The developers appeared more confident, their opponents more battle-weary than in hearings past, but in the end the result was the same: The proposed Marina Place mall emerged virtually unscathed, and significantly closer to the start of construction.
After five hours of public hearing and discussion on Monday night, the Culver City Council voted 3 to 2 to approve the plans and environmental report for the 1-million-square-foot, Mediterranean-style mall that promises to heap traffic, noise and pollution on its Los Angeles neighbors and much-needed revenue on Culver City.
Councilmen Steven Gourley and Jim Boulgarides opposed the plan.
The council also agreed to meet on March 19 with the Planning Commission and the developers--Prudential Insurance Co. and Melvin Simon Associates--to hammer out a development agreement that would prevent a future council from rescinding the approval.
If an agreement is reached and a settlement achieved in the pending lawsuit brought by the Venice Town Council and the city of Los Angeles, ground could be broken for the mall by this summer, according to Michael L. Marr, vice president of development for Melvin Simon.
"I was very pleased and grateful that the city agreed not only with the concept, but also with the specifics of the project," Marr said after the hearing. "We're looking forward to moving ahead with construction."
Because of its location at the tip of a thin, two-mile-long finger of Culver City that juts west along Washington Boulevard, the proposed mall site near the corner of Lincoln Boulevard is surrounded on three sides by Los Angeles.
Los Angeles residents have complained that they would bear the burdens of the mall while receiving almost no benefit. Culver City residents countered that the project would only do to Los Angeles what Los Angeles has been doing to their city for years.
About 250 people showed up for Monday's hearing in Veterans Auditorium. The approximately 60 speakers at the hearing were fairly evenly split for and against the project.
"I find it ironic that it's a project in Culver City that provokes such passion, while Culver City is overwhelmed by development in Los Angeles and nothing is done," said Culver City resident Andrew Weismann.
Weismann contended, for example, that Los Angeles had failed to carry out an agreement made more than a decade ago to widen Overland Avenue, a congested artery connecting Culver City with Westwood and the Santa Monica (10) Freeway. Now, he said, Los Angeles is compounding the problem by allowing new apartment complexes near the worst bottleneck, a two-lane stretch of Overland between Venice and Palms boulevards.
But Karl Manheim, one of a few Culver City residents to speak against the mall, said: "I think it's a short-sighted vision on the part of Culver City to capture all the goodies for itself while putting all the burden on someone else.
"If we're trying to seek revenge against Los Angeles, we're not going to prevail," he added. "Los Angeles has too many tools at its disposal."
Marina Place would include Bullock's and Nordstrom stores as anchors, 150 other stores and a six-screen movie theater. It is expected to significantly aggravate traffic congestion over a broad area of the Westside, according to the environmental report on the project. Other adverse environmental impacts, the report said, would include the noise generated by large delivery trucks, which will be allowed on nearby residential streets as early as 6 a.m., and poorer air quality because of the increased traffic.
The California Environmental Quality Act requires developers to identify and offset all significant environmental impacts associated with a large project. But it also allows a city to find an "overriding consideration," such as the economic benefit of a project, and allow it to be built even if the impacts are not mitigated.
Culver City is expected to reap more than $12 million in various developer concessions during the first year from Marina Place and net $2.5 million a year in sales taxes and business license fees thereafter.
Many of the Los Angeles residents who attended Monday's hearing sounded more conciliatory and less combative than they have at past hearings. Some of them almost ignored Marina Place, as if it were a foregone conclusion, and instead asked the council to look ahead and join them in fighting to scale back Playa Vista and other projects in the area and to accept Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's invitation to discuss cooperative planning.
"The border war must end, we can't go on doing our regional planning this way," said attorney Debra Bowen, who is representing the Venice Town Council in its lawsuit against Culver City. "We've seen amazing things happen this year all over the world--let them happen between Culver City and Los Angeles."
It did not happen Monday night. When the public testimony was over, Councilman Boulgarides proposed that the developers reduce the mall's size by 20%, limit it to 56 feet in height, and eliminate the proposed movie theater. His motion failed.
Council members Paul Jacobs, Richard Alexander and Jozelle Smith acknowledged the problems the mall would cause but voted in favor of the project, citing the developer's cooperation, the lack of cooperation in the past from Los Angeles, and Culver City's need for revenue.
Boulgarides voted against the mall, as did Gourley, who called the idea of Marina Place as Culver City's revenge on Los Angeles "repugnant."
Gourley said that it was not Culver City's fault that the Venice-Marina del Rey area was overburdened with traffic and pollution, but added, "I'm not willing to drive another nail into this coffin just because Los Angeles has already driven so many into it."
Bowen said she will continue to try to stop the mall in court on technical grounds concerning the project's environmental report and the city's failure to analyze the mall's impact under state coastal laws.