The outcome of a bitter border battle between Los Angeles and Culver City over the massive Marina Place shopping mall is in the hands of a Superior Court judge after the two cities were unable to resolve their differences out of the courtroom.
During a 90-minute hearing last week, Judge John Zebrowski appeared generally unsympathetic to arguments advanced by attorneys for the city of Los Angeles and the Venice Town Council. Both argued that Culver City violated the California Environmental Quality Act by approving the regional shopping center last March despite its impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
Although the judge took the matter under submission, he appeared irritated that he was being asked to referee what has become a heated fight between the neighboring cities over development in the heavily congested Lincoln Boulevard area.
At one point, Zebrowski said the environmental law was not set up to give "one municipality a veto over what another city will do."
The judge also flatly declared his belief that Los Angeles' motive in bringing the lawsuit challenging the $160-million mall was "just to stop the project outright."
And although Los Angeles is attacking the Marina Place project on environmental grounds, Zebrowski noted the City Council recently approved construction of the $400-million Channel Gateway residential and office complex just three blocks from the Marina Place site.
"I don't think he is sympathetic to the Los Angeles position," Deputy Los Angeles City Atty. William F. Childs said after the court session.
Childs would not venture a guess about what the judge's decision will be. Attorneys for both sides predicted he will rule in a week to 10 days.
Los Angeles and the Venice Town Council, a neighborhood organization, are seeking a court order overturning Culver City's approval of the 1-million-square-foot mall, which is envisioned as containing two major department stores, 150 other shops, restaurants, a six-screen movie theater and parking for 4,640 cars. The 18-acre mall site is at the western tip of Culver City and is surrounded on three sides by Los Angeles neighborhoods.
The hearing in downtown Los Angeles was the first in a series of lawsuits against the project.
Kenneth B. Bley, attorney for Marina Place developers Prudential Insurance Co. and Melvin Simon & Associates, said outside the courtroom that the judge "understands that what is going on here has nothing to do with the adequacy" of the environmental impact report.
Bley suggested that if the environmental impact report had "come down on stone tablets from God," the project's Los Angeles opponents "would still be unhappy."
What is really at stake, Bley said, is the ability of the two cities to pursue projects that they believe are advantageous.
During the court hearing, Childs argued that the Culver City Council failed to adequately consider the impact of the mall on traffic congestion and air quality, particularly at the intersection of Lincoln and Washington boulevards.
The environmental impact report predicts that the Mediterranean-style mall--50% bigger than Westside Pavilion--will generate 31,000 vehicle trips on a typical weekday and 40,030 on Saturdays. Weekend traffic volumes could reach 56,000 vehicle trips a day during the Christmas shopping season.
Childs predicted the added traffic will overload the Lincoln-Washington intersection, backing up traffic for multiple light changes.
The judge closely questioned attorneys for the project and Culver City on the traffic issue and he expressed concern about incremental increases in traffic that ultimately lead to gridlock.
Bley said there is no question that traffic in the area will get worse despite efforts to mitigate it, because of the cumulative impact of other major projects. And, in a dig at Los Angeles, he noted that scenario does not take into account traffic from the biggest project of them all--the massive Playa Vista development planned for a vast open area from Marina del Rey to the Westchester Bluffs.
Culver City's special counsel Joseph Pannone said City Council members knew that the traffic impacts would be significant when they approved the project. However, the council, using a provision of the California Environmental Quality Act, approved a statement of overriding consideration that found the shopping center's adverse environmental effects would be outweighed by its economic benefits to the city.
Pannone invoked the same argument when Childs raised the issue of increased carbon monoxide pollution from vehicle traffic. "We feel the benefits of this project outweigh that particular impact," Pannone told the judge.
Bley acknowledged that the environmental impact report was not a perfect document, but said it adequately provided the information needed for the Culver City Council to decide whether to approve the project. He accused Los Angeles of trying to "sandbag" the shopping center, using environmental arguments.