Hoping to speed approval of one of the largest Los Angeles building proposals ever, a developer has agreed to pay more than $1 million in salaries and expenses so that 15 city employees can launch a concentrated, full-time review of the project.
The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved the novel arrangement with Maguire Thomas Partners, which has proposed building the massive Playa Vista project between Marina del Rey and the Westchester bluffs.
The agreement is the first use of a city law, approved last spring, that is designed to speed the review of large projects and prevent them from bogging down the city’s scrutiny of more routine matters. It also ensures, for the first time, that the total cost of environmental reviews and other screenings is paid for by developers, city officials said.
“This is a move by the Planning Department to streamline the process,” Nelson Rising, a Maguire Thomas senior partner, said of his firm’s voluntary agreement with the city. “We are willing to take a chance and hope that it will work.”
Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, in whose district the project lies, praised the action, saying: “It’s a way of extracting enough money from the developer so that there is enough staff so we can look at this thing with a fine-toothed comb.”
The Santa Monica-based company has proposed converting 957 acres of open grassland into a city-within-a-city of 13,085 housing units, 5 million square feet of offices, 595,000 square feet of retail space, 1,050 hotel rooms and a marina for about 750 boats. If approved, Playa Vista will be home for up to 30,000 people and provide a workplace for 20,000.
Construction would begin in 1993 at the earliest.
A city report says it will take at least two years to review three environmental impact reports, three specific plans, several subdivision maps, a transportation plan, a restoration plan for the adjoining Ballona Wetlands and specific engineering proposals.
Deputy Planning Director Frank Eberhard said the review would have taken at least twice as long without the special arrangement.
Under Tuesday’s agreement, the city will dedicate to the undertaking six Planning Department employees, four Transportation Department employees, four Bureau of Engineering workers and an assistant city attorney.
After an estimated charge of $1,028,711 for the first nine months, Maguire Thomas expects to pay an additional $500,000 each six months to continue the review, Rising said.
City planner Brad Crowe, who has been involved in early Playa Vista planning, said fees the city has charged major developers previously “did not reflect the actual cost of the service.” A city report earlier this year concluded that smaller developers tended to pay disproportionately for project reviews.
“This new ordinance says, ‘This is what it costs to process and this is what you pay,’ ” Crowe said.
Although developer participation is voluntary, Crowe predicted that large builders are likely to take part because the payments will help assure more efficient screening of their proposals.
The impartiality of the Playa Vista review is assured because all 15 employees will remain part of the city staff, Crowe said. Maguire Thomas will have no say in which planners and engineers review its plans, he said.