Opinion

The new NBC Universal HQ is too big for a parking lot

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In The Times' Sept. 28 article, "Battle rages over studio-office project near Universal Studios," you paint a picture of developer Jim Thomas as a misunderstood hero who is single-handedly trying to save the entertainment industry and revive our local economy, walking door to door to help a community understand that he has their best interest at heart as he tries desperately to build his greatly opposed project at an MTA parking lot near Universal Studios. Nothing could be further from the truth, and his recent door-to-door walk is just the latest effort in a continuing campaign to push a truly bad project down the throats of the community, the taxpayers (who own the MTA site) and City Hall.

The "homeowner's group" that you refer to in the article is actually one of the largest property- and business-owner coalitions ever assembled in this city, with 14 longtime neighborhood organizations and four neighborhood councils represented. This "homeowner's group" has an estimated constituency of roughly 260,000 people, not to mention the millions of commuters who use the Cahuenga Pass each week and whose interest we are trying to protect. The group has been meeting monthly with Thomas, Universal and the city in good-faith negotiations for more than two years.

Here's a reality check for Thomas and the General Electric folks in New York:

* Thomas talks about his "concern" for the entertainment industry. Why, then, are they diminishing one of the most important studio production lots in the world by removing a huge section of existing studio-zoned space to build almost 3,000 homes? Destroying irreplaceable studio space is not helping the entertainment industry.

* Thomas says he wishes he could spread the entire NBC Universal project over the two sites (Universal Studios and the MTA site -- both just feet apart from each other) but "the studio lot is overcrowded." Then why does the project intend to destroy a huge part of the existing studio space to build condos?

* We hear about the "5,000 jobs" that will result from the project. Let's take a look at that number. NBC is moving most of those jobs from its Burbank studio, which it sold and is closing. Those aren't new jobs -- they're a gain for Los Angeles and a loss for Burbank. Make no mistake about it, this is a corporate consolidation that is intended to increase efficiencies for NBC Universal (and that usually translates to eliminated jobs). So, strip out all the existing NBC Burbank employees who are moving over, strip out all the short-term construction jobs, and strip out all of the minimum-wage service jobs that would add little to the tax base of our economy. Now do the numbers. How many new jobs are really being created?

* The public is giving GE and Thomas Properties the MTA parcel without competitive bidding thanks to a long-ago deal between the MTA and Universal, in which the public apparently had no input. The MTA site gets huge tax credits -- a.k.a. public subsidies -- as an "enterprise zone." Do these subsidies help our local economy? Thomas has said that the public should pay for a crucial infrastructure improvement that would remove commuter traffic from residential streets: a 101-to-134-Freeway interchange that could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. If there's one thing Thomas and GE should have learned from the events of the past month, the public is in no mood to subsidize any more corporate giants.

* Thomas laments that he is being compelled to consider the effects of other projects far away from his Universal MTA site. But the project with the biggest impact is just 100 feet away, and he's asking us to ignore it. Thomas Properties and GE have split the Universal project in half, pretending it is two smaller projects rather than a single, massive one. This causes the projects to be considered under two environmental impact reports instead of one. If the NoHo and Valley Plaza projects (which are within 1.5 miles of the MTA site) are added to the mix, the total amount of new development proposed is more than 13 million square feet.

From day one, the community has offered to support virtually everything Thomas and GE asked for if they would utilize the entire 400-plus acres in Universal Studios and the MTA site, instead of forcing half of the commercial development onto a tiny, public MTA lot, and if they would offer reasonable mitigation to protect the communities surrounding the project. Not only has Thomas thumbed his nose at the community, but after each discussion, he returned with a bigger and even more obnoxious project, contending that anything smaller "doesn't pencil out."

The community is ready to work together with Thomas Properties and GE to envision a 21st century project that answers the needs of NBC Universal, genuinely encourages continued success for the entertainment industry, truly benefits our regional economy, honestly offers positive transportation solutions and, finally, does not harm the communities and people who call this part of Los Angeles home.

Roy P. Disney, Richard Bogy, Terry Davis and Krista Michaels are co-chairs of the MTA/Universal Project Community Working Group.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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