By Aaron Blevins, 12/19/2013
City officials may appeal superior court decision
The Hollywood Community Plan update has been defeated in court, as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Allan Goodman ruled that the update was “fundamentally flawed” on Dec. 10.
Opponents of the community plan update, which sought to guide development in Hollywood while preserving neighborhoods and historic structures, are celebrating the tentative ruling.
“Everything will be thrown out because, as we argued for about three years and as Judge Goodman found, the city’s actions clearly violated the law,” said attorney Robert P. Silverstein, who represented the La Mirada Neighborhood Association, one of the plaintiffs.
Three entities — the association, Fix The City and SaveHollywood.org — filed lawsuits against the update in July 2012, challenging the plan’s population predictions and its ability to ensure that the city’s infrastructure can accommodate future growth in Hollywood. The judge issued one ruling for all three cases.
At the center of the lawsuits and the judge’s ruling was the city’s population estimates, which were based on Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) figures — not U.S. Census Bureau data.
The SCAG predictions stated that Hollywood’s population could increase to 250,000 people by 2030, whereas the Census showed that Hollywood was experiencing a 22-year decline in population. According to the opponents, the area’s population dropped from nearly 214,000 in 1990 to 198,000 in 2010.
In his ruling, Goodman stated that, “forging ahead in the processing of the [update], EIR and related documents in this case based on fundamentally flawed factual premises has resulted in a failure to proceed in the manner required by law.”
Silverstein agreed, saying that the population figures laid the entire foundation for the community plan update; therefore, analyses of the area’s infrastructure and housing were “distorted.”
“And they refused to correct it,” he added.
Leron Gubler, president and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the Census figures were released two months after the city had incorporated the SCAG population prediction into the update’s draft environmental impact report (EIR).
He said the tentative ruling was disappointing, but considered it a “fixable problem.” Gubler said his understanding is that the city should be able to incorporate the Census numbers into the EIR, and not reopen the entire debate again.
“In the end … it’s going to end up right where we are today,” he said, adding that the plan will call for increased density near Hollywood’s subway stops, just as it had originally intended.
Silverstein said he believes the tentative ruling will be finalized, thus invalidating the Los Angeles City Council’s approval of the update and the certification of its EIR. It is unknown whether the city will appeal, but Silverstein said it’s possible the city could pursue the community plan update with the new figures included.
“There’s always a fear that the planning department and city council march to the beat of the big developers, and disregard the interests of the affected communities,” he added. “What we constantly see is the city elevating the interests of wealthy politically-connected developers over the interests of the communities that the mayor and council members are supposed to represent.”
Jim O’Sullivan, vice president of Fix This City, said he hopes the city analyzes the judge’s ruling and redoes the EIR in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). He said the organization would like to see a plan that is good for residents and developers alike, and uses proper population figures.
O’Sullivan said Fix This City feared that the city would implement the Hollywood Community Plan update without identifying needed infrastructure upgrades — and without following CEQA — and then attempt to pass similar plans for West L.A. and the Wilshire area.
“We looked at it. We knew the infrastructure was falling apart,” O’Sullivan said, adding that the community plan update could also have impacted already-taxed ambulance services, fire stations and LAPD divisions. “We just didn’t know what would happen … so we got involved early. …We didn’t believe that it was sufficient, that it followed the law and it was going to be good for the residents in the area.”
He said all involved are waiting to see how the city will respond. In a statement provided last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti said simply, “We are reviewing the court’s decision.”
George Abrahams, president of SaveHollywood.org, said his organization also argued that the city council and mayor were essentially providing population figures to themselves, as the entire council and mayor are members of SCAG. He said the planning department was then required to use the SCAG numbers.
“It’s always them … doing it for themselves for their own benefit,” Abrahams said. “That whole scheme is gone.”
He said the judge ruled that a new EIR would be required for the community plan update. Beginning the process again would result in additional meetings and hearings, Abrahams said.
“You have to do the whole thing over. That’s our understanding of the whole lawsuit,” he added.
Abrahams said SaveHollywood.org will insist that the city include a downsizing option as a “reasonable alternative” in the update. He said the city upzoned a lot of areas for a population increase of 25,000 to 50,000 people, but the new update should rezone the area to match the its actual population. Doing so would affect height restrictions and floor-to-area ratios, Abrahams said.
Gubler said the zoning that was done as part of the update was “very modest” and was not “a huge upzoing of Hollywood.”
He said there is a “level of uncertainty” for individuals planning projects and for projects that are in development. The chamber president said developers may consider putting such projects “on ice.”
Silverstein said it’s possible that the ruling could affect projects in Hollywood, but he wasn’t sure to what extent they would be impacted. He specifically referenced the Millennium project, which he is currently fighting in court.
“We believe that it is another nail in the coffin of the incredibly irresponsible and potentially criminal Millennium Hollywood project approvals by the city council,” Silverstein said. “Because the new [update] has been struck down, we are looking into how that affects the overall Millennium Hollywood approvals. Of course, having an earthquake fault running right through the Millennium Hollywood site should have been more than enough to lead the city council to reject the Millennium Hollywood project — that the mayor and city council have repeatedly violated the law and treated the public with disdain is unfortunately nothing new.”
He added that the judge ruled that the EIR was illegal because the city failed to analyze a reasonable range of alternatives to the plan and that the city failed to adopt the plan in a way that would have monitored its impact on infrastructure.
“We are very gratified that Judge Goodman issued such a detailed and thorough ruling analyzing the facts and the law in this case,” Silverstein said.
In a statement, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said the plan was created by city staff and dozens of neighborhood volunteers who spent “countless” hours developing a road map to accommodate future development and mobility in the “heart of Hollywood.”
“I stand by the plan being challenged today,” he said. “It reinforces Hollywood’s role as an entertainment and job center. Additionally, the plan establishes lower height districts in appropriate areas, integrates new development into existing scale and protects hillsides from over development. If additional actions are needed in council to address the ruling, then I will provide that leadership. Any perceived or real issues with the plan can be fixed, and this ruling should not stop investment in Hollywood.”