A divided Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to halt its review of the 5,553-home Las Lomas project, dealing what could well be a fatal blow to the mega-development planned for north Los Angeles County.
"This project would have put 15,000 cars a day in an already heavily impacted area," said City Councilman Greig Smith, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley. "The people of L.A. said we can't take that anymore. We're tired of it."
The 10-5 vote, which instructed the Planning Department to stop processing the application, represented a huge victory for Smith, who had argued that the council had no need to review a project that would flood the region with traffic and yet is outside city limits.
The decision also reflected the heightened anxiety over growth and traffic felt by some of the city's elected officials, who almost never issue an outright rejection of a development proposal.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, March 21, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Las Lomas: An article in Thursday's Section A about the Los Angeles City Council's vote to oppose the proposed Las Lomas housing development misidentified Diane Trautman as a Santa Clarita city councilwoman. She is a candidate for the Santa Clarita City Council.
For weeks, Las Lomas Land Co. had been waging an uphill battle to keep the project viable, arguing that Los Angeles should process an environmental impact report and then annex the firm's land from unincorporated Los Angeles County. The company said it had spent $20 million since 2002 trying to get its project approved.
In many ways, Los Angeles had been the development's last resort.
The site, just north of where the Golden State Freeway intersects the 14, is in territory represented by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who opposed the project. Much of it borders Santa Clarita, which also had fought the project.
That left Los Angeles, where Smith introduced a proposal last month to stop all work on the project, partly to avoid wasting the Planning Department's time over the next two years.
Even Las Lomas' defenders on the council said they did not like the proposal, which would have placed a small city on a chaparral-covered hillside. But they argued that the city already had made a promise to review it -- and that stopping would leave Los Angeles vulnerable in court.
"Our city attorney has said that if we fail to move forward, he believes we are in great jeopardy of being sued," said Councilman Richard Alarcon, whose San Fernando Valley district borders the Las Lomas site.
Alarcon, along with Councilmen Ed Reyes, Jose Huizar, Herb Wesson and Bernard C. Parks, voted to keep the project alive.
Wednesday's vote delivered the council's most direct repudiation of a major developer since 2003, when it sued to stop the 3,050-home Ahmanson Ranch development in Ventura County that was ultimately dropped.
Within the city's borders, the council in recent years has approved more than 5,800 homes at Playa Vista, just north of Westchester, and more than 2,500 homes in Hollywood in separate projects on or near Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.
The next major residential project to reach Los Angeles officials will be Ponte Vista, a 1,950-home subdivision planned in San Pedro, which could receive a Planning Commission review by late summer. A 2,900-home development planned for Universal City could receive its first public hearing by the end of the year.
Dan Palmer, president of Las Lomas Land Co., said he has not decided on his next move.
But he voiced disappointment with the council's decision, saying his company had worked hard to make Las Lomas environmentally sound and in keeping with the city's strategy of "smart growth" -- building greater density along transit corridors and filling in gaps in existing urban areas.
"We believe that Las Lomas is a fine project providing many benefits to the community," he said.
Opponents had a dramatically different view, saying Las Lomas represented more urban sprawl, albeit on especially steep terrain.
"A proposal to build a mini-city on the side of a mountain in the middle of a wildlife corridor doesn't begin to meet the definition of smart growth," said Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Diane Trautman.
Trautman said she believes the council's decision effectively kills Las Lomas. Still, she said, her city's position on Las Lomas does not necessarily mean that Santa Clarita would oppose other developments planned for the Santa Clarita Valley. That list includes the upcoming Vista Canyon Ranch, which would have up to 1,600 homes.
Santa Clarita played a significant role in the Las Lomas fight, retaining veteran lobbyist Steve Afriat to make its case in Los Angeles. Las Lomas relied on several lobbying firms, including one headed by Fernando Guerra, a Loyola Marymount University professor, and Weston Benshoof, a law firm that has aggressively raised money for council members over the last year.
Weston Benshoof was a co-host of fundraisers last year for Alarcon, Wesson, Parks, Huizar and Reyes -- all of whom sided with Las Lomas -- as well as council members Janice Hahn, Tom LaBonge and Bill Rosendahl. The firm also held events for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo's officeholder account and anti-recall effort.