A Superior Court judge Thursday tentatively agreed with allegations by the city of Lawndale that neighboring Hawthorne approved major redevelopment projects last year without assessing all their environmental effects.
But in a memo making his tentative ruling public on a pair of lawsuits filed by the city of Lawndale last year, Judge Pro Tem Abraham Gorenfeld said he will hear further arguments June 20. His final decision will come later.
"What this means is that unless (Hawthorne's attorneys) can persuade him to change his mind, their projects are dead in the water, until they do proper environmental analysis," said Robert Owen, an attorney representing Lawndale.
Hawthorne attorney Bruce Tepper said he was surprised by the judge's memo but cautioned against reading too much into a tentative analysis based on preliminary arguments.
One lawsuit filed in August by Lawndale officials claims that a $250-million office development will create traffic problems on Lawndale's streets. The suit accuses Hawthorne officials of approving the 36-acre project, which will occupy the former headquarters of the Mattel Co. and is four blocks from Lawndale's border, without adequately addressing its environmental effects as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
In a lawsuit filed the next month, Lawndale accused Hawthorne city officials of approving a change in the zoning along the San Diego Freeway and Century Freeway corridor without performing environmental reports required under the environmental quality act. The zone change allowed for the development of commercial and mixed-use projects in areas previously designated for light-industrial uses. Chief among those developments is the Cloverleaf project, a $250-million redevelopment that will combine condominiums, office space and retail stores.
In his memo dated May 22, Gorenfeld said Hawthorne improperly used an addendum to the original environmental assessment of the Mattel site project "to address new issues regarding substantial effects on the environment" when the law permits addendums to cover only minor technical changes.
With regard to the second lawsuit, Gorenfeld said "it is obvious that Hawthorne erroneously concluded that the zone change will have no significant effect on the environment."
He also said that an environmental report on the Cloverleaf project was "limited to a consideration of traffic problems and ignored problems of noise, public services, and utilities, housing . . . and air."
A settlement negotiated between the two cities fell through in March after the Hawthorne City Council unanimously rejected its terms, which would have required Hawthorne to spend about $500,000 to buy new traffic signals and to widen lanes on several streets running through Lawndale and Hawthorne. The streets include Rosecrans, Inglewood and Marine avenues, and Hawthorne Boulevard.
Hawthorne City Atty. Michael Adamson said Lawndale officials had demanded too much in the negotiations. Hawthorne officials "were willing to guarantee that our traffic measures get done, but we weren't willing to start taking care of all of Lawndale's traffic problems that have been generated by other developments there."