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A New Dream Could Work for NoHo, Playa Vista

Site of old train station and new Metro stop makes sense for studio.

September 20, 1998|MARCIA HANSCOM | Marcia Hanscom is executive director of Wetlands Action Network and a member of the executive committee of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter

North Hollywood has an excellent chance for renewal. Los Angeles' quality of life has a good chance for improvement. The Ballona Wetlands have a great chance for true protection and restoration. The decisions required to make these dreams come true lie at the feet of DreamWorks SKG.

After three long years of waiting to build their studio at Playa Vista, DreamWorks is reportedly serious about other options. Playa Vista's financial problems have been compounded by attempts to construct such a massive project on sensitive marshland.

Ten endangered species are being defended in court by the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, CalPIRG (California Public Interest Research Group) and Wetlands Action Network. As a result of Judge Ronald S.W. Lew's ruling on a related federal court case, a cloud of doubt reigns over the project. Federally delineated wetlands are now protected under court injunction, including a one-acre wetland scheduled to be bulldozed for DreamWorks' studio.

Is it possible for the DreamWorks' imagination to be so sparked by North Hollywood as when company officials first visited Playa Vista? I think so. Richard Kahlenberg's perspective on the North Hollywood rail station ("Old Depot Deserves New Station," Aug. 30) conjures up the image of DreamWorks' initial enticement to build its new studio in West Los Angeles. When Steven Spielberg first visited Ballona, he was shown the hangars where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose. He fell in love. Spielberg has always been attracted to a good story.

In North Hollywood there's a great story to be told: the historic train station juxtaposed with a sparkling new subway station, and the contribution to Los Angeles' future that building DreamWorks' studio there would provide. The old train station is the only remaining original railway station in the Valley, one that had an important role in Hollywood's early days. "Movie buffs might have noticed that the station looks a lot like the one used in 1913 in the first important feature film made in Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille's "The Squaw Man," wrote Kahlenberg.

Imagine this story capturing Steven Spielberg's attention, while an even more important train story compels the social consciences of the SKG trio. A financial debacle, the MTA subway has been mostly an embarrassment, not the cure we'd hoped for Los Angeles' traffic nightmares. A Metro stop will be adjacent to the NoHo Arts District studio site DreamWorks is eyeing. This makes the story even more powerful.

DreamWorks, by deciding on North Hollywood, could demonstrate the true definition of "sustainable development," a term that has been so corrupted that most environmentalists refuse to use it. The company would choose recycling of urban land, as opposed to building on Los Angeles County's last significant coastal open space and wetlands. If we want a quality future, we can no longer tolerate mere lip service to environmental protection. J. Allen Radford, the NoHo studio project developer, admits that his industry has done little more than that in the past. He told Sierra Club officials he has learned from watching the Ballona Wetlands development struggle. He recently said, "I now understand that all this land I own is not just mine, and that I have to be careful with it for the future."

Radford is giving DreamWorks officials a chance to be heroes. They could be model corporate citizens and lead the way for others to turn away from the destructive, poorly planned practices of past developments. Once gone from Playa Vista, DreamWorks might even embrace the idea of public acquisition and the complete restoration of the Ballona Wetlands ecosystem, the result being a wildlife refuge and park.

I believe this is the story with the happy ending for which Spielberg has been searching.

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