Russell Denies Rushing to Obtain Approval for Development Project

Times Staff Writer

Leaders of a Westside slow-growth organization have accused outgoing Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell of rushing to win last-minute approval for a controversial development project that could face tough opposition from her successor, Ruth Galanter.

Russell bitterly denied the accusation, saying she has done nothing to speed consideration of the proposal.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed project, an 18-unit condominium complex in Playa del Rey, on Friday. Julie Inouye of the Playa del Rey Network, a community group, said Russell is attempting to ramrod the project through the system before she leaves office July 1.

Inouye claimed that the project violates restrictions on density and height, and charged that residents were never notified of the city's public hearings on the proposal. She said consideration of the project should be tabled until Galanter assumes office.

'The People Have Spoken'

"Russell is trying to push this thing through," Inouye said. "But we will get as many people as possible to show the council our opposition."

Dorothy Green of the League of Conservation Voters, a Westside group that supported Galanter, also criticized Russell. She agreed that the vote should be postponed until Galanter takes her seat on the council. "The people have spoken, and in no uncertain terms have said that they want Galanter representing them," Green said. "Her point of view should prevail."

An angry Russell, who was stung by allegations of being pro-development during her unsuccessful reelection bid, dismissed the complaints. She said the Playa del Rey project passed through city channels at a normal pace and noted that other agencies such as the Planning Commission approved it.

"I don't know how anybody can say that this has been rushed through," Russell said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "These are strange and irrelevant questions."

Russell said she supports the project because it represents good planning. She said that she has no intention of delaying the council's expected vote on the plan Friday because she has never believed in "ducking an issue."

The full council is expected to approve the project on the recommendation of its Planning and Environment Committee. It will then go before the state Coastal Commission for final approval. Planning Commission President Dan Garcia said there is no evidence to suggest that the project was rushed.

"I think that this one has been delayed longer than most projects," Garcia said Wednesday. "If she (Russell) wanted to ramrod it through to the council, she could have scheduled it for consideration four months ago."

No Major Violations

Garcia added that the project does not violate any major provisions of the specific plan for the area. But he could not explain why neighbors were not notified about hearings on the proposal. "I have no idea what notices went out," he said.

Galanter, who ran on a slow-growth platform with the support of community organization's such as Inouye's, is still hospitalized because of a stabbing attack and was unable to comment on the project. Earlier this week however, chief deputy Marcela Howell said Galanter has concerns about the project.

Developer Donald F. Haskin said the concerns are unfounded. "Everything that is being said about this plan is lies," Haskin said. "I'm not going to let (opponents of the project) destroy this gorgeous piece of land."

Haskin, the president of the Del Rey Lagoon Corp., purchased the four vacant lots for about $1 million last summer. The land faces a duck pond on the northwestern edge of Playa del Rey, a small community sandwiched between Marina del Rey and Westchester.

Haskin has devoted most of the past year to the project. He called the Mediterranean-style design of the condominiums an "absolute knockout" and said the complex would beautify the area. Each unit would sell for about $300,000, according to Haskin, who said costs have been driven up by delays.

Plan Scaled Back

Haskin claimed that he has done everything possible to bring the project into conformance with the area's specific plan. He initially sought permission to build a 21-unit complex on the vacant site, but the project has been scaled back to 18 units, with two reserved for low-income residents.

Haskin, who acknowledged that he hopes to win approval for the plan before Galanter takes office, said Russell has been unjustly accused of promoting it. "She forced me to compromise," Haskin said. "If she had championed the project, I would still be at 21 units. She was tough but fair."

Inouye and other residents, however, say Russell wasn't tough enough.

1982 Planning Document

By supporting the project, Inouye said Russell is violating provisions of the Del Rey specific plan, a planning document adopted by the council in 1982 and still pending before the Coastal Commission.

"The community as a whole has conformed to this document as a guideline for growth," Inouye said. "But a developer wants to come in and ask for more."

Inouye said the project is too big and violates the 37-foot height limit for the area. Inouye said Haskin also is trying to illegally combine four separate lots and remove a street and walkway from public use.

Garcia of the Planning Commission said the planning guidelines are open to interpretation and that the types of exceptions granted for Haskin's project are fairly common.

Russell said opponents complaints are overblown. She conceded that Haskin's project does not strictly conform to the area's specific plan but said allowances were made in the interest of "good planning" and urban design.

Inouye said Russell is doing a disservice to the residents of her district by refusing to let Galanter review the condominium proposal. "This is why she lost," Inouye said of Russell. "You can't just turn your back on people."

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