A savvy opponent is ready to take on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over concerns that its planned $300-million film museum will snarl traffic and worsen parking problems.
Fix the City, a community group that has a track record of thwarting big development plans in Hollywood, is likely to mount a lawsuit if the City Council approves the museum, board member Jim O'Sullivan said.
The academy's own environmental study for the museum acknowledges "significant impacts" near its proposed site, a former May Co. department store on the western edge of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Wilshire Boulevard campus. But the Los Angeles City Planning Commission approved the plan unanimously two weeks ago and sent it on to the City Council, where it is expected to be approved next month.
Plans call for renovations on the historic May Co. building to begin this summer and for the museum and an adjoining 1,000-seat, glass-domed cinema to open by the end of 2017.
The museum's development plan, as outlined in an environmental impact report, calls for it to share LACMA's underground parking garage, with no additional parking to be built. The academy has said it will secure more than 800 nearby off-site parking spaces intended to take the overflow on days when the LACMA lots fill up.
O'Sullivan said a key issue is just how ironclad the Academy Museum's arrangements for overflow parking are and that a lawsuit might argue that anything short of a "permanent covenant" for 800 overflow spaces would not satisfy the requirements of city law.
Bill Kramer, managing director of the Academy Museum project, said it has "parking leases extending up to 20 years, and we will work diligently to renew the leases in a timely manner."
More than 40 people testified in favor of the museum at the Planning Commission's hearing this month and just one spoke against it — a representative for the Mid City West Community Council. O'Sullivan, who's also president of the Miracle Mile Residential Assn., said that his group and other homeowners' groups had registered spoken and written objections earlier in the process.
Publicly threatening a lawsuit — which O'Sullivan first did this month in an article titled "Coming to a Courtroom Near You" for the residential association's online newsletter — is not a ploy to influence votes on the City Council, he said.
"I believe it's going to sail through. I see the handwriting on the wall, and I don't see any forces stopping this," O'Sullivan said. "I'm left with one move."
Fix the City successfully sued the city in 2012 to overturn newly adopted zoning regulations that would have permitted more intense development in Hollywood.
Groups in favor of the Academy Museum plan include the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce, construction trade unions and LACMA, which has leased the May Co. department store building and adjoining acreage for the cinema and an outdoor plaza to the film museum for 55 years at $36.1 million.
Kramer said in a written statement this week that O'Sullivan was among the "stakeholders" from the neighborhood with whom he'd met during the planning process. In response to their concerns, Kramer said, museum planners scaled down signage, capped the number of special events and secured the 800-plus nearby parking spaces.
"In the interest of being good neighbors, we will continue to meet with community members to further refine the project and have invited Mr. O'Sullivan to sit down with us to continue these discussions," Kramer said. "We hope to work closely with [him] and the community to ensure that a lawsuit does not occur."
The project's environmental impact report predicted that regular museum traffic could load two nearby intersections beyond the "threshold … criteria" for acceptable traffic flow, and that arrivals and departures for special events, including film premieres, would exceed the threshold at seven intersections.
The EIR envisions peak attendance of 5,000 per day — although Kramer has said that will be rare for a museum that expects daily attendance to average about 2,400, for a yearly total of about 860,000.
The 5,000 peak attendance would mean about 1,500 automobiles coming and going to the museum on those days, according to a traffic study that's part of the EIR. It predicts a 15% drop in automobile trips when a projected Wilshire Boulevard subway opens in the early 2020s.
The J. Paul Getty Trust's $275-million renovation and expansion of its Getty Villa museum was stalled for five years in the early 2000s by a lawsuit and subsequent appeals brought by neighboring homeowners in Pacific Palisades. Responding to their concerns, the Getty agreed to cap daily attendance and put strict limits on evening performances at an outdoor theater that was one of the project's main features.
The Miracle Mile Residential Assn. and the Mid City West Community Council have said they would support the film museum if the academy stuck to renovating the former department store and dropped plans to add the thousand-seat cinema.
"When we found out LACMA had leased the building to the academy and the academy wants to put this god-awful globe up there, we were aghast," O'Sullivan said. "I totally get that the business community wants it. But as someone who lives here and has to deal with the traffic and lack of parking [it's unacceptable]."
Even now, O'Sullivan said, when LACMA gets busy, drivers who can't find a space in its garage and surface lot — or who are looking to beat the $12 parking charge — will troll neighborhood streets and cause congestion, sometimes blocking driveways.