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Culver City Seeks to Scale Down Marina Place

Times Staff Writer

Culver City has joined other Westside communities in seeking to reduce new construction by forcing the developer of a 1.4-million-square-foot office and shopping complex to substantially scale back its proposed project.

The council voted 4 to 0 to tell Prudential Insurance Co. of America that its controversial Marina Place project will not be approved unless it takes significant measures to deal with the increased traffic and air pollution that the complex is expected to generate.

The 18-acre proposed site for the development is bounded by Washington Boulevard, Glencoe and Walnut avenues and Zanja Street.

The July 13 vote, which came unexpectedly during a routine public hearing to review a supplement to an environmental impact report on the project, represents one of the strongest slow-growth statements made by the council in recent years, according to Councilman Paul Jacobs.

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“I sure hope it represents a change in our policy,” he said. “It was the most emphatic statement (on local development) I can recall (by the council). We in effect said we are willing to turn down that money for the sake of quality of life.

“I think it does represent a growing sense of my colleagues to a growing problem on the Westside,” said Jacobs, who has sat on the council for 11 years and who is considered that body’s most vocal slow-growth advocate.

Prudential now must submit a revised proposal to be reviewed by city planners and eventually voted on by the City Council. A final vote could come in the next six months, Culver City Mayor Richard Brundo said.

The vote represents the latest in a series of setbacks for Prudential, which has been attempting to develop the site since 1980.

Last fall, the council approved a scaled-down version of an earlier proposal that met with opposition from local residents. The earlier proposal called for construction of two 17-story and two 15-story office towers, one 12-story building, two restaurants and a 5,200-space parking garage.

Prudential revised the plans to include about 500 residential units, 715,000 square feet of commercial and retail space and a 240,000-square-foot office building.

Company officials had hoped that the new plan--which calls for more retail stores and fewer offices than did its predecessor--would address the council’s concerns over increased traffic by spreading traffic from peak work hours to less busy shopping hours.

Councilman Paul Netzel said the new project, though different in design from the original plan, is just as massive as its predecessor.

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“It’s been basically like working with a piece of clay,” he said. “The designers are continuing to work with the same mass that they began with three years ago.”

Brundo, who favors scaling back the project to about 60% of the current proposal, said in an interview that Prudential’s revised plan actually would increase the traffic over levels that would have been expected under the original plan.

“In the process of spreading it (traffic), they’ve increased it,” he said. The revised project “is certainly less dense, but the traffic problem is worse.”

Councilman Richard Alexander disagreed. “I think they are being penalized in the traffic analysis,” he said. “I think Prudential has dealt in good faith with the council, but I’m not sure the good faith has been reciprocated.”

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Councilwoman Jozelle Smith speculated that election-year anxieties may be responsible for the slow-growth stance that some of her colleagues are taking.

“I think that the incumbents are making a statement to Culver City residents,” she said. “What they’re stating is in a way that’s a little stronger than it would be in a non-election year.”

Council members Jacobs, Brundo and Netzel are up for reelection next April.

Although most council members agreed that the vote was a strong statement in favor of reduced development, they stressed that the decision is not the first time that the city has acted to protect the interests of homeowners from intrusions by developers.

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The city had strict height and design limitations for buildings, as well as minimum requirements for open spaces and parking, long before slow growth became an issue in Los Angeles politics, Jacobs said.

“I wouldn’t say we’re jumping on the bandwagon,” he said. “I think for as long as I’ve been on the council, it’s been a concern. Everyone has agreed on the concept of moderate growth.”

Prudential spokesman Carl Haglund said he does not see the council as taking a hostile stance toward the project, despite last week’s unanimous vote to have it scaled back.

“I think the City of Culver City very much wants something first-class down there,” he said. “I will grant you they have not just turned on a green light, but I don’t think they’re anti-growth. I think they are very concerned.”

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