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Valley Perspective

Smaller Universal Plan Still Too Large for Area

The studio should provide southbound access to the Hollywood Freeway and present a new draft EIR.

September 14, 1997|JOAN LUCHS | Joan Luchs chairs the development committee of the North Hollywood Residents Assn

While most of Universal Studios' neighbors fear existing impacts, the county planning department will present its staff report Wednesday for Universal's proposed amusement park. In response to officials' recommendations for a smaller project, Universal unveiled a revised proposal. At first it appeared Universal would cooperate. A closer look tells a different story: Although the plan reduces the size of the proposed expansion, it does not adequately address noise and traffic issues, and continues to push for a much larger project than surrounding neighborhoods can reasonably accommodate.

Seagrams-owned Universal still proposes to add 250,000 square feet to CityWalk (now about 570,000 square feet) and 388,000 square feet of new theme park space, with the option of converting CityWalk footage to theme park, for a total of 1.2 million square feet.

Although officials asked that all traffic mitigations be in place before the second phase begins, the revised plan does not require this, omits many basics and fails to respond to the hundreds of complaints since hearings began in January.

Surrounding communities are very supportive of a reasonable development, but residents need guarantees for existing impacts as well as future ones. In reality, Universal's proposed mitigations won't even resolve current impacts, and officials recently confirmed that they are not required to. Without adequate mitigations, what chance do surrounding communities and suffering commuters have with an additional 3.3 million square feet.

Band-Aid fixes that widen intersections and change signs will never resolve the traffic problems Universal causes. Per California's Environmental Quality Act, current impacts must accurately be disclosed, including 15 million visitors annually. Universal's reference to unspecified "suitable guarantees" sometime in the future are inappropriate for any expansion.

Further, it is improper for this entertainment giant to refer to a not-yet-released regional traffic report as mitigation for its impacts. Without this Barham/Cahuenga Corridor Improvement Study, Universal's project as well as those of other adjacent studios cannot be accurately reviewed. Requests by Universal to delete a proposed but never built east-west "paper road" should at minimum be substituted with a north-south road with direct southbound on- and offramps to the Hollywood Freeway.

Because of its size, Universal exacerbates circulation by forcing through traffic to perimeter residential streets. Providing only direct access northbound to the Hollywood Freeway, Universal must be responsible for southbound access as well. If only their traffic is permitted through their property, it's only reasonable to expect they provide direct access southbound as stand-alone mitigation for the impacts they cause.

Universal's Draft Environmental Impact Report is misleading and inadequate. The revised plan is still an application to put a large amusement park in the middle of a highly dense residential community. Given the impacts this would have, Universal should be required to recirculate a new draft EIR--after release of the Barham/Cahuenga study.

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