Lawsuit filed to stop Playa Vista 2

Playa Vista Phase II - opposed by the Venice Neighborhood Council, but approved by the L.A. City Council - is being challenged in court.

The City of Santa Monica, Surfrider Foundation, representatives of the Tongva/Gabrieleno Native Americans and the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust filed papers in Los Angeles County Superior Court Friday challenging the approval of the second phase of the massive development at Playa Vista by the City of Los Angeles without preparation of an adequate Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”), and in violation of the City’s General Plan. The issues raised in the complaint are as diverse as the parties to the lawsuit.

The suit contends that the EIR is inadequate because it fails to consider the environmental impacts of, and mitigation measures for, the following:

1. unethical and unnecessary removal of close to 400 burials from a Native American burial ground. The Project site overlays the likely site of a Native American cemetery, is listed by the State Native American Heritage Commission as a sacred site, and is considered sacred by the Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe of Native Americans.   

2. tremendous increase in traffic to already gridlocked surrounding boulevards and highways;

3. shallow subsurface thermogenic (methane) gas in concentrations that exceed the lower explosive limit of methane gas, by five times or more in some locations below the project site (a former oil field);

4. large volumes of wastewater generated by the project, which will contribute to the demand for expansion of the Hyperion Treatment System and exacerbate shortages in plant capacity;

“The desecration of our ancestors is an atrocity – it is barbaric,” said Anthony Morales, Tribal Chairman/Chief, Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel. “Because this development is being constructed on top of a village, finding more artifacts throughout the property is not only likely, but should halt this project and force Playa Vista to re-bury the burials already dug up.”

In addition, the EIR’s “No Project Alternative” never fully considered the fiscally and ecologically superior plan submitted by Surfrider Foundation, and endorsed by environmental groups, to utilize the site for cleansing diverted urban runoff before releasing it into Santa Monica Bay. “The citizens of this City have shown their support for clean water by passing the Clean Water Bond,” said Joe Geever of the Surfrider Foundation. “Now it’s time for the City to show they’re worthy of the people’s trust by seriously reviewing every opportunity to clean up our urban creeks and ocean.”

The City of Santa Monica has raised serious concerns about the traffic from this project impacting its residents, as well as thousands of others throughout the westside.  “The EIR completely ignores traffic impacts on Santa Monica neighborhoods,” said Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom.  “Adding thousands of more cars to streets that are already congested is a huge step backwards.  Also the full impact of Phase I is not yet known -- the LA Council promised everyone in 1993 that Phase II would not be approved before the first phase was completed and the true environmental impacts of that phase were known. This hasn't happened.”

The Venice, Mar Vista and West L.A. Neighborhood Councils and community organizations, including Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, convened a Town Hall meeting at Venice High School auditorium on September 20 to allow 1,200 concerned residents to express their vehement opposition to the project and clear support for the natural treatment wetland alternative. “We fully intend to protect the remaining portion of the Ballona Wetlands ecosystem for the benefit of all of this City’s residents,” said Tom Francis, Executive Director of the Land Trust. “The bottom line is that the investors want to sell this land and frankly they do not who care who they sell it to.  Our intent is to ensure they sell it to the public for permanent protection.”

 Los Angeles Councilperson Cindy Miscikowski, whose district encompasses the wetlands ecosystem, was present but unaffected by the overwhelming sentiment – voting two days later to approve the project. Candidates for Miscikowski’s soon to be vacated seat took the opportunity to publicly oppose Phase 2, gaining them loud cheers from the crowd.

The first phase of Playa Vista, just east of Lincoln Blvd, on both sides of Jefferson Blvd., is currently in development and estimated to be less than half-completed. The litigation targets Playa Vista’s second phase of a larger, 450 acre Playa Vista development. Playa Vista is considered the largest single development of its kind in the history of Los Angeles.  Phase II would include, among other things, the construction and operation of 2600 dwelling units, 175,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of community serving uses.

If built out as currently proposed, the Playa Vista project would add 78,000 new daily car trips and pave over a portion of the historic Ballona Wetlands ecosystem, the last remnant of coastal wetlands in Los Angeles.  The alternative to this phase of the development is to restore the currently filled wetlands for natural treatment of urban runoff – a popular concept currently underway in neighboring Orange County.

Proponents of this alternative point to the recently passed Proposition O as indication of the public support for improving coastal water quality and one potential source of funding for the wetlands restoration.

Posted: Wed - December 1, 2004 at 01:47 PM