Monica late last month, labeled as "grossly inadequate" a draft Environmental Impact Report for the project, saying Santa Monica relied on possibly incorrect data about traffic and unrealistic assumptions about what can be done about it.
City Council members Ruth Galanter and Marvin Braude, whose districts border the airport on the east and south, echoed similar objections.
Finally, Los Angeles Director of Planning Kenneth C. Topping urged Santa Monica to do another Environmental Impact Report--a step that would delay the project for months.
Santa Monica Mayor James Conn responded that it was hypocritical for Los Angeles to complain about development in Santa Monica hurting Los Angeles, when the reverse has been going on for years.
"In some sense, it's the pot calling the kettle," he said. "Los Angeles has been so pell-mell for development, while we have led the slow-growth and responsible-growth movement in Southern California.
"We don't build high-rises in this city," he added. "With the 25 million square feet that went into Westwood over the last decade, and the millions of square feet (on the Los Angeles side of) the airport, nobody asked us if it had an impact on our city; they just did it."
Peggy Curran, Santa Monica's Community and Economic Development director, said the city was evaluating whether another environmental report is necessary.
"We are not surprised at the tenor of the comments," she said. "When a project is in a neighboring jurisdiction, it's easy to take pot shots. We really want to cooperate with Los Angeles officials and staff (and) strive to resolve the outstanding issues . . . (through) constructive dialogue."
One of the key elements in the dispute involves the widening of Centinela Avenue south of the airport as a way to thin out traffic congestion. Los Angeles would be responsible for widening Centinela, and Santa Monica includes it as an important "mitigation" element. But Los Angeles officials say that while once part of a Master Plan, it is now far less likely Centinela would be widened.
Galanter, labeling many elements of the environmental report misleading and unrealistic, said it failed to justify the size of the project and suggested study of reductions in floor space by up to 50%.
"In addition to the existing airport noise problems, the neighbors will be faced with major traffic congestion and with a development completely out of scale with a single-family residential area."
Santa Monica selected the Reliance Development Group to develop the mostly vacant parcel of land. As now designed, the project would have seven to nine six-story buildings for offices, restaurants, retail stores and possibly movie studios.
Henry A. Lambert, president of Reliance, said he would prefer not to have to reduce the size of the project, which he defended as a restrained, well-planned design that will enhance the area.
"We clearly would like to build it as designed. It's sensibly designed," Lambert said. "You don't want to take a location that size and put up a very tiny improvement. There are jobs, revenue needs for the city . . . to consider."
Santa Monica has said the project will be an important boon in earnings for the city, with revenues expected to be $27.5 million over the next 10 years plus substantial rent and tax money.
Like Los Angeles officials, Lambert also was highly critical of the Santa Monica report--but for exactly opposite reasons.
He contended that the report inflates the projected volume of traffic while underestimating the financial reward. He complained that tougher standards were applied to the project than have been used in other recent developments.
Curran defended the environmental report's use of what she called a worst-case scenario, including potential traffic from 156 projects, many yet to be built, in a 95-square-mile area.
Culver City also registered an objection to the report, complaining that Santa Monica ignored its request to include four Culver City intersections that would likely suffer additional traffic from the project.