Heliport Dropped From Project Plan as Russell Calls It 'Unacceptable'

Times Staff Writer

Plans for a heliport at the proposed Howard Hughes Center--a 2.7-million-square-foot office/commercial complex--have been withdrawn by the developer at the request of Los Angeles City Council President Pat Russell.

Russell, who gave her backing to the 39-acre project earlier this month, said she was astonished to see that the environmental impact report contained a description of a heliport that would accommodate about a dozen passenger-helicopter flights a day. The helicopters would shuttle executives to Los Angeles International Airport, about two miles away.

"I saw that and thought, 'Gee whiz, this is totally unacceptable,' " Russell said. Russell has been a long-time opponent of the helicopter noise that has become a major issue here in recent months. She has worked with aviation officials to hammer out a policy that would lessen the noise from the helicopters that regularly sweep down Sepulveda Boulevard.

Never Any Mention

"In all the months we had discussed the project, and all the presentations they had made, there had never been any mention of a heliport," Russell said of the owner and developer, Howard Hughes Development Corp.

In a letter to Russell dated Jan. 21, Development Manager William T. McGregor said that "based on our recognition that helicopter noise is an increasing concern of Westchester, and that the Sepulveda Corridor is a particular problem . . . we will not seek approval to install a heliport in the Howard Hughes Center."

But even with that hurdle cleared, Hughes Development continues to face stiff opposition from residents, who say the 26-story development will increase congestion, inundate the area with traffic and threaten the residential character of the small community.

While Russell has given her approval to the project, she has told the developers that they will "have to sell themselves to the community"--a task that has not proved easy.

"We don't understand why developers continue to be attracted to this area,"said John Nash, president of Westport Heights Homeowners Assn. in Westchester.

The 69-acre triangular-shaped lot is in the northeastern corner of the San Diego freeway, Sepulveda Boulevard and the residential neighborhood of Westport Heights.

"Traffic is terrible, congestion is getting worse all the time," he said. "This (the Hughes Center) is just going to make things worse. We have an acute housing shortage in an area that's already job-rich. We're just holding our breath on all this upcoming development. I think it will destroy our neighborhood."

Ray Liccini, president of the Coalition of Concerned Communities--which includes homeowners from Westchester, Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey and El Segundo--agreed.

"There are geographical limitations in this area that no one seems to want to acknowledge," Liccini said. "We have the freeway, the airport, the bluffs and the ocean. There is not unlimited space to grow here. They (the developers) are aggravating a situation that's already unbalanced.

No Room for Living

"They're expecting to employ some 13,000 people when this thing is built out over the next 10 years. Where are those people going to live? There's no room for them here. That means they're going to have to drive. With all the other development in this area, we're going to wind up one big parking lot if we don't do some careful planning."

Liccini noted that a recent Southern California Assn. of Governments study stated that 24 major projects are slated for the area from Manhattan Beach to Venice, with 75% of that development north of the airport.

"That's the equivalent of five or six Century Cities," he said. "The Hughes Center alone will be about two-thirds the size of Century City. I think we may be looking at the end of this community as we know it if all this development goes through."

The center, scheduled for construction this year, will be built in two phases if it receives complete approval from Los Angeles. Over the next decade, developers hope to build about 2.7 million square feet of office space, a 600-room hotel and eight parking structures. Hughes Development already has received permits from the city for the first 400,000 square feet of office space and has begun construction of the first of four on-site roads.

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