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Expansion of Sony Pictures Would Have Broad Impact, Study Says : Environment: It would be impossible to mitigate all the air pollution and increased traffic, a report says. A public hearing is scheduled for July 22.



Traffic will double, residents will be rattled by noise from helicopters and 11-story buildings will block the morning sun from a school and two residences if Sony Pictures is allowed to revamp its Culver City facilities as planned, according to a draft environmental impact report.

The report concluded that it would not be possible to entirely mitigate the air pollution or increased traffic generated by the project. The other impacts of the project can be rendered less than significant if suggested mitigation measures are taken, according to the report, issued late last week. Sony Pictures Entertainment, parent company of TriStar and Columbia Pictures, wants to turn the 44.77-acre studio lot on Washington Boulevard and Overland Avenue into its corporate headquarters.

The expanded studio would centralize the company's far-flung motion picture and television subsidiaries into a single "campus" environment that would include shops and restaurants.

To do this, Sony would demolish, renovate and add buildings, increasing its current indoor spaces by 70% to 2.6 million gross square feet. The current daily population of 2,106 employees would increase to 5,804.

The expansion plan includes nine buildings that exceed the 56-foot height limit passed by voters in 1990. There are two 11-story, or 148-feet-high, office buildings, a nine-story office building, four six-story office and retail buildings, and an 80-foot clock tower.

Attorneys for Culver City have ruled that the project is exempt from the height limit because it is in a redevelopment area, but some of the candidates in the April 14 City Council elections contend that Sony should abide by the limit anyway.

"I'm enthusiastic about the project," said Councilwoman Jozelle Smith. "But the question is if that will hold out until I finish the last page" of the report.

Smith said she is most concerned with the traffic impact. She said she also expects a lively debate in the coming months over whether the height limit should be applied.

After deducting city services that would be used by the project, including police and fire, the project would bring a net of $1.3 million each year to the city in utility, business and sales taxes, the report said. In addition, the project would bring $6 million in payments to the city from developers' fees, commercial taxes and a contribution to the Arts in Public Places program.

The project would add about 18,618 cars, double what would occur without the project, to existing traffic in the area by the time the plan is completed in 2005, the report said.

Suggested mitigation measures include widening streets, removing on-street parking and encouraging ride-sharing.

The project would send between 400 and 500 additional cars a day down key residential streets such as Duquesne Avenue, Braddock Drive and Elenda Street. Sections of Braddock Drive, Clarington Avenue and Jasmine Avenue next to the project could expect an additional 800 to 1,000 cars a day.

The report recommends building traffic barriers to discourage commuters from taking shortcuts through neighborhoods. Also recommended are adding dual turn lanes, stop signs and "No Through Traffic" signs.

The added traffic would generate 1,251 pounds of carbon monoxide and 629 pounds of particulate matter daily and would exceed South Coast Air Quality Management District thresholds even after mitigation measures are taken.

Helicopters, about two a day, would land on and lift off from the roof of the easternmost 11-story building. A temporary helipad on top of a garage to be built at Overland Avenue would be used until the tower is constructed.

Noise would reach 85 decibels in the immediate area of the helipad, a level likely to cause residents to complain, the report says.

But because the noise would only be a "periodic annoyance," the report concludes that it would be "less than significant."

Gerald Duddy, who lives one block south of the studio, was skeptical of that assertion. Ninety decibels "is the threshold of pain," he said, adding that the helicopters would introduce "a degree of discomfort" to the neighborhood.

Duddy said he is also concerned about the added traffic and whether parking would be provided for the proposed retail development portion of the project.

Shops may be open to the public and may include upscale boutiques, a souvenir shop, a restaurant and services such as a dry cleaner, the report said. The shops could attract 4,553 visitors a day and would require 563 parking spaces.

The plan calls for 4,950 parking spaces. Having more, the report said, would be counterproductive because it would discourage ride-sharing.

The twin, 128-feet-high towers would completely shadow St. Augustine's Catholic School, a church, an office building, and a residential and commercial building on Washington Boulevard for up to four hours a day during the winter, the report said. The buildings are located between Jasmine and Clarington avenues. A residence on Jean Place would also be shadowed.

Copies of the report are available at City Hall and at the city library, 4975 Overland Ave.

Residents will have until May 14 to submit their concerns to the city in writing. A public hearing is scheduled for the July 22 Planning Commission meeting.

Sony is sponsoring public workshops on the report at 7:30 p.m. April 2 and 9:30 a.m. April 4. For information call (310) 280-8738.

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