Abruptly withdrawing from its border war with Los Angeles, Culver City this week extracted one last set of concessions from the developer of the $400-million Channel Gateway project in Venice and agreed in return not to attempt to block the project in court.
The agreement removes the developer's last major hurdle before construction of the huge commercial and residential project on Lincoln Boulevard, which is to include 544 apartments, 512 luxury condominiums in two 16-story high-rises, and a 300,000-square-foot office building. Developer Jerome Snyder has already obtained final approvals for Channel Gateway from the city of Los Angeles and the state Coastal Commission, and has begun grading the 16-acre site.
The decision to settle privately with Snyder was a surprise, because the threat to hold up Channel Gateway was Culver City's main source of leverage in its struggle to protect a large proposed development of its own--the Marina Place regional shopping mall just three blocks away--from legal attacks by Los Angeles residents and officials.
Culver City officials said they were hoping for some neighborliness in return from Los Angeles, but said they had no guarantees. Lawsuits by the Venice Town Council, a neighborhood group, and by the city of Los Angeles remain pending against Marina Place.
Under the settlement, Snyder will give Culver City up to $600,000 to mitigate traffic from his project.
Culver City had threatened to file suit on the grounds that the environmental impact report on Channel Gateway was inadequate and that Los Angeles failed to follow proper procedures in approving the development, but City Councilman James Boulgarides said he and his colleagues finally decided that a conciliatory approach would be more productive.
"Just to do it in retaliation did not make sense to us," Boulgarides said. "We wouldn't gain anything if we put a roadblock in front of Channel Gateway.
"We could all go on this way, suing each other. . . . What good is there?"
The agreement came as a great relief to Snyder, who has obtained $67 million in tax-exempt bonds to finance the apartments in the project, on the condition that they be built by August, 1992. The financing, made available because Snyder has agreed to set aside 20% of the apartments for low-income tenants, would have been jeopardized by a Culver City lawsuit.
Now, he said this week, "I think we're just going to make it."
Snyder is to give Culver City $300,000 to install traffic signals on Washington Boulevard at Glencoe and at Redwood avenues, and another $300,000 to pay for other measures to improve traffic flow.
If the $160-million Marina Place mall is built--with its developers paying for the traffic lights and other traffic mitigation--Snyder's contribution will drop to $200,000.
"We get (traffic mitigation) if Marina Place doesn't go through; if Marina Place goes through, this will be done anyway," Boulgarides said. "We'd much rather see the (Marina Place) project go through than see the $600,000," he added.
The City Council's approval of the agreement Monday was "a tough decision . . . done in a spirit of cooperation," Boulgarides said.
"We did it with no promises from anybody other than (Snyder)" but with the hope that it will compel Los Angeles and the Venice Town Council to drop their suit against Marina Place, he said.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, a vocal opponent of Marina Place, pronounced herself unmoved by the goodwill gesture.
"I'm not ready to drop anything" until Culver City addresses the concerns about the traffic and air pollution that Marina Place would create, she said Wednesday.
Debra Bowen, attorney for the Venice Town Council, agreed. "Culver City was faced with a lawsuit (against Channel Gateway) that was marginal, that might not get them anything," she said.
The Venice neighborhood group and the city of Los Angeles are seeking to overturn Culver City's approval of the 1-million-square-foot mall, which is on the western edge of Culver City and is surrounded on three sides by Los Angeles. The mall, 50% larger than Westside Pavilion, is to hold two department stores, 150 other shops, restaurants, a six-screen movie theater and parking for 4,640 cars.
Galanter, who represents the Los Angeles neighborhoods around the site, said the settlement "separates the two projects (Channel Gateway and Marina Place) so each of them stands or falls on their own. They had been separate until Culver City decided to take Channel Gateway hostage in its dispute against Los Angeles."
The agreement may indeed show Culver City's good faith, Galanter said, but the city also is "cutting a pragmatic deal with a developer" and getting a "substantial amount of money" out of it.
Bowen called the deal with Culver City "a brilliant move on (Snyder's) part."
Culver City "decided that holding me hostage wasn't going to get their project approved," Snyder said. "Suing me and suing the city of Los Angeles does not solve their problem."
All parties had previously agreed that Culver City would have until Oct. 1--an extension from an early September deadline--to file suit against Channel Gateway.
The City Council approved the pact after a closed meeting Monday night. Snyder said that the terms had been drafted that morning and that he and Culver City staffers have been negotiating for the past couple of months.
Earlier this month, Snyder privately brokered a settlement with the Marina Place developers that would eliminate the mall's movie theaters, restrict the number of liquor licenses, and provide $1.7 million for additional transportation, traffic improvements and landscaping. Los Angeles would give up its suit against the shopping center, and Culver City would promise not to sue Channel Gateway.
But after those negotiations became public, Galanter and Venice activists said they would never go along with such a settlement.
Snyder said he is now "explaining the breakdown" of that proposal to Marina Place's neighbors and seeking their suggestions. Even though his own project has the green light, he is still working on a compromise that would allow the mall to proceed, he said.
"I started this to try to get myself out of this mess. I'm out of this mess, but I'm not going to stop (helping Marina Place and Culver City)," he said. "I've always been against these border wars."