A Los Angeles City Council panel approved a contract Tuesday that gives the developers of Porter Ranch a 20-year insurance policy against having their huge project restrained by future growth-control laws.
The council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted 3 to 0 to recommend approval of the agreement. The committee is chaired by Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley, where the Porter Ranch project is to be located.
The full council is scheduled to consider the agreement Dec. 20.
Approval of the pact would give Porter Ranch sweeping immunity from many types of new growth controls for two decades .
But under the agreement, Porter Ranch, where builders plan 6 million square feet of commercial development and 3,395 housing units, would be subject only to citywide "health and safety" measures designed to deal with the adequacy of the city's water, sewage and solid waste disposal systems.
In return for such assurances, the city will get "at least $3.6 million" in payments and public improvements that it could not normally impose on the developers, said Ronald Silverman, attorney for the developers.
The developers have said that without such guarantees that the laws applying to them would remain the same, it would have been too risky to commit the capital needed to build the project.
"Porter Ranch is pleased with the outcome," Silverman said after Tuesday's vote. But, he said, in light of the recession and city approvals that the project still needs to obtain, "it's fair to say bulldozers won't be out there for a long time."
Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, a member of the committee, voted for the agreement but said she did so with "great reluctance . . . and misgivings" because of its 20-year life. "None of us can foresee what the situation will be five years from now. It may be so different that we may regret this."
Bernson, whose vigorous support of the controversial project nearly resulted in his ouster from office in the spring election, said he sat on the sidelines during the lengthy negotiations over terms of the development agreement.
Bernson also caught the developers and city officials by surprise when he recommended that the project be subject to any future city laws to require fire sprinklers in new homes.
Silverman quickly objected, saying such a proviso would violate another city-Porter Ranch agreement. The developers had earlier agreed to pay for the full cost of building and equipping a new fire station within the project area in return for not having to install sprinklers, as had been recommended by the Fire Department, Silverman said.
Finally, Irving Feintech, one of the partners in the development team that is headed by Beverly Hills developer Nathan Shapell, acceded to the new demand. "We're going to accede . . . not because we feel it's right," Feintech told Bernson.
Bernson told Feintech, however, that he doubted a citywide fire sprinkler ordinance for new housing would ever be approved.
Community activist and businessman Walter Prince voiced numerous objections to the plan, saying it contains provisions that may result in "high costs in the long-term" for the city.
For example, Prince said the city should not agree to a cap of $2.5 million on potential compensation for the cost of building a bridge across Aliso Canyon at Sesnon Boulevard and an overpass to allow Mason Avenue to cross the Southern Pacific railway tracks south of the project site.
In July, 1990, the city approved a Specific Plan for Porter Ranch that outlines a blueprint for developing the 1,300-acre parcel nestled in the foothills above Chatsworth.
The development agreement does not alter the Specific Plan. Rather, it provides at the very minimum that terms of the plan will remain in effect for at least 20 years.