Councilwoman Ruth Galanter is facing the first major test of her ability to fulfill a campaign pledge to substantially reduce the size of the massive Playa Vista project proposed by the Summa Corp.
Summa recently filed for the last major city approval necessary before construction can begin in the eastern half of the 887-acre project. Galanter has urged Summa to reduce the size of its project by 40% and increase the amount of land to be set aside as a wildlife preserve.
Last year, Galanter rode a slow-growth campaign to victory over powerful incumbent Pat Russell to gain her 6th District seat. Russell was a prominent supporter of Summa's development plans.
"Everybody in City Hall can count, and they all know what happened in the last election," Galanter said, referring to the growing strength of the slow-growth movement at the polls in recent years.
"I feel quite sure Summa will fight," she said. "But it is generally the case, with some notable exceptions, that council members give considerable weight to the member in whose district the project is taking place."
Much of the wetlands and open fields of Playa Vista, which stretches from Marina del Rey to the San Diego Freeway, are under the jurisdiction of the city of Los Angeles. The remainder is under county jurisdiction.
Summa's plan calls for 5 million square feet of office space, 600,000 square feet of retail stores, 600 hotel rooms and 3,246 residential units on the 412-acre eastern portion of Playa Vista. If approved, Summa would have to obtain only individual building permits to begin construction.
Also included in Summa's application is a move to separate 216 acres of wetlands from the Playa Vista site. Summa has agreed to give the wetlands, located in the southwest portion of the site, to the National Audubon Society for preservation as a wildlife habitat.
The remaining 120 acres of Playa Vista that lie within the city's limits are not included in the application. Galanter says that much of this acreage, which is the subject of a pending environmentalist lawsuit, should be included in the wetlands preserve. Summa eventually plans to build about 2,300 residences on the disputed land.
Another 139 acres, where Summa plans to build a marina with 700 to 900 boat slips, hotels and about 1,200 residential units, is under county jurisdiction.
Negotiations Break Down
A Summa spokeswoman said the Playa Vista application was filed May 30 after negotiations between Summa and Galanter had broken down.
"We have been in discussions with the councilwoman for about a year now, but there has been no accord reached on modifying our plan," said Summa spokeswoman Christine Henry. "At this point, we decided to go forward and allow the city to look at it and decide it on its merits.
"The issue of growth in the city of Los Angeles is a political issue whether it (involves) Playa Vista or another development," Henry said. "But in terms of managed growth and planned growth, this is one of the best examples you can find."
Opponents disagree and hope Galanter will be able to get a majority of the council to vote to reduce the amount of development.
"We don't know at this stage how powerful Ruth's position will be in relation to the other members of the City Council," said Ruth Lansford, chairwoman of the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, which has filed a lawsuit to prevent Summa from developing land they believe should become part of the wetland preserve.
But Lansford does not think Galanter will lose support in the community if the councilwoman is outvoted on the council.
"If people have the impression she is fighting every step of the way, then (a loss) will not affect her," Lansford said.
'Test for Galanter'
Salvatore Grammatico, president of the Coalition of Concerned Communities, a group of several dozen neighborhood organizations, said the issue will be a test for Galanter.
"I know definitely she has to prove herself to the community and to the city as a leader," he said. "We will support her as long as what she is proposing will not impact us."
Galanter and other Playa Vista opponents emphasized what they say is a need for residents to rally and support the councilwoman's position.
"This is the time when she has to show how much clout she has," said Julie Inouye, president of the Playa del Rey Network. "She needs our support and has to call us to rally forth."
But Inouye does not believe a loss by Galanter would hurt the councilwoman politically. "I don't think that just because of Playa Vista she will be voted out if she is not successful," Inouye said.
Summa is required to conduct a detailed environmental impact report to support its claim that the project will not damage the environment. It also must show that traffic generated by the development will not substantially increase congestion on the area's busy streets. Henry said the company is committed to a number of costly road improvements intended to reduce the traffic impact of the project.