Thursday, November 5, 2015
C.A. Orders New Study for Highland Park Project
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday ordered a new environmental study for a proposed housing project near the Highland Park transit station.
Div. Seven, in an unpublished opinion by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff—sitting on assignment—said the City of Los Angeles conducted an inadequate initial study. It ordered that the mitigated negative declaration, which allowed the project to proceed without an environmental impact report, be rescinded and a new initial study prepared.
The city Planning Commission approved the project, a public-private partnership that would bring 80 residential units plus public parking to three sites on Marmion Way between Avenues 56 and 59. Twenty of those units would be sold as condominiums and the rest would be affordable housing, except for one manager’s unit.
Surface parking lots presently cover the site. The local Historic Preservation Overlay Zone board approved the project earlier, and the developer’s request for conditional use permits to build taller and more densely, with smaller setbacks, were all agreed to by the commission.
Critics, including a group called Friends of Highland Park, said the project was too big, too ugly, and provided for too little parking, and would have deleterious effects on the environment. But a planning department staff member told the Curbed Los Angeles blog that attendees at the commission meeting were split down the middle in their support of the project.
Trial Court Ruling
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas I. McKnew Jr. rejected Friends of Highland Park’s mandamus petition challenging the project. He said the petitioner failed to submit substantial evidence to support its argument that the project would cause significant greenhouse gas emissions, or its concerns about hazardous waste in the soil from adjacent rail lines and shops on Figueroa St.
The group presented photographs of auto repair shops on Figueroa during the 1920s, but McKnew noted that the site is separated from Figueroa by “a wall of buildings.”
Beckloff, however, said the city failed to comply with guidelines adopted under the California Environmental Quality Act, which require use of a “model or methodology” to quantify greenhouse gas emissions, and that the agency rely on “a qualitative analysis or performance based standards.”
The city and the developer pointed to a mitigation measure stating that the impact of emissions can be reduced to a less than significant level by requiring that “[o]nly low- and non-VOC-containing paints, sealants, adhesives, and solvents shall be utilized in the construction of the project.”
The study, however, “does not offer any evidence supporting the effectiveness of” the mitigation measure, and “makes no attempt to ‘quantify greenhouse gas emissions’ and it does not set forth any ‘qualitative analysis or performance based standards,’” Beckloff wrote.
The jurist went on to conclude that the city failed to include data concerning the possible disturbance of lead-containing soil, so that the court could not determine the adequacy of measures taken to mitigate its impacts. He rejected, however, the claim that the project’s proximity to a rail corridor and possible railcar leaks support a fair argument that such leaks are a significant environmental impact.
The petitioner, he noted, submitted evidence regarding the types of contamination generally found along rail corridors, but said it was speculative to argue that such contamination occurred near the Gold Line tracks.
The case is Friends of Highland Park v. City of Los Angeles, B261866.
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