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City planners recommend approval of Holocaust museum expansion

Planning Department issues draft report touting benefits of Museum of Tolerance's renovation plan. Neighbors protest, saying it will bring more traffic and noise to their Westside neighborhood.

February 15, 2009|Martha Groves

The Los Angeles Planning Department has recommended approval of the Museum of Tolerance's controversial expansion, saying the benefits outweigh the "significant unavoidable impacts."

A draft report by the planning staff, which was sent Friday to project opponents, concludes that the plan should move forward even though the 28,000-square-foot expansion will worsen traffic, create construction noise and contrast with the look of an adjacent neighborhood of single-family homes.

The museum, the educational arm of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, plans to dramatically extend its hours and replace a Holocaust memorial garden with multistory reception and banquet space that could accommodate hundreds of guests until as late as midnight six nights a week. The museum has asked the city to allow it to immediately extend its hours and to rent out space for private gatherings.

The report says the museum project would maintain and enhance the economic vitality of the area, attract new visitors to Los Angeles, create high-paying construction jobs and allow the museum to expand its educational and training programs.

Museum officials could not be reached for comment Saturday. It was not known whether they received a copy of the report.

Opponents of the expansion say the increased noise and traffic will ruin the quiet ambience of their neighborhood, a small pocket just west of Beverlywood. Among other concerns, they fear that museum patrons will usurp curbside parking on residential streets.

"This is an absolute travesty," said Susan Gans, an attorney who owns a house in the neighborhood and has led the opposition. "This report indicates that the city planners are nothing more than a rubber stamp, and citizens feel absolutely helpless." She said opponents hope to raise enough money to take the matter to court.

The museum project has had the strong support of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district includes the Pico Boulevard institution.

Although the project still must win the approval of the Planning Commission and the City Council, Gans said the staff report "suggests that the developer is entirely in control of the process.

"Are we spinning our wheels on something that is a foregone conclusion?"

She and other opponents plan to make their case at a hearing Wednesday, where they intend to show a video of Frances Simon, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives nearby and is against the expansion.

Founded in 1993, the museum challenges visitors to confront bigotry and racism and to understand the Holocaust. Each year it welcomes more than 300,000 visitors.

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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