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Plans for Army Reserve land get public viewing

Some Westside residents express concerns that all three construction options would increase traffic in an already congested corridor.

September 13, 2007|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

A Santa Monica-based firm seeking to develop a choice 10-acre property next to the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs medical complex has proposed three high-density options that are meeting with stiff opposition from community leaders and elected officials.

The property, now the West Los Angeles U.S. Army Reserve Center, is on the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Federal Avenue.

JSM Capital on Tuesday evening unveiled the three proposals as the first step in the conducting of an environmental study required under the national Environmental Protection Act. Residents were invited to the meeting to express concerns or raise questions.

Several who viewed the plans on easels inside a cavernous Army Reserve building at the site said they feared that all three options would dramatically increase traffic in an area that is already one of the most congested in the region.

The first proposal, called the "full development scenario," would include construction of 300 hotel rooms with 500 parking spaces, and 500 residential units with 1,000 parking spaces. The second proposal calls for a 3-acre county park and a Metro subway station that would connect to a hoped-for "subway to the sea," along with 300 hotel rooms with 500 parking spaces, and 300 residential units with 660 parking spaces. (A Metro representative said JSM was "misleading the public" by suggesting that the transit agency would put a subway station there, given that any subway on the Westside was years away at best.)

Under the third option, JSM would construct 1.5 million square feet of space devoted to medical uses, possibly including a clinic and/or medical offices, with 7,500 parking spaces. Last year, JSM emerged as the only bidder for the property in what the Army Reserve called a "real property exchange."

The arrangement required the winning bidder to build three Army Reserve centers, costing a total of about $100 million, in Bell, Miramar and Riverside. In exchange, the winning bidder would have the right to develop the Westside property.

At the time, officials said L.A. County had zoned the property for institutional uses -- such as hospitals or schools -- if the property were ever made available for private development.

At Tuesday's meeting, Flora Gil Krisiloff, an aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, told military officials that, given the zoning restrictions, "your scenarios are not reasonable scenarios."

Even the institutional option that JSM presented as its third alternative would be larger than anything the county would be likely to approve, she said.

The meeting marked the public's first chance to see and ask questions about the proposals. Under federal law, concerns raised by the public or local agencies are supposed to be considered by consultants hired by the federal government to prepare an environmental impact statement.

As Brian Peck, an official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, began to speak, individuals began firing questions at him. Many of them wore small neon-green stickers reading "Stop the Swap!"

Many individuals were agitated about news they had heard just as the meeting began. At a separate meeting for local officials Tuesday afternoon, a group of city representatives, including a planner and a Fire Department battalion chief, discussed the idea of the city's annexing the property. That notion surprised Krisiloff, among others. The annexation idea first appeared in a letter from city Planning Director Gail Goldberg, dated Aug. 31. But officials at the Tuesday evening meeting said they had heard about the idea only that day.

The letter said the environmental impact statement "needs to carefully analyze the timing, cost, fiscal impacts and regulatory framework of annexation of the project site into the city of Los Angeles." The site, it added, "is within the city's sphere of influence, and development without annexation would result in a costly 'island' of development for the county to provide public services to."

On Wednesday, Yaroslavsky said he was puzzled by the unexpected reference to city annexation. "I don't understand why the city would want to annex this property," he said. "In signaling a willingness to annex, they are signaling a willingness to develop this as a private property." He added that the county had long urged that the property revert to the VA and be used for veterans services.

Betsy Weisman, principal city planner, sought to put Yaroslavsky's concerns to rest. "The city's policy is the same as the county's," she said, adding that the city's preference would be for the property to be used by the VA for veterans. She said the annexation reference was intended to alert the federal government to the city's concerns that it would not have a say in a development that could potentially affect city roads and services.

Founded in 1996, JSM is the largest residential developer in Santa Monica. JSM Construction has built or is building about 2,000 condos and apartments, mostly as part of mixed-use projects, in Santa Monica, North Hollywood and Pasadena.

Its president is Craig Jones, who was sued in 2001 by Santa Monica, which alleged that he used false threats and intimidation to coerce tenants into moving out of their rent-controlled apartments. The two sides later settled. The company specializes in developing urban sites close to transportation hubs.


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