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Playa Vista Developer May Escape Traffic Fees : Transportation: The builder may be allowed to satisfy a city law by constructing roads and low-income housing, and designing transit plans.

May 23, 1991|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A fund designed to make developers pay for transportation improvements in the crowded corridor between Santa Monica and El Segundo may not receive a penny from the largest builder in the region, according to city officials.

Maguire Thomas Partners, which plans to build a mini-city called Playa Vista between Marina del Rey and the Westchester bluffs, may be freed from up to $68.3 million in fees it faced under a city transportation law, officials in the Los Angeles city Department of Transportation say.

The builder instead could meet its obligations under the law by building roads itself, designing transit plans to keep drivers off the streets and constructing low-income housing.

The final form of the Coastal Transportation Corridor Specific Plan, the ordinance that will outline responsibilities for Maguire Thomas and other builders in the Santa Monica-El Segundo corridor, is expected to be amended by the Los Angeles City Council within a month. The council initially approved the plan in 1985, but is rewriting it because the law has raised only a fraction of what was predicted for transportation work.

The debate over rewriting the law has continued for several months--frequently pitting Department of Transportation officials against Westside Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and Maguire Thomas representatives. Galanter and her staff have supported larger incentives for developers to build roads themselves, design transit plans and construct low-income housing, while the transportation engineers have endorsed smaller incentives to ensure that money is paid into the transportation fund.

At stake is how developers will be held accountable for the traffic their projects put on the streets.

S. E. Rowe, general manager of the Department of Transportation, wrote in a recent memo that alternatives supported by Galanter would reduce the transit fund and "could seriously jeopardize the ability of the (Coastal Transportation Corridor) Specific Plan to effectively produce the needed transportation improvements."

But Galanter calls her attempt to provide incentives to encourage low-income housing a pioneering effort that will reduce traffic by bringing workers closer to their jobs. The councilwoman says that many clerical workers and others who will work in Playa Vista's offices cannot now afford housing on the Westside but that subsidized apartments in the project may allow them to live close to their jobs.

Galanter concedes that there "is not a lot of evidence" on how some of her proposals would reduce traffic. "But we know the old approaches don't work" in terms of lessening traffic congestion, she said.

The rest of the City Council is expected to weigh Galanter's viewpoint heavily, since the Coastal Transportation Corridor is entirely within her 6th District.

Nelson C. Rising, a senior partner at Maguire Thomas, backs most of the plan amendments pushed by Galanter, saying they would encourage his firm to build far more in transportation improvements than the city would receive simply by collecting money in a fund for future traffic-related projects.

Rising said his firm's work will include adding lanes to major thoroughfares, such as Lincoln, Jefferson and Culver boulevards; building an east-west road as an alternative to Jefferson and a north-south road to relieve some of the traffic on Lincoln, and extending Admiralty Way to Culver Boulevard.

Private companies will make road improvements more quickly and efficiently than government, Rising argues.

"The Department of Transportation's view is that they want money paid into a fund," Rising said. "We want to spend the money (ourselves) in the most effective way. Either way, we pay the money."

The basics of the new ordinance appear set:

Builders would have to pay $5,690 for every car expected to come to or from their commercial projects during the average peak afternoon commute hour. The money would be deposited in a fund that ultimately would pay new construction between Santa Monica and El Segundo and east to the San Diego Freeway. The projects would include new roads, bridges, traffic signals and other improvements.

As the largest developer in the area, Maguire Thomas has been expected to contribute heavily to the transportation fund. Playa Vista is proposed to include 11,750 residential units, 5 million square feet of offices, 720,000 square feet of retail space, 2,400 hotel rooms and a marina on 670 acres. It will produce about 20,000 automobile trips during a typical peak afternoon commuting hour, transportation officials say.

Since residential construction is not subject to the fees, Maguire Thomas would be liable for 12,000 of those trips, or about $68.3 million in transportation fees.

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