A sprawling office complex proposed for land south of the Santa Monica Airport became further enmeshed in controversy this week when both the city of Los Angeles and a Santa Monica city councilman urged that the project be scaled down to alleviate traffic.
Plans for the $280-million, 1.4-million-square-foot project have already prompted a chorus of protest from nearby residents who fear that hundreds of additional cars a day will be routed through their neighborhoods or parked there.
The controversy is forcing the city of Santa Monica, which stands to gain millions of dollars in revenue from the project, and the developer, Reliance Development Group, to renegotiate details of the proposal.
"We are looking at some reductions," said Peggy Curran, Santa Monica's director of community and economic development.
"But we continue to think the project is very important for the future of Santa Monica and should be built at a rational . . . and economically viable size."
Reliance President Henry A. Lambert has said he would consider limited reduction of the project. Neither Lambert nor Curran would say how much they were willing to scale back the design.
The project still faces hearings later this year before Santa Monica's Planning Commission and City Council.
The complex, which would include offices, stores, a day-care center and possibly a movie production studio, would be built on 37.5 acres of mostly vacant land south of the airport. The land is in the far southeast corner of the city, bordering Los Angeles' Mar Vista neighborhood.
Los Angeles officials, who have complained that many of the neighborhoods affected would be in their city, demanded that Santa Monica conduct a second study of the environmental impact of the project after labeling the first one "grossly inadequate."
But the second study also fell short, according to letters from Los Angeles Director of Planning Kenneth C. Topping and Deputy Director of Strategic Planning Melanie Fallon.
Topping, in a letter to Curran, called for the project to be cut back "to a level at which all adverse traffic impacts for all intersections within the city of Los Angeles are reduced to a level of insignificance."
One-Third Cutback Urged
A memo from Los Angeles' Bureau of Engineering suggested that the project be cut back by nearly a third.
Los Angeles officials said Santa Monica was underestimating the amount of traffic the project would generate as well as the amount that would result from normal regional growth.
They demanded that the developer not only pay for traffic mitigation measures, including special traffic-control signals at 15 intersections, but also pay for street widening at three Los Angeles intersections and pay fees to Los Angeles based on the number of cars traveling to the complex.
Meanwhile, Santa Monica City Councilman Herb Katz, who had joined his colleagues in choosing Reliance for the project, announced Wednesday his "conditional opposition" to the proposal, saying the size of the complex was "inappropriate to its surroundings."
Katz said the project would have to incorporate better traffic management to gain his support.
"The project is simply too large," he said in a statement released at a news conference Wednesday at the airport administration building.
"It generates too much traffic, it will overwhelm key local intersections, and it will disrupt adjacent residential areas in both Santa Monica and Los Angeles with unwanted and unsustainable levels of traffic and parking."
But Katz, who lives about two blocks north of the airport, added that the project can be a "real boon" for Santa Monica by generating jobs and millions of dollars in income for the city.
He said he would work with the developer and city to reshape the project to make it "neighborhood friendly," better able to handle cars coming and going and less likely to thrust traffic into adjacent communities.
With Katz's comments, the airport project is likely to become an issue in the campaign for November's election of four City Council members.
Katz, who is running to retain his seat, faces stiff opposition from candidates from Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, a liberal organization that has made slow growth a major plank in its platform.
Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights has not taken a formal position on the Reliance project but is expected also to call for its scaling down. Some members have demanded that the entire project be scrapped.
"I personally think it should be drastically reduced or rethought," said Ken Genser, co-chairman of the organization and one of its candidates for the City Council.
Genser suggested that Katz's position on the airport project was merely an election-year ploy.
But Katz denied that, saying he has always been consistent in demanding that developers adequately compensate for traffic generated by their projects.
Katz also called for the city to consider using money from the Reliance project to purchase part or all of a 7-acre parcel at Pico and Cloverfield boulevards and convert it into a park and a neighborhood supermarket. The land is scheduled to be used for a shopping center by the Schurgin Development Corp.
"We have to get bigger amounts (of money) from these developers for parks" for Santa Monica, Katz said. "Parks are important and getting more important as (the city) gets more dense."