Despite repeated objections from neighboring homeowners, Los Angeles city planning officials on Thursday approved a sweeping accord that would exempt the massive Porter Ranch project from slow-growth restrictions for 20 years.
The proposed deal, the largest of its kind in the city's history, now goes before the City Council. It would guarantee that the Porter Ranch Development Co. will be allowed to build a giant residential and commercial project on the hilly slopes north of Chatsworth, as approved by the City Council last summer.
Without the guarantee, the scope of Porter Ranch's project could be reduced by future council votes. In exchange for the protection, Porter Ranch must pay for more public works--mainly to alleviate traffic congestion--than those normally required.
City officials retain the power to intervene in the project only in case of unforeseen events, such as prolonged drought or overloaded sewer systems and landfills.
Planning commissioners and Porter Ranch officials hailed the agreement as beneficial to both sides. But opponents blasted the commission, saying the deal was pushed through without adequate consideration.
"I just don't think we should rush to judgment today," said Walter Prince, a leader of the project's critics. "We're looking at a 20-year agreement that affects every person in this city. I think there should be a restudy."
Prince complained that the agreement contained too many loopholes that could allow Porter Ranch executives to recoup their expenses for public improvements through assessments on future residents.
But commission Vice President Theodore Stein Jr. brushed aside Prince's concerns, saying: "I think we got a deal that is very advantageous to the city."
"The city got the deal the commission wanted," said Patricia Tubert, one of the deputy city attorneys who negotiated the deal with Porter Ranch. "The commission was concerned that it not gouge the developer, that it be fair. This is fair."
The accord guarantees that the densities and uses permitted by the Porter Ranch Specific Plan will not be changed for 20 years. That plan permits the construction of up to 3,395 houses and apartments and 6 million square feet of commercial space on the 1,300-acre Porter Ranch site.
Foremost among the improvements promised by the developer is money for a bridge over Aliso Canyon at Sesnon Boulevard, long sought by the city as an alternate east-west route to the Simi Valley Freeway, and an underpass beneath the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks at Mason Avenue.
Both are outside the Specific Plan area and would not be required without Thursday's agreement.
Yet they were among the major sticking points during the city's negotiations with the Porter Ranch company. Porter Ranch had wanted to pay flat fees of $2 million for the Aliso Canyon bridge and $500,000 for the Mason Avenue underpass when development reached a certain point. The city had wanted to charge Porter Ranch more if the project generated more traffic than expected.
In the end, Stein proposed that the developer post letters of credit with the city for $2 million and $500,000 that could be used immediately to round up additional funding for the two projects from other sources. If the bridges are not built, the money would be used for other improvements.
Also, Stein on Thursday said the project's commercial development would be subject to city linkage fees, proposed by Mayor Tom Bradley as a way to raise money for lower-cost housing. Porter Ranch attorney Ron I. Silverman said the linkage fees could cost the developer millions of dollars in extra fees.
Bernson could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.