Wednesday, March 02, 2011

CityWatchLA - NBC Universal Project: Example of All that’s Wrong with LA Planning Process

CityWatch, Mar 1, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 17

NBC Universal’s Evolution project is moving forward in a City of LA planning process that is a clear demonstration of all that is wrong with planning and land use policy in the City of Los Angeles. The developer driven process starts with an attack on the already low standards that purportedly protect the people of LA and then continue with exceptions and variances that result in a full assault on the local community.

Developer funded Environmental Impact Reports (EIR), traffic mitigation plans, and community benefit proposals all create a Kumbaya message that is in stark contrast to the simple reality; our infrastructure is collapsing, our streets are congested, emergency services are already challenged, and our environment is choking.

Through it all, the people we send to City Hall stand by and when pressured are only able to come up with one objection, “We need more time!”

NBC Universal’s Evolution project is positioned as an upgrade to existing film production facilities while the simple reality is this, it is the creation of a new residential community on a 391-acre property bordered by the LA River and the Hollywood Hills.

In support of the project comes a 39,000 page EIR, a document so large that it serves to highlight the implausible “hugeness” of the project that is being shoehorned into a patch of land, “all without expanding the current property.”

As Councilmember Tom LaBonge stood before the Planning Commission and asked for an extension of the hearing process until after the March 8 election, organizations from all directions stood by with well reasoned and researched commentary that falls on deaf ears.

The Studio City Neighborhood Council submitted a 98 page review (download pdf) of the Evolution project that comprehensively reviewed the project and concluded “The DEIR does not adequately address the impacts on the community from the proposed Project.” Anyone who has tried to navigate Barham during rush hour knows that the impact on the surrounding communities is already beyond capacity.

The Transit Coalition submitted an analysis (download pdf) of the Evolution project’s transit, bike, and pedestrian accessibility. It challenged the project’s claim of a modal shift away from private vehicles and called for “important modifications to meet the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) standard for less than significant impacts.” Anyone who has tried to walk up the Universal hill or navigate the incomplete river bike path knows that the projected mode shift is simply wishful thinking unsubstantiated by reality.

The Friends of Griffith Park analyzed the Evolution project’s impact on the surrounding environment, including the Santa Monica Mountains Range and the Los Angeles River Corridor, and concluded by stating “the scope of the project must be reduced dramatically in order to fully comply with CEQA mitigation requirements.”

Anyone who has ever stood on top of the Mt. Lee knows that the existing ecosystem is incompatible with any further development assault.

This cry for help is an indictment of the process for three reasons:

1) City Planning’s current cost-recovery process simply allows developers to shop for the solutions and decisions that serve them, forcing residents to fight an uphill battle against a ticking clock as LA’s soft City Plan fails protecting the character and personality of our neighborhoods.

2) The Mayor and the City Council’s laissez-faire attitude to development run amok is a complete abdication of their mandate to develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive, long range General Plan that establishes purposes, policies and programs for the development of the City of Los Angeles.

3) Neighborhood councils, advocacy organizations, and community groups have risen to the occasion, demonstrating with their comprehensive and professional analysis of the Evolution project that LA has become a DIY city, one where our commitment to the future of LA comes from the neighborhood, not from City Hall.

The people of LA have the right to expect a well-planned, well-funded city that operates based on standards that the people of LA can depend on.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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