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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lawsuit Filed over Towers in historic wetland


L.A. City Officials choose to side with Hughes Center Developer--So we will see them in court!

On Monday January 11th, 2010, we filed our lawsuit to overturn the developer's plan to erect 4 new office and condo towers at the Hughes Center. Seeking to enforce the provisions of the 1986 L.A. City Commercial zone downzoning initiative known as Proposition U, we believe that the City Planning Commission's vote on January 6th gives the Hughes Center twice as much development there as the city's laws allow.

In legal terms, the city's review wrongly assumed the developer had the right to construct 1 million square feet of office and condo space, when in fact the developer only has half of those rights. Because the beginning conditions, or "baseline" in legal terms, were falsely inflated, the city's review gives the false impression that constructing an 18 story tower, plus a seven story and 2 five-story towers has no impacts. When a development causes impacts on its surroundings, the State's laws require that the developer compensate and mitigate for these impacts based on comparing an accurate "before" condition to conditions "after" the project would be built. Instead, the city's review compared "after" conditions to "after" conditions", resulting in an erroneous finding of no impacts.

Because the state's environmental law, known as the California Environmental Quality Act, requires developers to make their projects as least-impacting as possible based on the existing environmental setting, the use of an accurate before-development-condition or "baseline" is vitally important. Use of a false baseline allows developers to escape paying their fair share and dumps the bill for fixing problems caused by over-development on the taxpayers.

The plaintiff, Ballona Ecosystem Education Project, won a lawsuit against the neighboring Playa Vista Phase 2 development in 2007 on this same legal theory. The 7 acres at the Hughes Center together with the 111-acre Playa Vista Phase 2 site are the remaining two large unpaved private open spaces threatened with development in the Ballona Creek watershed.

In a city with a critical shortage of open spaces, the approval of this massive development causes impacts far beyond traffic, visual blight, smog and rationing of our water supply.
The Hughes Center is historically a wetland that was the floodplain of Centinela Creek. Until the landowner began bulldozing this project in the 1980's, the land featured ponds and a flowing creek. Because the City of Los Angeles now has a program to acquire, restore and re-create urban wetlands in order to clean up urban storm runoff and keep pollution and trash from fouling our beaches, the proposed development of this 7 acre site takes on added importance, and if it is constructed, it would foreclose a major opportunity to clean up a significant portion of the urban pollution flowing into Centinela Creek and Ballona Creek.

Rex Frankel,
President, Ballona Ecosystem Education Project

Read our court brief:

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