Mending Fences on Porter Ranch : Bernson, Project Opponents Stop Short of Compromise

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson and opponents of a $2-billion proposed development he basically supports in Porter Ranch said they began to mend fences at a face-to-face meeting Wednesday. But neither side said any compromise was reached.

Bernson has called for reducing the proposal from 7.5 million square feet of commercial space to about 6 million square feet, but the opposition group, known as PRIDE, wants further reductions.

The City Planning Commission was scheduled to consider the proposal today but is expected to postpone the issue until May 25, said William G. Luddy, the commission's president.

PRIDE, which stands for Porter Ranch Is Developed Enough, does not oppose the 2,195 single-family homes and 800 units of multifamily housing included in the proposal. But it has pressed Bernson to adhere to the area's 1974 community plan, which, according to city planners, allows 650,000 square feet of commercial space at the undeveloped project site in Chatsworth.

Open to Change

Bernson said Wednesday that he thought that the plan was outdated and needed to be revised. And he said after the meeting that although he remained "open to some changes" in his position on the proposal, he had no plans to announce any in the immediate future.

Bernson said of the meeting with five PRIDE members in his downtown office: "It was important for them to let me know how they feel and, for once, it was by some members who were not engaging in name-calling."

Paul Chipello, PRIDE's executive director, conceded that "some of the rhetoric in the press has been a little harsh."

"We wanted to open a dialogue with him," Chipello said. "We've done that. . . . He was certainly willing to listen to us."

Nonetheless, Chipello said his optimism was limited.

"The councilman basically has said that even if we can show him massive public opposition to the project, he still feels it's in the best interest of the community," he said.

The proposal will require the developer to pay as much as $80 million to $90 million in traffic improvements that the city could not otherwise afford, Bernson noted. Porter Ranch Development Co. would also enter into a binding agreement to assure that the improvements would be made, he said.

The Planning Commission's consideration of the Porter Ranch plan is expected to be delayed so the city attorney's office can review whether a commissioner has a conflict of interest, Luddy said.

Partnership Investment

A partnership controlled by the husband of Commissioner Suzette Neiman has more than $100,000 invested in a 10-acre piece of land about a mile from the Porter Ranch project site, according to an economic interest statement that Neiman filed with the city in March.

Neiman could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but her husband, Robert, said 13 of the 19 single-family houses on the property at Rinaldi Street and Canoga Avenue in Chatsworth have been sold. The remainder are expected to be sold within the next three months, after which the Neimans will have no financial interest in the land, he said.

The Porter Ranch project for the hills north of the Simi Valley Freeway would be built over a 20- to 30-year period. It calls for a computerized traffic signal at Rinaldi and Canoga and completion of Rinaldi Street south of the freeway. But Bernson said he has strongly considered opposing those two improvements because the former may not be needed and the latter could have a negative effect on the secluded residential area.

In an unrelated development, Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge) in a letter urged Bernson and the Planning Commission not to approve the project "until a complete and identifiable funding source can be found and adopted" for expanding the congested Simi Valley Freeway.

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