Arts Center Gains With OK of Lease for Sepulveda Basin

Times Staff Writer

After a delay of almost six months while legal fine points were being negotiated, the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission approved a lease Friday allowing the San Fernando Valley Cultural Foundation to build a performing arts center in the Sepulveda Basin.

The agreement, which must be approved by City Council, gives the foundation 20 years to develop an arts complex on about 60 acres near Victory and Balboa boulevards. The complex would include an amphitheater, museum, galleries and a 2,500-seat concert hall.

The nonprofit foundation is attempting to raise at least $70 million to build the arts complex in the Sepulveda Basin and a smaller cultural center at a city park in Warner Center.

An anticipated protest by the Sierra Club fizzled Friday.

Against Loss of Open Space

Representatives from the conservation organization, which opposes the loss of open space in the basin, two weeks ago obtained a postponement of the commission's final approval, asking for time to examine the lease proposal.

The club's representative, Jill Swift, arrived in the middle of the commission's brief discussion of the item Friday, and was able to speak only after it had been approved. Commission President William R. Robertson granted Swift about six minutes to speak after the vote, then denied time to another protester who had not realized the item was being discussed.

Swift gave the commission a three-page analysis criticizing the proposed lease. The letter complained that the city had not adequately informed the public of the lease's conditions while it was being written, and said the lease provided insufficient liability insurance and parking and failed to require adequate protection from flooding. The land is in a flood-control basin, which could be submerged after heavy rains.

A city Department of Recreation and Parks official said opponents will have another chance to give their views when the lease goes to the City Council for approval.

The lease first went to the commission Oct. 31. Although a majority of the commissioners said then that they liked the proposal, Commissioner Dennis R. Luna, a real estate lawyer, asked the city attorney's office to review it.

Major Revamp

Luna said he was concerned that the original document, prepared by the parks department staff and attorneys for the foundation, lacked protections to ensure that the city could review the design of buildings in the project and that the foundation could not leave a building unfinished if it ran out of money.

While negotiating a performance bond and a review process, Luna raised several other points that resulted in a major rewriting of the agreement.

Some of the changes he obtained increased the rights of the city to review development plans, provided a 20-year limit on the lease if the foundation fails to complete its plans, guaranteed the right of the public to use any facility built and expanded the city's right to inspect the property.

Also added to the lease was a clause allowing the city to review and audit the foundation's financial records annually for at least three years.

Last-Minute Stipulation

Even though the agreement was presumably ready for a vote when the Sierra Club requested the postponement, Luna added a new condition Friday, an amendment giving the city the right to place a member on the foundation board as soon as the first construction project is completed.

After the meeting, Luna said he had been thinking about that provision for a long time and would have delayed the vote himself two weeks ago had the Sierra Club not come forward.

Foundation spokesman Ross Hopkins said he was surprised by that demand, learning about it only this week. His understanding was that the city representative would be involved only in committee work to plan the facilities, he said.

Luna, however, said he believes it is important for the city to have a permanent voice in the use of the facility as well as its design.

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