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Second District Court Rejects EIR and Halts Playa Vista Development

The second and final phase of the Playa Vista development in Los Angeles is on hold again after a state appellate court in mid-September rejected the environmental impact report. "We conclude that the EIR was deficient in its analysis of land use impacts, mitigation of impacts on historical archaeological resources, and wastewater impacts," the Second District Court of Appeal ruled in an unpublished opinion.

One of the most controversial and closely watched developments in California, Playa Vista is planned to have about 5,800 housing units and 3.5 million square feet of office and retail space. Most of the residential component in phase one is complete. Nearly half of the residential units and 250,000 square feet of office and retail space are planned in phase two.

Although environmentalists were elated at the ruling, Playa Vista developers vowed the press forward. The case is City of Santa Monica v. City of Los Angeles, No. B189630.

 

Ruling in the first round of litigation over University of California's long-range development plan for the Santa Cruz campus, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick strongly urged the warring parties to mediate their dispute.

Burdick ruled for the City of Santa Cruz in its lawsuit over the environmental impact report for the long-range plan, finding that the university failed to adequately address water, traffic and housing. But Burdick made clear that neither side is winning and that the city and university should work on a settlement before they continue spending time and money fighting each other in court.

Santa Cruz and UC have been at odds for years over campus expansion. The conflict reached new heights last year, when the city sued over the long-range plan and then voters approved two ballot measures aimed at blocking university building plans (see CP&DR Public Development, December 2006).

 

San Luis Obispo landowner Ernie Dalidio has sued two organizations that ran and funded ballot measure campaigns against his proposed development along Highway 101 at the south end of town. Dalidio sued the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association and a group called Responsible County Development, alleging the groups were involved in racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering, unfair business practices, anti-trust and campaign funding irregularities.

In November 2006, San Luis Obispo County voters approved Dalidio's ballot measure for a shopping center, hotel, office complex and 60 houses on 130 acres. County voters' approval in 2006 followed city voters' rejection of the project during a 2005 referendum election (see CP&DR, December 2006, June 2005.) The groups sued by Dalidio were involved in both the 2005 and 2006 campaigns. Other organizations have since sued over the approved Measure J, which they contend goes farther than legally allowed for a citizen initiative.


A state auditor's report gave the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and California Housing Finance Agency good marks for administering housing bonds approved by state voters in 2002 and 2006. Both agencies have awarded funds in a timely manner and generally complied with bond funding requirements, the auditor determined.

However, the auditor reported that HCD's "monitoring of entities to whom it awarded funds (awardees) has been inconsistent." The auditor reported that in three of 18 instances tested, HCD permitted awardees to receive funding advances greater than permitted by HCD's standard agreements. The auditor also found that HCD's ongoing oversight is lacking in the Emergency Housing and Assistance and CalHome programs, as the department "does not currently have processes for conducting site visits of sponsors or otherwise verifying program compliance during the period following final payment of funds by the state."

The department said it would take steps to implement the auditor's recommended procedures within six months.


In a separate report, State Auditor Elaine Howle recommended that the state either adequately fund a grade separation program or drop it and invite local agencies to seek other monies for separating railroad crossings from roads.

Administered by Caltrans, the grade separation program provides funding to local agencies to eliminate at-grade crossings, which can be hazardous and induce congestion. At-grade crossings are increasingly a problem in urban Southern California because of trains hauling ever-more imports flowing through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Yet the annual budget allocation for the program has remained stuck at $15 million since 1974, even though the cost of the average project has increased tenfold since then from $2.5 million to $26 million, the auditor reported.

Although more than 50 eligible projects have been on a priority list in recent years, local agencies often end up not pursuing the projects because they cannot raise the additional funds necessary to finish the job. The 2006 state transportation bond, however, included $250 million for grade separation projects. Howle recommended that, once the bond funds are expended, the Legislature either increase the annual program budget and individual project allocation limits, or close down the program and let "local agencies compete with a broader range of projects for funding available to them through other programs such as the state transportation improvement program."

Both of the recent auditor's reports are available at www.bsa.ca.gov


The City of Glendale has approved two 16-story residential towers for downtown. Intracorp plans to develop the 200-unit project at Wilson Avenue and Orange Street. The towers are the first major residential project approved since the city adopted a new downtown plan in 2006.