9 Appointed to Evaluate Playa Vista : Politics: Councilwoman Ruth Galanter picks community activists to study the impact that the massive project would have on the environment and traffic.


PLAYA DEL REY — Amid criticism that she has not done enough to scale back the massive Playa Vista development near Marina del Rey, Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter has appointed nine community activists to recommend possible measures to mitigate the planned $7-billion project.

The panel appointed last week will evaluate environmental and traffic relief measures already agreed upon by developer Maguire Thomas Partners and may make further recommendations before the City Council decides next month whether to approve the project's initial phase, Galanter said.

The project, a residential, office, retail and hotel development, faces a critical hearing before the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Sept. 14. The full City Council is expected to vote on the matter Sept. 21.

Opponents, meanwhile, got an unexpected boost last week from the city's Transportation Commission, which agreed to hear testimony about the effect of the project on traffic on the San Diego Freeway and several major streets between Santa Monica and Los Angeles International Airport. The hearing was set for Sept. 9.

The commission scheduled the hearing after Jerry Epstein, a Marina del Rey leaseholder and a member of the state Transportation Commission, warned that Playa Vista will cause "absolute gridlock" in parts of the Westside unless the developer is required to do more to alleviate the increased traffic the project is expected to generate.

"Every other major development in Los Angeles has had to agree to freeway mitigation prior to approval over the past few years . . . but thus far the city is not requiring any substantive freeway mitigation (from this project)," Epstein said.

The hearing before the transportation panel--whose members are due to be replaced soon by appointees of Mayor Richard Riordan--will give opponents another chance to publicly air their concerns before the City Council considers the matter.

A spokesman for Caltrans, which is also opposed to the city's traffic mitigation plans, joined Epstein in expressing delight with the commission's decision.

"We like the fact we get another chance to have someone listen to us," said Bob Goodell. He warned that unless changes occur, plans for the project's first stage will cause "major congestion" on roads near Playa Vista.

By a 3-1 vote, the Los Angeles Planning Commission last month gave its blessing to the proposed development, concluding that its innovative design and the jobs it would create outweigh environmental concerns.

Playa Vista stretches over nearly 1,000 acres from the San Diego Freeway almost to the ocean.

At issue next month is the first stage--representing about a quarter of the project--which would involve construction of 3,246 residential units, 1.25 million square feet of office space, 35,000 square feet of retail space and 300 hotel rooms.

Ultimately, Playa Vista would house 28,625 residents and become a workplace for 20,000 people.

The group named by Galanter includes several community leaders and environmentalists from the area near Playa Vista. She said its job will be to help her judge "whether the details of this massive proposal reflect my philosophy and goals."

In announcing the appointments, Galanter defended her efforts to make the project more environmentally friendly, calling concessions already extracted from the developer "the most significant and far-reaching ever" in Los Angeles.

Among the achievements, she cited the developer's commitment to full on-site waste treatment, the addition of a riparian corridor and freshwater wetlands, and a multimillion-dollar traffic mitigation plan.

"We've been conditioning this project for a very long time," Galanter said. "The effort (by the panel) will be to evaluate how far we've come and to see if there may be other recommendations that we might go arm wrestle the developer with."

Opponents, including State Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), offered a different view.

"The fact remains that after all the twists and turns in the last several years, Playa Vista has not been reduced in terms of total density one whit," Hayden said.

Hayden renewed his call for Galanter to oppose the project, saying that the increased air pollution, traffic and congestion it will bring represents an "environmental disaster."

The senator also questioned the timing of Galanter's appointment of the citizen group.

"To be generous, I suppose there may be some small mitigations yet to be achieved," he said, referring to the appointments. "The worst case would be if it is just a public relations device to provide some degree of legitimacy to (her) supporting the project."

Galanter dismissed the criticism, saying she remains focused on balancing environmental concerns with the project's potential economic benefits.

"Since the property is not for sale and the city is not about to condemn it, some form of development there is unavoidable," she said. "The challenge to all of us is to protect whatever we can protect . . . to get as close as possible to a true, sustainable development."

The appointees, all active in various community, business and environmental groups, are Julie Inouye and Mark Handel of Playa del Rey; Les Sholty, Paul Doebler and Harry Parker of Del Rey; John Gibbs and Renate Hild of Westchester, and Tom Soto of Santa Monica.

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