A critic of the massive Playa Vista development near Marina del Rey warned last week that traffic between Los Angeles International Airport and Santa Monica will become a nightmare unless more is required of the developer to offset the effects of the proposed $7-billion project.
“You’re talking about reducing an already congested San Diego Freeway to a parking lot during rush hour,” said Jerry Epstein, a Marina del Rey real estate developer and a member of the California Transportation Commission.
Epstein told the Los Angeles Transportation Commission that the increased traffic generated by the planned residential, office, retail and hotel project could paralyze the airport and cause international passenger and air freight operations to avoid Los Angeles.
“We shouldn’t kid ourselves. If we make it impossible to get in and out of the airport in a reasonable time, the airlines will fly over us in favor of Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas and elsewhere,” he said.
His remarks before the commission come on the eve of a critical vote Tuesday by the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee on whether to recommend approval of the project’s first phase.
The full City Council is expected to decide the matter Sept. 21.
Despite criticism by Epstein and a representative of state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), who opposes the project on environmental grounds, several key city transportation officials spoke glowingly of measures that developer Maguire Thomas Partners has agreed to take in the project’s first phase to reduce the effects of traffic.
“We’re more than satisfied (with the measures) and we think what we’ve accomplished sets a good precedent for the future,” said Haripal Vir, a senior transportation engineer for the city.
The first phase, which amounts to about a quarter of the entire project, involves construction of 2,246 residential units, 1.25 million square feet of office space, 35,000 square feet of retail space and 300 hotel rooms.
Ultimately, Playa Vista would become a community of nearly 29,000 residents and accommodate more than 20,000 workers.
The entire project, as envisioned by the developers, would consist of 13,085 apartments, townhouses and condominiums, 5 million square feet of office space, 595,000 square feet of retail space, 1,050 hotel rooms and a new yacht harbor with docks for up to 840 boats.
Although the impending action only concerns the first phase, opponents have focused on the entire project, arguing that not enough is being contemplated to reduce the effects of future construction or that the project is much too big and will harm the environment.
“Once the train gets rolling, it’s hard to slow it down,” Epstein said. “We should be thinking about the big picture now, not after they’ve already got their phase one approval.”
Supporters of the project have suggested that Epstein’s opposition is primarily due to business reasons. Epstein is a major leaseholder at the county-owned marina, which he helped to develop. Marina interests view the boat harbor proposed for the later stages of Playa Vista as a direct threat to their own investments.
“Sure, I’m concerned about this project for business reasons,” Epstein said after Thursday’s hearing. “I don’t deny that. I’ve devoted half of my life to the marina. It’s how I eat. You can’t blame me for not wanting to wake up one day and find I can’t get there because of traffic.”
Besides giving opponents another chance to sound off about the project in advance of the City Council’s action, Thursday’s hearing before the Transportation Commission was of little consequence.
The commission, which serves an advisory role, has no jurisdiction over the Playa Vista project, which cleared the city’s Planning Commission by a 3-1 vote in July.
Epstein persuaded the commission last month to schedule the hearing even though it could only be for informational purposes.
On Thursday, a Maguire Thomas official who spent more than an hour answering questions about the effects that the project will have on traffic said he was pleased with the outcome.
“We’re always eager to talk about the project,” said Nelson Rising, a Maguire Thomas general partner. “Frankly, I was impressed that so few people showed up who still have concerns. It must mean we’re doing some things right.”