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Judge Lifts Ban on Playa Vista Roadwork

Environment: Workers begin widening Culver Boulevard after activists lose court decision in battle to conserve wetlands vegetation.


Bulldozers began widening a stretch of Culver Boulevard near the Playa Vista project Monday morning, immediately after activists concerned about wetlands habitat lost their court battle to stop the work.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Helen Bendix denied a request for a preliminary injunction sought by a Sierra Club wetlands task force in a suit against the California Coastal Commission and Playa Vista.

Her refusal to grant an injunction ended a prohibition on grading in the area near Marina del Rey. Work had been stopped since another judge granted a temporary restraining order Sept. 16.

The Coastal Commission voted 10-1 a year ago to approve the work, part of many road improvements that are supposed to ease traffic flow and improve safety around the controversial development, which was first proposed more than two decades ago.

A spokesman for the Sierra Club's Ballona Wetlands Task Force said the group plans to proceed with a suit against the Coastal Commission and Playa Vista, aimed at protecting land that the plaintiffs say includes wetlands plants such as seaside heliotrope and mule fat. But Roy van de Hoek, chairman of the task force, suggested that the grading could make the group's case tough to prove.

"They could destroy the wetlands vegetation and evidence we need for a trial we're going to have in a few months," Van de Hoek said.

The project opponents say they will continue with their litigation partly as a symbolic gesture, but also in hopes that roots of the plants plowed under Monday have survived and that the vegetation can make a comeback.

George Mihlsten, an attorney for Playa Vista, said Bendix's decision indicated that she had decided that the activists were unlikely to prevail at trial. He said the area at issue is about five acres and that just a tiny sliver, perhaps 1/100th of an acre, contains wetlands vegetation.

"The court concluded that these were not wetlands and that the Coastal Commission acted appropriately when it determined these improvements should be made," Mihlsten said.

The plans call for adding a traffic lane and a turn lane to Culver Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and the Marina Freeway and building modified and new ramp connections between Culver and Jefferson boulevards.

Playa Vista opponents have filed 15 suits challenging aspects of the 1,087-acre project over many years, Mihlsten said. Although a couple of cases are still pending, he said the developer has prevailed in the others.

Large portions of the development have been built in recent months. Rental units in three buildings at the northeast corner of Jefferson and Lincoln boulevards have been steadily filling since April 1. Playa Vista has yet to seek occupancy permits for two other rental buildings in that project, called Fountain Park.

Two commercial buildings at the site have yet to find tenants, perhaps a reflection of the difficult economy.

Builders say they are poised to begin writing sales contracts on hundreds of condos, townhomes and single-family dwellings south of Jefferson Boulevard.

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