Residents Hail Ruling on Auto Dealership

Times Staff Writer

Members of a Santa Monica residents association are celebrating a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling overturning the City Council's approval of a controversial automobile dealership project at Santa Monica Boulevard and 18th Street.

The ruling by Judge Norman Dowds sets aside the council's approval of the proposed Kramer Motors Honda agency and requires that an environmental-impact report be prepared.

"This is a big victory for us," said Jack H. Rubens of Santa Monicans for Reasonable Growth, which filed suit in January challenging the council's approval of the project in December. Dowds handed down his ruling week before last.

In the lawsuit, residents claim that the four-story project's basement repair facility and rooftop car storage area were improperly omitted in determining whether the project would comply with the city's density limitations.

Residents said in the suit that if the basement and rooftop parking were counted, the building would far exceed the density allowed by the city's general plan. The plan allows the building to be as much as three times the lot size, for a so-called floor-area ratio of 3-1; if the basement and roof were counted the Kramer project would have a ratio of 4.4-1, residents said.

Dowds ruled that in approving the project the city did not properly show that the project complied with the land-use and traffic-circulation elements of the city's general plan, Rubens said.

The city did not require an environmental impact report on the project, and after several heated public hearings and a contested Planning Commission vote, the council approved the project 4 to 3 on Dec. 17, 1985.

Councilmen James P. Conn, Alan S. Katz and Dennis Zane opposed the project, but were overruled by council members Christine E. Reed, Herbert Katz, William H. Jennings and David G. Epstein.

Rubens said the four-member All Santa Monica Coalition majority then prevailing on the council "made a mockery of the land-use process in Santa Monica." The coalition lost its majority in the Nov. 4 election when Epstein was defeated in his bid for reelection.

Rubens said he expects that as a result of Dowds' order the proposed Honda dealership "will have to be substantially redesigned."

But Sherman L. Stacey, attorney for Kramer Motors Inc., said the owner plans to proceed with an environmental impact study on the project "as is."

Stacey said Dowds did not rule on whether the city was right or wrong in its decision, but merely ruled that the city did not provide enough information on how it came to its decision on the project.

Laurie Lieberman, a deputy city attorney representing the city of Santa Monica in the lawsuit, said the judge's ruling does not necessarily uphold residents' claims that the city's planning process was invalid. His ruling states that the city's decision was not backed up by enough evidence to legally justify the council's approval of the project, she said.

In the lawsuit, residents also claimed that the city's general plan is invalid, but Dowds did not rule on this aspect of the case. Rather, he asked the opponents to meet and discuss whether they wish to proceed with the litigation on the general plan, Lieberman said.

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