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Neighbors oppose Harvard-Westlake plan for more parking

October 28, 2013|By James Rainey
  • A proposed structure beside Coldwater Canyon Avenue would provide 750 parking spaces for Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City and be topped by a playing field. The school says the structure would improve the safety and appearance of the area, but some neighbors disagree.
A proposed structure beside Coldwater Canyon Avenue would provide 750… (Harvard-Westlake School )

Harvard-Westlake School has plowed relentlessly forward to become one of the top college preparatory schools in the country.

But the Studio City academy appears to face formidable opposition in its latest bid to expand and improve its high school campus -- with a 750-space, three-story parking structure and playing field that would replace a tree-covered hillside along Coldwater Canyon.

City planners this month released a draft environmental impact report, opening a public comment period of at least 45 days. But opposition began to arise as soon as the 10th- through 12th-grade campus released a preliminary proposal last spring.

Harvard-Westlake officials said they expect opposition to dissipate once neighbors better understand what they want to build. They say they need the extra parking because of an expanding staff and that the field will accommodate football, lacrosse and other sports now crammed onto the 19-acre campus.

John Amato, the school's vice president, said the parking structure will smooth the flow of traffic to and from the campus and enhance safety. Some guests who now park outside the campus -- and are forced to walk along busy Coldwater Canyon Avenue -- would in the future leave their cars in the new structure and walk to campus on a 163-foot "sky bridge" over the thoroughfare.

Amato also contested the notion that the hillside, owned by Harvard-Westlake for decades, is an unspoiled natural haven. Homes once stood on the land and the city Department of Water and Power used to store equipment there. "It's certainly not pristine," Amato said.

Critics says the structure would despoil a scenic hillside now lined with oaks and walnuts, displace wildlife and bring more congestion to Coldwater Canyon Avenue. They claim construction will snarl the avenue for three years (Harvard-Westlake estimates it will take that long to complete building) and create a permanent blot on the landscape -- in part because nighttime lighting will shine long after school is out for the day.

"The plan is of value to the school but it provides no community benefit whatsoever. It's of great detriment to the entire neighborhood," said Jennifer Rothman, a leader of the group calling itself Save Coldwater Canyon. "It's the sort of proposal that -- if it was anyone other than Harvard-Westlake -- it would be dead. Immediately dead."

Rothman and others said they fear that the school, patronized largely by wealthy and well-connected families, will be able to use its clout to push the plan past Los Angeles city officials.

The Rev. Dan Justin, rector of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, adjacent to the campus, criticized the school for not coming to him sooner with its plan. "I think that spoke loudly. They had no intention of letting us know about this until the last moment, so we could not do much to block it," Justin said.

Amato described the late notice as his personal failure. "We didn't do the outreach we needed," he said, pledging that communications will continue to improve.

The project needs approval from the city of Los Angeles. Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents the district that includes Harvard-Westlake, has not taken a position but has asked the city Planning Department to extend the public comment period to 60 days.

Rick Commons, who took over as Harvard-Westlake president this fall, said of the parking structure: "We'd love to do it soon, but we don't want to do it in a way that compromises relationships."


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