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Venice Town Council Rejects Mall Developer’s Offer to Settle Lawsuit

Times Staff Writer

A Venice community group and one of the nation’s largest insurance companies are headed to court over a sprawling, regional shopping mall proposed for Culver City.

After nearly six months of negotiations, the Venice Town Council has rejected an offer to settle its lawsuit against the Prudential Insurance Co. and Culver City.

The suit--now expected to go to trial within eight weeks--aims at stopping Marina Place, a 1-million-square-foot shopping center planned for land near the busy intersection of Washington and Lincoln boulevards.

$6.7-Million Offer

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The city of Los Angeles is also suing to stop the mall and was to review the settlement offer separately. However, Prudential late Tuesday withdrew the offer. It had been expected that Los Angeles would join the Town Council in rejecting the offer.

The developer, a partnership of Prudential and Melvin Simon Associates, hoped to lessen opposition to the project by offering to spend $6.7 million for road improvements and other measures to ease traffic flow.

Prudential also promised to set up a $5-million trust fund to build affordable housing.

However, the developer refused a key demand that both the Venice Town Council and Los Angeles officials made: reduction of up to 50% in the size of the project.

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Dell Chumley, president of the Venice Town Council who entered into talks with the developer’s representatives last October, said Prudential made it clear that size of the project was not negotiable. And the firm insisted that this was its final offer.

The Town Council, after a heated meeting last Thursday night, voted 68 to 2 to reject Prudential’s offer.

“The whole idea of placing a regional shopping center on that site is, to many, so outrageous in concept that no amount of money could make up for it,” said Debra Bowen, a member of and attorney for the Town Council.

The Town Council and the Los Angeles City Council filed separate suits against Marina Place last September, then consolidated the suits in February. No settlement can be reached unless both parties agree to it.

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City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, at whose behest Los Angeles filed suit, said through a spokesman before Prudential withdrew its offer that she would vote against it.

There were some voices of caution. Some people said the settlement should be accepted, warning that if Prudential prevails in court, the firm would not be obliged to offer any concessions.

“It’s a roll of the dice,” said Jack Hoffmann, a member of the Town Council who is also president of the Venice Action Committee, another community group that looks more favorably on development.

“We should get the things we can (from developers), while we can,” he said.

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But most critics of the project pointed to the huge amount of traffic that a regional mall would create in a location that is already congested. And they say the mall would block access to the beach.

The site, former home to swap meets, is an 18-acre piece of land in a far-west tip of Culver City that juts into Los Angeles. Culver City officials estimate that their city stands to net $2.5 million a year in business license fees and sales and property taxes if the mall is built.

Seeks Environmental Report

The lawsuit alleges that Culver City, which approved the project last year, and the developer failed to plan adequate steps to ease the traffic, noise and pollution that the mall will thrust onto neighboring Los Angeles communities.

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It asks a Superior Court judge to void Culver City’s approval of Marina Place and to require Culver City to conduct a new environmental impact report that complies with the California Environmental Quality Act. An existing environmental report is faulty, the suit claims.

A spokesman for Prudential was not available for comment.

Prudential may have erred in its strategy in dealing with Venice, a savvy community by the ocean that takes development issues seriously. Many residents, fearful that traffic is getting out of hand as new mini-malls and office parks are built, follow projects in minute detail.

“Developers usually come in to discuss projects much earlier in Venice,” Bowen said. “They start at the grass-roots level and explain what’s going on. Prudential didn’t. We had to bring a lawsuit before there were even any discussions.”

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