Reaching for the Reins : Galanter Says Her First Effort on Council Will Be to Scale Back 4 Controversial Developments

Times Staff Writers

Four massive and controversial development projects along a vast open stretch of Westside coastal property have been jeopardized by Ruth Galanter's sweeping victory over veteran Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell.

Galanter, a 46-year-old urban planner and slow-growth advocate, said Wednesday that she will immediately seek ways to scale back the projects.

"The first thing I will do is review as closely as I can the exact status of any commitments the city has made," Galanter said at UCLA Medical Center, where she is recovering from a stabbing attack. "I will want to talk with the city attorney to make sure what options are available for the City Council."

Preservation of Wetlands

At a minimum, Galanter said, she wants to ensure that the "full amount" of local wetlands is preserved. Spokesman Jim Bickhart said that she may seek substantial changes in Playa Vista, the Howard Hughes Center, Continental City and the northside development of Los Angeles International Airport.

"I don't think any of the projects can be stopped dead," Bickhart said Wednesday. "What Ruth wants to do is get them to blend in with the community better. . . . If it means scaling them back, then that's what it means."

Development was a key issue in the race between Galanter and Russell. Russell had championed plans that call for nearly 30 million square feet of office, hotel, retail and residential construction around Westchester. Galanter and her supporters claim that the four projects will further clog traffic on the San Diego Freeway, substantially increase smog and worsen contamination of Santa Monica Bay.

The projects are in various stages of development, but city planners said Galanter may be able to change or substantially delay all four of them. City planner David Gay said Galanter could try to get a development moratorium imposed while she studies the projects for the next several months. She could also seek changes in plans that were supported by Russell.

"The normal reaction is for a new council person to slow things down or stop them until they get their feet on the ground," Gay said. "It takes a period of time to come up to speed and designate people for specific jobs."

Russell, who was twice elected council president, was widely viewed as a friend of private interests hoping to transform vacant Westchester area property into a massive commercial-residential complex. Christine Henry of Summa Corp., the firm responsible for the Howard Hughes Center and Playa Vista, said developers do not know what to expect from Galanter.

Companies Hope for Best

Henry said Summa officials will meet with Galanter when she is released from the hospital. She said the company is hoping for the best.

"We want to sit down and brief her on the project," Henry said Wednesday. "Then we want to listen to her concerns. Until then, anything we say would simply be conjecture and speculation. . . . It's just wait and see."

Pat Stitzenberger, a spokeswoman for the Continental City development, said her company also plans to meet with Galanter. But Stitzenberger added that they are not overly concerned. "It's obviously early," she said. "I don't think anybody is quaking in their boots. . . . If Miss Galanter wants to make any kinds of changes I assume she will be in contact with us."

Westchester residents have been up in arms over the planned development of the land once owned by Howard Hughes, charging that construction of the project would destroy the quality of life in their community. Russell claimed that she had done everything possible to reduce the scale of the projects, which could double the area's population, but most voters apparently rejected that argument.

The veteran councilwoman, first elected in 1969, was routinely booed by Westchester homeowners at community meetings held during the 6th District council primary. Galanter, a former chairwoman of the California Regional Coastal Commission, emerged from the pack of five unknown challengers as the standard-bearer for the slow-growth cause.

Patrick McCartney, president of a Westchester-based community group called A Coalition of Concerned Communities, said Galanter's victory gives hope to Westchester residents. McCartney, himself a primary candidate, said he expects Galanter to seek changes in the four projects.

'Nothing Is Set'

"This was a vote against overdevelopment of the coastal portion of the 6th District," McCartney said. "Plans can be amended . . . nothing is set."

The projects have been in the planning stages for several years. Playa Vista, just south of Marina del Rey, is the largest. The community would consist of about 20 million square feet of office space, homes and apartments, with a hotel and 700 to 900 new boat slips.

The Hughes center, at Sepulveda Boulevard and the San Diego Freeway, would include about 2.7 million square feet of office space and a 500-room hotel. Continental City, which is planned for a site at Imperial Highway and Aviation Boulevard, would consist of 2 million square feet of offices and two 600-room hotels. The northside development of LAX near Manchester Avenue would contain about 4.5 million square feet of office space and at least two 500-room hotels.

Gay of the Planning Department said the Hughes center and Continental City may be protected from major changes in their plans because they have already signed development agreements with the city. But Galanter has indicated that she will challenge those agreements. In a policy statement issued during the campaign, she said both projects should be scaled back.

Changes Urged

Because Playa Vista and the LAX project do not have development agreements with the city, they would be more susceptible to changes, Gay said. "They aren't in a position to build," he said.

Galanter called for several changes in Playa Vista in her position paper last month, including down-scaling the commercial portion, adding low- and middle-income housing and saving more of the Ballona Wetlands.

The wetlands, a reedy expanse covering 900 acres between Culver City and the Pacific Ocean, are a way station for migrating birds and home to wildlife ranging from crabs and clams to falcons and field mice.

The Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters ran an independent campaign on Galanter's behalf. Dorothy Green, the group's president, said the upset victory sends a message to pro-development forces on the City Council.

Betsy Reifsnider of the Sierra Club agreed. "As it stands now we go down to City Hall and we don't have the feeling that too many people are listening," Reifsnider said. "We seldom have the votes on parks, traffic and overdevelopment."

Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) said Galanter's victory demonstrates that voters are tired of unbridled development. Hayden endorsed Galanter and directed his political organization, Campaign California, to spend $25,000 on a last-minute independent campaign for her.

"The politics of growth have run their course," Hayden said. "People are looking for a different definition of greatness from the city than the one that the old growth coalition provided."

Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, a slow-growth advocate who broke from most of his colleagues by campaigning for Galanter, said the council's voting bloc will change with Galanter on board.

"I think that we are going to have more responsible development and less and less uncontrolled growth," Braude said. "We're going to be listened to more."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World