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LAUSD Sues to Prevent Warner Center Expansion : Litigation: Officials argue that students would be harmed by increased traffic and air pollution if project is built.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Los Angeles Unified School District went to court Friday to block expansion of Warner Center in Woodland Hills, contending that students will be harmed by increases in auto traffic and air pollution if it is built.

The suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against the city of Los Angeles, aimed at forcing the city to rescind approval of its environmental impact report for the project.

The school district alleged that city officials did not adequately consider the project’s impact on schools in the area.

School district attorney Rich Mason noted that the district earlier this year had also filed suit to block a plan to expand the Burbank Airport, contending it failed to take into account adverse effects, such as noise, on local schools.

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“It’s not usual, but it’s not unheard of for us to file a suit like this,” Mason said. “We often work out impacts on schools with the agencies, but when that doesn’t happen, we have to protect the interests of our students and employees.”

“In cases like this, we often ask for air-conditioning or sound insulation or widening streets, or other traffic and noise mitigation measures,” Mason said.

The Los Angeles City Council tentatively approved the long-awaited plan to guide development and traffic improvements at Warner Center on June 23 when it voted 13 to 1 in favor of the Warner Center Specific Plan. Only Councilman Ernani Bernadi opposed it, saying it would allow excessive development. The council gave its final approval to the plan the following week.

The result of nearly eight years of study and negotiations, the plan will permit 35.7 million square feet of development in the 1,100-acre center, bounded by Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Vanowen Street, De Soto Avenue and the Ventura Freeway. The total includes 15 million square feet already built.

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The primary concerns cited in the school district’s suit are the effects of street widening, traffic and increased air pollution.

The school district contends the schools and students are “sensitive receptors” as defined in the California Environmental Quality Act. The petition asks the court to invalidate the environmental impact report and to bar construction on the project until the court finds the report in compliance with CEQA.

The City Council members approved the Warner Center Specific Plan despite a request from the Board of Education to delay approval until the needs of the schools were taken into account.

The board unanimously approved a motion by Valley members Julie Korenstein and Mark Slavkin stating that efforts to mitigate the effects of future development on local schools had “not been adequately provided” in the city’s environmental review of the Woodland Hills project.

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Increased traffic would cause noise and pollution levels to rise to unacceptable levels at nearby Parkman Middle School and Canoga Park High School, according to the statement.

The board said a “thorough analysis” of the impact of the plan on the two schools was needed, as well as proposals to help shield students from greater noise and air emissions, such as through the use of air-filtration systems.

The Los Angeles Planning Commission approved the Specific Plan last year as a guide for development in the commercial center over the next two decades. Debate over the plan focused on how much developers would be allowed to build in Warner Center--which already includes hotels, office space and apartment complexes--and how much they would have to pay for street improvements to handle increased traffic.


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