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'Transit Village' on Tap in Valley

A land swap will allow a 2,000-student school and a mixed-use complex in North Hollywood.

September 03, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Moving to lessen crowding in Los Angeles city schools and create a new urban center in the San Fernando Valley, Mayor James K. Hahn and school district Supt. Roy Romer announced a land swap on Tuesday that will allow for construction of a high school, housing, offices and shops next to the North Hollywood subway station.

The project is aimed at reviving a depressed area of vacant lots and empty buildings at the subway system's northernmost station. City and school officials also said the project will create a rare opportunity for students and teachers to use public transportation to get to the new $77-million campus for 2,000 pupils, while also providing 700 units of adjacent housing for residents who could commute on the Red Line to jobs downtown and elsewhere.

"It's going to be the first real transit village in the city," said Hahn, who is a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. "It's going to have housing, jobs and schools located right here at a rail transit center."

Hahn announced the land swap after arriving at the North Hollywood Metro Rail subway station on a school bus to the applause and shouts of high school cheerleaders.

Under the agreement, the MTA will trade dormant railroad right-of-way along Chandler Boulevard just east of the subway station for land to the south owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District and the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

As a result, the new East Valley high school can be built on an undivided piece of land and a residential development -- called NoHo Commons -- can be built immediately to the west of the campus.

The MTA's new property may be used for other transit projects, such as a proposed high-speed bus route, officials said.

Residents and merchants in North Hollywood have complained for years that delays in the NoHo Commons project have created eyesores as abandoned buildings on the site collect graffiti and dirt lots sit empty and fenced off.

Groundbreaking for the new campus is proposed for early next year, with a completion goal of July 2006. The school is expected to help relieve crowding at Grant and North Hollywood high schools, Romer said.

The agreement announced Tuesday is welcomed by a school district that continues to struggle to find space for dozens of new schools needed in the next decade to accommodate a growing population of students.

Tuesday was the first day of the school year for the 378,000 Los Angeles Unified students on the traditional school calendar, but an additional 360,000 youngsters are on different schedules because of crowding.

While some other school projects face public opposition because of the need to displace residents, the North Hollywood property only has one business left to relocate, said Guy Mehula, the district's deputy chief for facilities.

The pact comes just months after the Los Angeles redevelopment agency threatened to sue the school district over a separate middle school proposed for North Hollywood.

Hahn and Romer worked out a compromise in May, however, that will incorporate that middle school in plans for a new Valley Plaza Shopping Center. The two officials also promised to cooperate more on other school projects in which both the city and district are eyeing the same land.

Of the 120 new schools that the district has proposed, 13 have been finished and 50 more are under construction. Los Angeles Unified officials are still working on acquiring sites for others.

Romer said he hopes the North Hollywood project will help show progress in addressing school crowding so that voters will look favorably on approving another $2-billion bond measure in March to help build additional schools. In November 2002, voters approved $3.35 billion in bonds for Los Angeles school construction and repairs.

"We are not yet done," Romer said. The district is "absolutely determined to get every school" back to a traditional September-to-June calendar.

Some of the land being swapped will go to the NoHo Commons development, a long-delayed, $218-million project that includes about 700 units of housing and 271,000 square feet of office and retail space. It is planned by developer J.H. Snyder Co. with $31 million in loans and grants from the city redevelopment agency.

The first phase of the NoHo Commons project is scheduled to begin construction late this month or in early October, officials said.

Although the project has been significantly scaled back since it was first proposed several years ago, city officials continue to see it as an integral part of the revitalization of the blighted commercial core of North Hollywood.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said the project is consistent with the move toward building "urban villages" near transit hubs, which also could have the effect of lessening traffic on local freeways.

In another attempt to ease school crowding, the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education unanimously agreed Tuesday to ask the state for $57.5 million in bond money to convert the old Ambassador Hotel into a multi-school campus and retain part of the Mid-Wilshire property as a park.

The board is asking the state for $55 million in Proposition 40 park funds and $2.5 million in Proposition 47 education facilities money to turn the hotel's former Cocoanut Grove nightclub into a student auditorium that the public could use during non-school hours.

Times staff writer Erika Hayasaki contributed to this report.

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