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U.S. to remodel Federal Building

An FBI field office will occupy the renovated structure. Passport and Veterans Affairs offices will be moved.

September 13, 2008|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Seventeen months after dropping plans for a new FBI complex in Westwood in the face of strong opposition from residents and Los Angeles elected officials, the federal government confirmed this week that it has decided to renovate the existing Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard and use it primarily as an FBI field office.

As part of the plan, the government intends to move two Federal Building tenants -- the U.S. State Department Passport Agency and the Department of Veterans Affairs benefits office -- to other area locations.

The U.S. Postal Service would remain at the building, at 11000 Wilshire Blvd.

In a Sept. 9 letter to the office of Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), the General Services Administration, which is responsible for managing such government projects, said it intended to fully modernize the 17-story building, removing asbestos and doing seismic upgrades.

Laura Lake, a Westwood activist, said the GSA had been talking with elected officials and community leaders about the likelihood that it would proceed with this plan.

The GSA's letter, which Waxman's office released Friday, was the confirmation that activists had been awaiting.

Lake said neighbors continue to object, as they did four years ago when federal officials revealed plans for a massive FBI structure next to the Federal Building.

Residents and elected representatives said then that the project would create a target for terrorists and boost traffic in an already congested area.

"New building, old building: The problems and impacts are the same," Lake said.

The GSA said moving two big tenants would decrease visitor traffic.

It also said the type of modernization planned for the Federal Building was exempt from requirements for a full environmental review. It said it would prepare a checklist to ensure that "no extraordinary environmental circumstances" would result.

Lake said community leaders and local elected representatives had made clear to the GSA and the FBI their opinion that the project effectively changed the use of the building and therefore required a full environmental review.

In April 2007, in a victory for Westside activists, the FBI announced that it would drop plans to build a new FBI headquarters at the site and would instead look at alternatives.

At the time, City Councilman Jack Weiss said downtown Los Angeles made sense because of its access to government and law enforcement offices.

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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