Westside families sue over construction next to school

Olu K. Orange, center, an attorney representing teachers and students, announces a lawsuit Friday to prevent a construction project adjacent to Palms Elementary School.
Olu K. Orange, center, an attorney representing teachers and students, announces a lawsuit Friday to prevent a construction project adjacent to Palms Elementary School.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Several Westside families and school employees are suing to prevent construction that they say will harm students at Palms Elementary School.

The cause for concern is a large apartment development that would be built adjacent to the campus. A fence is all that separates the construction site from the kindergarten play area, potentially exposing the students to toxic dust and other harms, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Olu K. Orange, a parent at the school.

An additional worry, Orange said, is the potential effect on hearing-impaired students who benefit from a special program at Palms. These students use devices that amplify sounds and spend some of their time in a specially outfitted classroom — with carpeted walls and a low ceiling — that is designed to minimize extraneous sounds.


“Every distinct noise and ongoing noise interferes with their ability to learn,” Orange said. “It hurts them and it causes them pain.”

Those named in the suit include L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and developer Hiro Kobayashi, whose social media profile describes him president of RBM of California, which specializes in real estate development, investment and asset management.

A spokeswoman for Koretz, who represents the area, said his office “cannot comment on pending lawsuits” and did not answer additional questions about the development Friday.

An attorney for the developer said the project will be positive for the neighborhood.

“The proposed residential complex … will bring significant investment to the community and is expected to add millions of dollars to the local economy,” Elisa Paster said in a statement.

The suit asserts that the city and the developer have not followed through with necessary environmental reviews.

Paster took issue with that claim, saying that the developer agreed to remove asbestos and lead paint from an old structure on the site when “neighboring buildings are not being utilized.”


“Throughout the successful entitlement process, which was conducted according to all the city’s rules and regulations, the developer has met with school leaders and city officials,” her statement said.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status, which, if granted, would mean that attorneys would be representing the interests of all students at the school.

A spokeswoman for the L.A. Unified School District said the district is aware of the issue.

“L.A. Unified is working with Councilman Koretz’s office — as well as parents, teachers, staff, the school community and the developer — to ensure that the developer will implement mitigation measures that will limit the impacts to students and staff,” Barbara Jones said.

The district could provide no immediate information on those measures. According to Orange, a demolition team briefly began work Friday on the site.



5:10 p.m.: This article was updated with a response from the developer of the planned apartment complex next to Palms Elementary.

This article was originally published Saturday, Dec. 16 at 5 a.m.