Friday, April 17, 2009

Odds and Ends 113

This week I haven't learned anything new directly relating to Ponte Vista at San Pedro but some new items indirectly relating to the project continue to move forward.

The Rancho Palos Verdes Planning Commission has rejected the proposal to have on-campus residence halls built at Marymount College.

The Marymount College Facilities Expansion Project includes plans to build on-campus housing for 250-students and five staff members. That portion of the Project was voted against at last Tuesday's R.P.V. Planning Commission meeting.

Commissioner Jeffrey Lewis and members of the main opposition group to the College's expansion project favor redeveloping the off-campus housing site along Palos Verdes Drive North.

Marymount owns and maintains Palos Verdes North, a site along Palos Verdes Drive North between Western Avenue and Five-Points. Currently there are about 300 students and staff members living in the 86 housing units at the site.

The Commissioner and the opposition group favor the Project Alternative called the "Living Campus/Academic Campus Alternative."

That Alternative would have all student housing at the Palos Verdes North facility along with almost all of the College's athletic facilities and programs.

The Planning Commission did adopt a plan for an athletic field on the College's Palos Verdes Drive East campus site, but that adoption isn't sitting well with Project supporters.

In the College's "Preferred Project" there would have been 624.4 additional vehicle trips along Western Avenue between Trudie Drive and Palos Verdes Drive North. This fact has not been taken into account by Ponte Vista planners and Ponte Vista has been basically ignored by Marymount planners.

It is expected that the R.P.V. Planning Commission will forward all of their recommendations to the R.P.V. City Council by late June, 2009.

I think that no matter what you may feel about Ponte Vista at San Pedro, you have the right and ability to make your feelings know to the R.P.V. Planning Commission and City Council no matter where you live.

The following is from an article published in Citywatch L.A. and authored by Mr. Doug Epperhart:

Planners Put Ponte Vista on a Diet
By Doug Epperhart

“Does this development make me look fat?”

That’s the big question Harbor area residents have been asking about the proposed Ponte Vista project. On April 9, the planning commission’s answer was, “Well, yes, it does. But, with the help of city planners, you can slim down in no time.”

“No time” being the 120 days commissioners gave developer DLJ Capital Partners, planning staff, and the community to forge a compromise.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Developer Bob Bisno buys 60-acre site zoned R1 (single-family homes) in San Pedro; developer proposes 2,300 condos—too big, too much traffic; neighborhood councils oppose project; Councilwoman Janice Hahn forms advisory committee; community activists form RNeighborhoodsAre1 anti-Ponte Vista coalition; developer downsizes to 1,950 units—still too big, still too much traffic; Hahn advisors endorse R1 zoning; planning department recommends much smaller project (775-886 units); Bisno ousted by lender Credit Suisse First Boston; new project lead DLJ Capital Partners proposes 1,395 units, promises no density bonus; and then we all go before the city planning commission last week.

The developer presented its current plan for 1,395 townhomes and condos and asked for time to work out a compromise. Planning staff offered its recommendation for a smaller project which allows nearly 1,200 units if a density bonus is used.

Project proponents were mostly union personnel and members promoting the need for construction jobs and area chamber of commerce executives touting the benefits for business owners.

Project opponents included the adjacent cities of Rancho Palos Verdes and Lomita, homeowner groups, and the Northwest San Pedro, Harbor City, and Coastal San Pedro neighborhood councils. They cited inadequate environmental work, the project’s noncompliance with the community plan, and, of course, traffic.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn called for a new traffic study, fewer units, and voiced concern about the density bonus allowed under state law (SB 1818).

Ponte Vista’s developer has said no density bonus will be used and they are willing to sign a legal agreement to that effect. However, the assistant city attorney advising planning said “there’s too much uncertainty” whether such a contract would be legally enforceable. In other words, it’s a “trust me” situation in which the community could be left holding the bag.

The other elephant in the room is the traffic Ponte Vista will generate and whether it can be mitigated. The unique geography of the area means the site is essentially an “island on the land” where there’s only one way in and out. Even at R1 density, the project will result in thousands of additional car trips on Western Avenue, an already crowded thoroughfare. Commissioners made clear they want a new traffic study that takes into account the special circumstances in the area.

Commission chair William Roschen also told the developer, “Do not use senior housing for traffic mitigation.” Ponte Vista’s claim that residents 55 and over would generate far fewer car trips has been a bone of contention.

Commissioner Michael Woo objected to the portion of the project that would be closed to the public. “Gated communities are an antisocial act,” he said, pointing out he couldn’t ever recall voting to support a gated project.

Referring to what the new vision for Ponte Vista might be, one planning official said, “The ball’s in their court.” In other words, the department is in a holding pattern until the developer submits a new proposal.

So far, planning staff has done a good job of understanding the community’s stake in this project and responded by doing “real planning” according to city policy. If they can keep Ponte Vista on a diet, we’ll all be benefit.

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, member of the Coastal San Pedro NC board and is a contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at

CityWatchVol 7 Issue 31Pub: Apr 17, 2009

Here is another article dealing with that pesky SB 1818 Density Bonus issue:

Judge Invalidates Controversial Densification Bill; Citizens Win another Court Battle with City
Report provided by EAHCLA

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has ruled that the City of Los Angeles acted illegally when it approved a controversial “densification” ordinance without first conducting environmental review of the potential impacts of the ordinance. The coalition of community groups that brought the challenge hailed the ruling as an opportunity for the City to redraft the ordinance to advance the twin goals of affordable housing and environmental protection.

A state law (S.B. 1818) mandates that cities allow density bonuses to developers proposing to build a percentage of affordable units at a proposed development. The Los Angeles ordinance that was the subject of the lawsuit, filed by the Environment and Housing coalition Los Angeles (EAHCLA) in April of 2008, went far beyond the state mandate, in some cases allowing up to 300% of the bonus required by state law. EAHCLA’s lawsuit claimed that, because the City went beyond the requirements of state law, the City first had to study the environmental impact of the ordinance. The Court agreed, holding that those sections of the ordinance that go beyond State law are invalid. The Order issued on Monday by Superior Court Judge Thomas I. McKnew, Jr. prohibits the City from processing applications for density bonuses or incentives that exceed State mandates, and also invalidates approvals that already have been granted based on the ordinance.

“We are very pleased with the Court’s decision” said EACHLA spokesman Rob Glushon. “The judge clearly recognized that while the City had to do something to implement the state law, the City went about implementing the law in the wrong way, by approving a deeply flawed ordinance and illegally refusing to first consider the environmental effects of its approval. We now hope to work with the City in redrafting the ordinance so that both the environment and affordable housing are protected.”

The Santa Monica firm of Chatten-Brown & Carstens litigated the case. Doug Carstens, a partner at the firm, was pleased with the ruling. “The Court clearly understood that the City, by going well beyond the requirements of state law, incurred an obligation to first study what the environmental impacts of the ordinance would be. Not only were existing communities being adversely impacted by inappropriately dense development, but affordable housing has been lost as developers tear down apartments to build condominiums. This decision affords the City a great opportunity to correct the mistakes made the first time around, to implement a policy of no net loss of affordable housing, and to advance state policy on affordable housing in an environmentally sensitive manner.”

EAHCLA is a coalition comprised of a wide range of residential and homeowner associations, civic organizations, and concerned individuals.

The case is Superior Court Case Number BS114338.

From Thursday April 16, 2009.

R Neighborhoods Are 1 is not part of the lawsuit mentioned in the article above. It continues to be a party in the La Brea Coalition lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles regarding the city's General Plan.

R Neighborhoods Are 1 has retained a lawyer from the same law firm identified in the Citywatch article above.

If you have been fortunate not to have been bothered by lane closures along Western Avenue between Dodson Avenue and 9th Street, congratulations.

Folks dealing with the lane closure now on the east side of that portion of what was and still may be the longest 'Avenue' on the planet have been watching an underground conduit and guardrail placement happening.

It appears that the west side of that portion of Western Avenue will get the same treatment.

I can't say yet whether sidewalks will be constructed after the guardrails are placed.

(When the longest portion of Western Avenue was completed it formed a continuous stretch of 'Avenue' from Paseo Del Mar on the south to Los Feliz on the north, just at the border of Griffith Park. There is also a section of "Western Avenue" on the north side of Griffith Park extending into the eastern portion of the San Fernando Valley.)

The Census is coming, the Census is coming!

You may have been contacted by 'Production Enumerators' or 'Quality Control Listers' who are attempting to find all living quarters in the United States.

They (we) won't be asking you how many folks live in living quarters or who they are right now. We (they) will just want to know where all places where folks do or could live are located.

For the Ponte Vista at San Pedro site, it can be included in the current gathering of the Address List because while the dwelling units are vacant and boarded up, those units could potentially be used for living quarters by the time the actual 2010 Census is conducted.

If you find an 'Enumerator' or 'Lister' knocking on your door or standing near your living quarters, please be kind. They (we) are just trying to make sure we get the most accurate information and locations we can to provide the best Census information possible.

Remember, the U.S. Census is included in the U.S. Constitution. It began in 1790 and it must be completed and placed on the desk of the President of the United States by the end of December 31, 2010.

If you happen to hear loud noises coming from the Long Beach area this weekend, the races are in that area and you are hearing race car engines.

'Back in the day' many of us heard the roar of dragster engines coming from the old Lions Drag Strip or the drag strip that was on Terminal Island for a slight spell.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nobody’s Listening … Still

By Ken Draper

In 1992, then City Councilman Joel Wachs introduced the neighborhood council concept. He was running for Mayor and made the idea of neighborhood empowerment a key plank in his campaign.

He said then that a system of councils was needed because the populace had become cynical about their government, felt disengaged and believed that no one was listening to them. At least no one was hearing them. Seventeen years later … not much has changed. That is … on the government side.

Neighborhoods are finding their voice. And finding ways to collaboratively turn it into a citywide sound of resistance. But the voice of choice is rapidly becoming the court room … not Council Chambers. The most recent example was Judge Thomas McKnew’s invalidation of the City’s so-called “densification” ordinance. The result of a citizen lawsuit.

State law SB 1818 mandates that California cities create their own ‘1818’ ordinance to allow density bonuses to developers who provide a percentage of affordable housing units in their developments.

Despite a public outcry, LA produced a bill that went far beyond the state mandate … in some cases allowing up to 300% of the bonus required by state law.

When they couldn’t get City Hall’s attention the people sued … asking that the City’s version of the ‘density bonus’ law be brought in line with that of the state. And a judge agreed. (CityWatch report). Noel Weiss story on Judge’s decision elsewhere on CityWatch home page.)

The list of citizen court actions to get City Hall to listen is growing. Some months ago when the Mayor chose to go around the request of Westsiders to conduct an Environmental Impact Study before implementing his Pico East-Olympic West traffic plan a coalition of community groups went to the bench and ask for help. The Judge ruled in their favor and ordered the Mayor to do the impact study.

Earlier this month a Superior Court Judge issued a tentative ruling ordering the LA Department of Water and Power to give back $30 million to customers whose water bills were used to help balance the City’s budget. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer folks … and a bunch of other citizen and businees groups had opposed the practice of transfering dollars from water bill payments to the City’s general fund. Said it was a secret tax.

Two citizen suits are in progress … and headed for court … charging the City with breaking the law by not issuing … as required by code … Annual Infrastructure Reports so that decisions on the millions of builing permits can be made with contemporary information. The last Report was issued more than 10 years ago.

There are some who wince at the concept of taking legal action to get City Hall’s attention. But it’s hard not to argue that City Hall has brought these law suits and their costs and the delays on itself by patronizing LA’s citizens instead of listening and involving them in the process that is government of, by and for the people.

Former Planning Commission President Jane Usher was last year, as the Times reported, deeply unhappy with the City’s plan to give real estate developers new concessions ... taller buildings, less open space, more housing units … for any project that had even a small amount of affordable housing. She fired off an email to neighborhood activists spelling out ways they could challenge in court.

Usher, no longer on the Commission, was a participant in the citizen suit that sent the City’s ‘density bonus’ ordinance back for a remodel.

As my Mid-City grassroots counselor Kieth Bright reminds: like the law suits or not, these frustrated LA citizens didn’t start by making a call to a lawyer. They tried to make the system work first … pleading, shouting, urging, calling, emailing and making endless trips to City Hall to try to get help or use their minute or two of public comment time … before they went in search of other ways to be allowed to play in the process that is their city government . Instead, they were played by their city government.

The scary part for politicos is that the citizenry are learning how to play and the courtroom is one strategy. The ballot box … as the defeat of Measure B recently demonstrated is another.

More citizens are making Publc Records Act requests.

And soon they will figure out how to generate their own ballot measures and legislation. Won’t that be interesting?

Looks like Councilman Wachs knew what he was talking about all those years ago.

But of course no one was listening.

City Watch LA