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NEWS ANALYSIS : Uneasy Truce Hangs Over Fox Expansion Plan : Century City: To head off almost-certain community opposition to the renovation, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky persuades homeowner groups to wait until more information is available.

December 06, 1990|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky has persuaded most of the homeowner groups in his district to hold their fire, at least for now, against 20th Century Fox's plan to renovate and expand its studios in Century City.

By doing so, Yaroslavsky has averted, or at least delayed, a community bloodletting that early this year seemed likely. Fox, in a sudden turnabout, announced in March that it wanted to stay on what is left of its pricey Century City acreage instead of relocating outside the city.

Yaroslavsky contends that whether the famous movie studio stays or leaves is of profound economic and historic significance.

"This is probably the most important decision that this part of my district and the city as a whole will make for a long time, and it better be the right one," he said this week.

Fox is seeking to build what it calls a state-of-the-art entertainment facility on its 53 acres at the southwest edge of Century City. The proposal would add 771,000 square feet of low-rise office and studio space to the 1.12 million square feet there now. Some of the new construction would be intended to house KTTV, the Fox television station, which the company would like to relocate from Hollywood.

The area's homeowner groups, however, are well-organized, politically savvy and certain to bitterly resist any new development that threatens to aggravate the already-severe congestion that pervades this central area of the Westside.

For now, a holding pattern is all Yaroslavsky is asking of the community groups while studies are made of how Fox's plans would affect traffic and other aspects of the regional environment.

"No one has taken a position for it, including yours truly," Yaroslavsky said. That statement is met with substantial skepticism by some members of the homeowner contingent, who say the Fox proposal would never have seen the light of day without the councilman's tacit blessing.

In a carefully orchestrated pitch, Fox has also asked residents to withhold judgment until it can be be determined whether expanding the studio is a better deal for the area than a previous city-approved plan for Century City that calls for 2,200 high-rise condominiums. The tallest proposed building in the bigger, better studio is seven stories.

A long-awaited traffic study due before the end of the month is expected to provide the first solid -- though certain to be contested -- information on what this all means for the community.

But the homeowner group members, many of them seasoned by previous pitched battles over development, realize that they need to be active in this early phase of the planning process for their voices to be heard.

Although the conventional time for public participation and comment in a big commercial development is during hearings on its environmental impact, veteran activists know it is dangerous to wait that long. By then, the City Council, city planners and the developer are likely to have already come to terms, and homeowners will find themselves complaining about what is virtually a done deal.

Before it changed course earlier this year, the movie studio had been planning to pull up stakes and move somewhere on the fringes of the Los Angeles urban area, where land is cheaper, and turn its back lot into a large condominium development--presumably at a vast profit.

Currently, the sprawling lot is a hodgepodge of sound stages, sets and offices. Century City was once part of Fox.

Most homeowner groups in the district had been willing to accept the plan for the 2,200 condominiums, approved by the City Council in 1981 as part of an overall land-use plan for Century City. Residential development generally generates far less traffic than a comparable amount of commercial development.

Thus, the community leaders' initial reaction to Fox's newest proposal was explosive. "The answer from our community will be a resounding, 'No Way!' " said Laura Lake, one of the homeowner group leaders.

Yet in the ensuing months, many homeowner boards, while asking tough questions, have not gone on the attack. Even Lake's own homeowner association, Westwood Homeowners, refused to take a vote against Fox.

"It's the only intelligent position," said Westwood Homeowners board member Richard Agay. "No one knows what the facts are. . . . We felt it would be irresponsible to say no out of hand."

Lake's other organizational power base, Friends of Westwood, a regional environmental group, disagreed, arguing that the addition of a single square foot of commercial development is contrary to the interests of the community.

Yet as the first public comment period on Fox's request for zone changes closed a few weeks ago, most written comments entered in the public file showed a willingness to wait for additional information. Follow-up interviews by The Times with nearly a dozen leaders of homeowner and condominium associations also found a majority inclined to withhold judgment.

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