Playa Vista Casts Shadow Across Galanter's Future : Analysis: Critics say the councilwoman betrayed her environmental principles in voting for the massive project. Supporters say she got the best possible deal for the community.


As she sat in a crowded City Council chamber being praised last week for her support of one of the largest real estate developments ever contemplated for Los Angeles, Councilwoman Ruth Galanter could be excused for any uneasiness.

Her opponents, accusing her of betraying environmental principles, have already begun to ask if there is political life for Galanter after Playa Vista.

Propelled into office in 1987 after opposing Summa Corp.'s earlier plans to develop the 1,087-acre property near Marina del Rey, Galanter's decision last week to back developer Maguire Thomas Partners' vision for Playa Vista was especially wrenching.

Most of her energy in the six years since she upset former Councilwoman Pat Russell has been consumed by the proposed $7-billion residential, office, retail and hotel development--the first stage of which the City Council approved last week.

"I knew even before I was elected it would be the most controversial issue in the district in the coming decade," said Galanter, reflecting on the 10-1 vote. "No matter what I did, somebody was going to be unhappy."

And so they are.

"A sellout," declared Playa Vista opponent Rex Frankel. "As far as I'm concerned, Ruth Galanter's number is up. She ought to be recalled."

Other less-strident critics have also taken aim at the councilwoman.

"I think she got swallowed up in pragmatism rather than principled environmentalism," said state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), the highest-ranking public official to oppose Playa Vista.

And, breaking his silence about the project for the first time since he was fired by Galanter in July, former aide Jim Bickhart criticized the councilwoman for not doing enough to reduce its size.

"She had the chance to step up to the plate and she sort of sagged up there instead," he said.

Galanter's supporters, meanwhile, see it differently.

"I consider her as someone with a great deal of integrity," said Ruth Lansford, president of Friends of the Ballona Wetlands. "She did a lot of soul-searching and I think she did the best she possibly could have done for the community."

Like other Galanter loyalists, Lansford insists that Playa Vista is the most ecologically sensitive development that could have been hoped for on a property that would never be for sale as open space and which neither the city nor the state could ever afford.

"In my dream of dreams, sure, I would have liked to have seen it all as parkland," she said. "But that is simply not reality."

Les Sholty, a Del Rey community activist, echoed a similar view, adding that Galanter's choice on Playa Vista will ultimately be viewed as "the voice of reason."

"People who turn against her over this are ones she couldn't have counted on anyway," he said.

Less-partial observers predict that how Galanter weathers the criticism of supporting Playa Vista depends largely on her ability to define her role as the project evolves, and on whether worst-case predictions about traffic, noise and pollution prove true.

"It won't help that about the time the dirt starts flying Ruth will be up for reelection," one supporter said.

Galanter faces reelection in 1995.

Supporters, and some critics, give her high marks for helping obtain commitments from Maguire Thomas for such amenities as on-site waste treatment and recycling facilities, a riparian corridor, a multimillion-dollar traffic mitigation plan and the inclusion of a significant amount of affordable housing.

In addition, they say that in addition to assuring that the 270-acre Ballona Wetlands on the property remains off-limits to development, the developer's commitment to spend up to $10 million to restore and preserve the wetlands is a major environmental victory.

But even critics who speak kindly of Maguire Thomas' innovative approach say that the project is far too big, will cause air and water pollution, and that traffic it generates will overwhelm the heavily congested corridor between Santa Monica and Los Angeles International Airport.

The first stage amounts to only about a quarter of the entire project.

Caltrans officials, although satisfied with traffic mitigation measures for the first stage, have been openly skeptical of the developer's ability to mitigate the estimated 200,000 or more daily car trips the full project is ultimately expected to generate.

Opponents also fault the wetlands agreement as inadequate because it allows Maguire Thomas to back away from the restoration if future stages of the project are not approved.

And, despite the amenities Galanter contends she is responsible for having included, critics argue that the size of the project has not been reduced a single square foot since Maguire Thomas took over the project 4 1/2 years ago.

Ultimately, Playa Vista is to have 29,000 residents and be a workplace for 20,000 people.

In simple terms, it would have twice the office space of Century City, as much retail shopping area as the Westside Pavilion and enough hotel rooms to equal the Century Plaza Hotel.

It would also have a new yacht harbor with docks for up to 840 boats, which is a sore spot for leaseholders next door in Marina del Rey.

In an interview after last week's hearing, Hayden blasted Galanter for swapping "minimal protection of the wetlands" for a project he said will create monstrous traffic and "quite probably turn the wetlands into a toxic lagoon."

"I think she is in serious denial about the traffic numbers and the air pollution," the senator said.

Bickhart, meanwhile, called the wetlands settlement "a Trojan horse" that "may well drive the city to approve future phases of the project in order to get the restoration."

"If you think phase one is bad, wait until you get to the master plan," said Bickhart, who until his dismissal over a newsletter in which he was critical of Mayor Richard Riordan was Galanter's top adviser on the Playa Vista project.

Galanter dismissed Bickhart's criticism as the remarks of a disgruntled former employee.

She labeled Hayden's call for purchasing the property "totally unrealistic," adding that despite 11 years in the Legislature he "never even moved toward suggesting it" until after she endorsed his opponent, state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles), in an election Hayden won last year.

"What the just-say-no crowd fails to understand is that there is an existing (Coastal Commission) approval for development on that land, that there is no willing seller and no potential buyer," Galanter said.

"I've fought for a development that is as ecologically sound as possible, and that affords protection for the wetlands with no public money being spent, which I believe is something to be proud of."

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