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First Phase of Massive Playa Vista Plan OKd : Development: The $7-billion project on 1,087 acres is described as a boon to local economy. Critics say that environmental and traffic concerns are being glossed over.

September 22, 1993|RON RUSSELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 4 1/2 years of planning and public hearings, the Los Angeles City Council gave its initial blessing Tuesday to the vast Playa Vista development near Marina del Rey.

By a vote of 10 to 1, the council approved the first stage of the proposed $7-billion residential, office, retail and hotel project on 1,087 acres once owned by billionaire Howard Hughes.

Councilman Nate Holden was the lone dissenter, saying that not enough had been done to reduce the impact of the traffic that the project is expected to generate.

As part of the approval, the council also voted to settle a long-simmering lawsuit aimed at ensuring that developer Maguire Thomas Partners spends up to $10 million to restore and preserve the 270-acre Ballona Wetlands on the property.

Although the settlement assures that the wetlands will forever remain off-limits to development, critics said it was inadequate because it allows Maguire Thomas to back away from the restoration if future stages of the project are not approved.

"No settlement is ever perfect, but in this one we did as well as anyone could have hoped for," said Carlyle Hall, an attorney for the Friends of Ballona Wetlands. The group's 1985 lawsuit led Summa Corp. to abandon its plans for a high-rise development on the property.

Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, in whose district the property is located, hailed Playa Vista as a model development that will play a major role in the economic revitalization of Los Angeles.

Galanter, who has been criticized for her support of the project after once opposing it, praised Maguire Thomas on Tuesday for agreeing to concessions that she termed "the most significant and far-reaching ever" in Los Angeles.

"It's time to move on with the project. It's time to move on with the restoration of the wetlands," she said.

The approval gives the developers the green light to start construction on the first stage as soon as financing can be arranged and construction plans are formulated. Nelson Rising, general partner with Maguire Thomas, said the developers hope to begin construction by next summer.

The first stage will 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 become a community the size of Hermosa Beach, with 29,000 residents, and serve as a workplace for 20,000 people. Its 5 million square feet of office space would be double that of Century City; its 595,000 square feet of retail space would equal the Westside Pavilion, and its 1,050 new hotel rooms would equal the Century Plaza Hotel.

Playa Vista, which stretches for three miles from the San Diego Freeway almost to the Pacific Ocean, would also have its own yacht harbor with docks for up to 840 boats.

Although the first stage amounts to only about a quarter of the project, Tuesday's action represents a giant leap for one of the largest real estate developments ever contemplated for Los Angeles.

Civic, business and labor leaders immediately cheered it as a boon to the area's ailing economy.

"This gives our people something to look forward to," said Sergio Rascon, president of the Labor International Union's Local 300.

Through a spokesman, Mayor Richard Riordan also expressed his support for the project, saying that the first stage would create 30,000 construction jobs and up to 130,000 more jobs as the project progresses.

Opponents offer a gloomy scenario, saying the project is too big, will create too much air and water pollution and overwhelm traffic in the heavily congested corridor between Santa Monica and Los Angeles International Airport.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) warned that Playa Vista will result in gridlock for parts of the Westside, and called the project an "economic and environmental disaster."

"It's a continuation of the same pattern of underdeveloping the inner city and overdeveloping outlying areas," Hayden said. "There are no Playa Vistas for the poor."

But most council members were more impressed with the concessions extracted from the developer and with the jobs the project will create.

"This is exactly the kind of development we should want to encourage throughout the city," Councilwoman Laura Chick said.

As she has in the past, Galanter cited the developers' commitment to on-site waste treatment, the addition of a riparian corridor, a multimillion-dollar traffic mitigation plan and the wetlands restoration as key reasons why the project deserved support.

Others, however, insisted that the project is only modestly smaller than the one promoted by the Summa Corp., which is still a partner in Playa Vista, along with JMB Realty Corp. of Chicago. "This is a sellout!" shouted opponent Rex Frankel. "And for Ruth Galanter I say two terms is enough."

A Big Step The Los Angeles City Council has approved the first phase of the Playa Vista development near Marina del Rey. Although this stage represents only about a quarter of the project, the council's OK is a big boost to one of the largest developments ever contemplated for Los Angeles. The master plan for the project is shown here, along with a detail of the first phase. Source: Maguire Thomas Partners

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