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Judge deals major blow to Hollywood growth plan

Ruling says city leaders failed to comply with state environmental law when they approved an update to the Hollywood Community Plan.

December 11, 2013|By David Zahniser

A judge has dealt a serious setback to Los Angeles' efforts to bring larger development to parts of Hollywood, saying a new zoning plan is "fatally flawed" and should be rescinded by the City Council.

In a 41-page tentative ruling issued this week, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Allan J. Goodman said city leaders failed to comply with the state's environmental law when they approved an update to the Hollywood Community Plan, which maps out rules for growth and development. The plan sought to allow construction of larger buildings in some parts of Hollywood, particularly near transit stops.

Once the judge's decision is finalized, it would bar the city from approving projects based on the new zoning changes, including provisions that allowed for taller buildings and greater density on certain streets, said Beverly Palmer, attorney for the group Fix the City, one of three groups that sued.

The ruling will also force the city to conduct a new approval process for the Hollywood plan, providing more accurate population data and improve its analysis of alternatives to the plan, said Frank Angel, the lawyer with Save Hollywood, another group that sued.

"It's a clear-cut victory for all three plaintiffs and the community," Angel said.

Rob Wilcox, spokesman for Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer, had no comment. A spokesman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who supported the plan as a councilman, said he was reviewing the court's decision.

Growth has been a contentious issue in Hollywood, with neighborhood groups going to court not only over the new development plan but also over the Millennium project, which would put two towers — one 39 stories, the other 35 — near the Capitol Records building. Both the Millennium project and the community plan update had the backing of Garcetti, who as a councilman represented portions of Hollywood for 12 years.

Robert P. Silverstein, lawyer for the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Assn. of Hollywood, called the ruling a "significant setback" for Garcetti. "His 'vision' includes height- and density-busting projects that push out longtime stakeholders, harm neighborhoods, overtax our infrastructure, and overburden our already gridlocked streets and freeways," Silverstein said in an email.

Gary Toebben, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, voiced disappointment. A supporter of the Hollywood plan, Toebben said the new rules were supposed to provide certainty for residents and building owners alike.

"I think it's a disaster," he said of the ruling. "This sets everything back."

The Hollywood plan represents one of the city's attempts at "smart growth," the practice of clustering higher density development around major transit stops. Until last year, Hollywood's plan had not been revised since 1988.

In his tentative ruling, Goodman sided with neighborhood groups who argued that the Hollywood plan and accompanying environmental documents contained out-of-date population estimates. The judge said the city's numbers "were unsupported by anything other than wishful thinking." He also found that the city had failed to properly examine alternatives to its plan.

Silverstein said that he will seek a "wholesale rewrite" of the Hollywood plan and warned that it could take city officials up to two years to win approval of a revised environmental impact report.

The Hollywood community plan was approved in June 2012 and allowed for the construction of taller buildings on Sunset and Hollywood boulevards west of the 101 Freeway.

Supporters described the new plan as a visionary document that would allow Hollywood to complete a 20-year transformation into a bustling center of jobs, residential towers and public transportation.

Critics warned that the resulting growth would snarl notoriously bad traffic and destroy views for those who live in Hollywood's hillsides. They also said the neighborhood did not have the proper infrastructure to support the increase in population.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Times staff writer Kate Linthicum contributed to this report.

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