A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has upheld the environmental reports prepared for the $150-million Melvin Simon project in Hollywood, possibly clearing the way for development of the high-rise entertainment and business complex near Mann's Chinese Theatre.
The ruling, released Wednesday by Superior Court Judge Warren H. Deering, was a victory for pro-development factions and a setback for residents and merchants who have sought to scale down anticipated growth in Hollywood.
The Simon project is considered a cornerstone of Hollywood's $922-million redevelopment plan, launched by the City of Los Angeles early last year. The eight-acre project would bring a 400-room hotel, a 400,000-square-foot office tower and a motion-picture museum to the northwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, one of the city's busiest intersections.
In rejecting challenges brought by Hollywood homeowner Pat Morley and a group called Save Hollywood Our Town, Deering ruled that Los Angeles City Council members followed proper procedures and gave adequate study to traffic and zoning issues before approving the project in December.
"The City Council had before it sufficient detail as to design, size and appearance of the building from which to determine the impact of the project," Deering wrote in a 10-page ruling. "There is substantial evidence that the impact of the project on the environment is outweighed by the benefits of the project."
Although the group could appeal the ruling, representatives said Thursday that they would first meet to discuss the judge's decision.
"The ruling is quite thorough in covering all of the issues," the group's attorney, Michael Sinkov, said. "But the judge and I disagree. I see a number of points in here that could form a successful appeal of the judge's decision."
Sinkov said an appeal would raise the same issues cited in the suit. Those issues include questions about the capacity of streets and sewers in Hollywood and the cumulative effects of several large-scale projects that are expected to be built under the redevelopment plan, he said.
Sue Nelson, president of the group, called the ruling disappointing but said: "My feeling is, the judiciary is really unfamiliar with planning law. We see these cases . . . (and) one time they're decided on the side of the public, and one time decided on the side of the city."
Strong support for the project had come from Hollywood-area Councilman Michael Woo and members of Hollywood's business community, who called it a bellwether for future developments that could restore the community's glamour and economic life.
"It's really important," Woo said of the ruling. "Many eyes were on the courts. Had the judge held up (the project) . . . it would have sent a signal to other developers . . . that it is a high-risk proposition to get involved in Hollywood."
Attorney George Mihlsten, representing Indianapolis-based Melvin Simon and Associates, said the lawsuit had been the key hurdle delaying construction of the project, which would feature open-air walkways, plazas and two 235-foot-high towers. The suit has delayed the project "probably five to six months" and has cost developers "millions of dollars" because of missed deadlines, Mihlsten said.
Developers were required to restructure purchase agreements and options on the largely vacant land on which the complex would be built, he said.
Unless development is delayed by further legal actions, ground-breaking for the center is likely to occur late this fall, the attorney said. The project would be completed in 18 to 24 months, he estimated.