Development Opponents Lose Fight Over City's creation of Cul-de-Sac

The City of West Hollywood had the authority under the Vehicle Code to turn a through road into a cul-de-sac to accommodate a development, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled. The court rejected project opponents' contention that the city had to prove that the street was no longer needed for vehicular traffic. In the mid-1990s, the city adopted the Sunset Specific Plan for a portion of Sunset Boulevard known as the Sunset Strip. The city certified a master environmental impact report on the plan in 1996. Sunset Millennium Associates proposed a major project on the south side of Sunset Boulevard, within the specific plan area. The development on which work has since begun includes a 10-story hotel, 159,000 square feet of office space, 155,000 square feet of retail development, and two auditoriums for live theater. The city determined the project, though larger than envisioned by the specific plan, would not have any additional significant environmental effects, so the city did not issue a new environmental document. Project opponents sued over the city's environmental review of the project, a development agreement between the city and Sunset Millennium, and the city's decision to create a cul-de-sac on Alta Loma Road. Los Angeles County Judge David Yaffe ruled for the city, and a three-judge panel of the Second District, Division Five, affirmed the decision. The appellate court published only the portion of its opinion addressing the creation of a cul-de-sac. The proposed development involves blocking off Alta Loma Road, a side street off Sunset Boulevard. City officials, relying on 21101, subdivision (f), of the Vehicle Code found that Alta Loma is not a regionally significant traffic corridor and approved the creation of a cul-de-sac. Project opponents argued that Vehicle Code 21101, subdivision (a)(1), required the city to find that it no longer needed Alta Loma for vehicular traffic before the city blocked the street. Area residents have complained that the road closure would worsen traffic along Sunset Boulevard and impede emergency vehicle access. However, the appellate court ruled that the two subdivisions of the statute are independent. "[V]ehicle Code 21101, subdivision (a)(1), grants authority only for a complete closure of a street to all vehicular traffic," Presiding Justice Paul Turner wrote for the court. "It is undisputed the present case involves the creation of a cul-de-sac, not the complete closure of a street to vehicular traffic. The street remains open to vehicular traffic and no residence or business on Alta Loma Road is directly or indirectly inaccessible." "The city has not closed to traffic a major street running through one or more adjacent cities," Turner continued. "It has created a cul-de-sac on a one-block-long residential street situated entirely within its borders. There was no evidence placing a cul-de-sac on Alta Loma Road would interfere with the delivery of emergency services or otherwise adversely affect the public health and safety." In the unpublished portions of the its decision, the court upheld the city's reliance on the master EIR for the Sunset Millennium project. The court ruled that opponents failed to show substantial evidence not just a fair argument of significant potential traffic impacts. The court also upheld the development agreement, saying the city did not surrender its policy power by freezing regulations for the developer. The court said a $5.2 million fee it accepted from the developer was voluntarily paid and never challenged by the developer. Project opponents had contended the fee amounted to a bribe paid to the city treasury. The Case: Save the Sunset Strip Coalition v. City of West Hollywood, No. B143615, 01 C.D.O.S. 2236, 2001 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2827, filed March 20, 2001. The Lawyers: For the coalition: Joel Moskowitz, Moskowitz, Brestoff, Winson & Blinderman, (310) 373-9790. For the city: Gregory Kunert, Richards, Watson & Gershon, (213) 626-8484. For the developer: James Arnone, Latham & Watkins