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It's Curtains for Fox Studio Opponents : Expansion: City gives preliminary approval for a $200-million consolidation project after opposition crumbles.

June 24, 1993|RON RUSSELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CENTURY CITY — Call it a wrap for Fox Studio.

After 3 1/2 years of public scrutiny, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday gave tentative approval to a proposed $200-million expansion of the venerable Century City studio.

"We're pleased, we're relieved, and we're elated," said Fox Vice President David Handelman, after the 14-1 vote.

Councilman Joel Wachs was the lone dissenter. Because the city charter requires a unanimous vote to approve an item the first time the council hears it, final approval must await the outcome of a second vote next week.

For Fox's supporters, the technicality was of little importance.

"Nothing--not even Joel Wachs--is going to rain on our parade," said John Klein, president of Friends of Fox.

The council's overwhelming support means that Fox will soon be able to consolidate its movie and television operations, including KTTV-TV--now in Hollywood--and 20th Century Fox Film Corp. at the same 53-acre parcel, creating a 1.9-million-square-foot facility.

Wachs said he voted against the project only because he opposes moving the TV station, which he said would "drive yet another nail into Hollywood's coffin."

During his unsuccessful bid for mayor this year, Wachs needled Councilman Michael Woo--who represents Hollywood--for supporting the Fox project even though it would mean the loss of KTTV-TV from Hollywood. Woo said Wednesday that the project was too important to the local economy to "pit one part of the city against another."

Once the votes were counted it was difficult to tell who was more relieved: the studio, which sources say spent more than $10 million on lawyers and consultants, or city officials, embarrassed by the slow pace in approving a project that purports to create 1,600 new jobs.

"This is a very significant day for Los Angeles," said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, in whose district the studio is located. "It proves we could synthesize the community's needs with the overall economic interests of the city."

Opponents, however, expressed a different view.

"What you just saw has left a lot of people totally disillusioned," said Val Cole, president of the California Country Club Homes Assn., among those angered that the expansion will more than double the traffic flowing from the studio's gates.

Wednesday's tentative approval mirrors a compromise worked out earlier this month between Yaroslavsky and studio officials. The council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee had signed off on the arrangement last week.

Under the plan, the studio, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, will get almost all of what it wanted.

Fox will be required to trim 100,000 square feet of office space it had wanted to build as part of an initial two phases of the project. But it would be able to recapture the space in a future third phase, assuming that it clears a new round of city environmental reviews.

Another 50,000 square feet that Fox had originally wanted to build as office space will be converted to production space, which generates less traffic.

In all, Fox would be able to add 771,000 square feet to its aging facilities.

The studio has agreed to pay $5 million for road and street improvements in the Century City area and another $500,000 for speed bumps and other improvements in residential neighborhoods.

For the studio, Wednesday's approval signals the end of an exhaustive--and expensive--campaign.

Faced with widespread opposition from numerous community groups three years ago, the studio spared no effort in cultivating the support of many of those groups, while engaging in a full-court press to win the support of Mayor Tom Bradley and Gov. Pete Wilson for the project.

In the end, only a handful of community groups were officially on record as opposing the project, although opponents insist that the studio managed to persuade neighborhood leaders to support the expansion without winning the hearts of residents.

The studio had threatened to pick up and leave town if the full project was not approved, and several cities, including Valencia and Burbank, expressed interest.

In the last several months, however, as approval of its plans seemed all but assured, studio officials quietly refrained from talking about moving as an option.

Instead, Fox focused its message on emphasizing the importance of the studio to the city's foundering economy, garnering support from Bradley, Wilson, the California Film Commission and a list of prominent politicians.

Friends of Fox, a group created and sustained by Fox, came to claim 10,000 members, and each time there was a public hearing, busloads of Fox's friends were hauled in at the studio's expense.

The studio also provided private movie screenings for members of the group, and met every six weeks over breakfast with the group's 50-member advisory board.

In April, the Planning Commission recommended giving the studio practically everything it had asked for, and a couple of its members apologized to studio officials for their having to endure such a marathon approval process.

As if sensing the inevitable, the ranks of those publicly opposed to the project grew thinner.

Only about a dozen opponents showed up to oppose the project before the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee last week, and even fewer turned out for Wednesday's council hearing.

"There are hundreds of people who would be here if they thought it would accomplish anything," said Cole, the Fox opponent. "But you know, unlike many of the Fox (supporters), these are people who have to work for a living."

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