Environmental Concerns About the Universal Evolution Plan

Concerns for the environment are raised in a public hearing in response to the environmental report on the Universal Evolution project.

A was prepared by the city and county of Los Angeles to analyze NBC Universal's proposed . In the 39,000 page report, detailed attention is given to land use, nature, noise, visual qualities and environmental safety.

At the on Monday, many residents opposed to Universal's plan spoke about environmental concerns specifically. Though the DEIR calls some harmful effects acceptable, these citizens do not.

Marilyn White-Sedel has lived in Studio City for 54 years. She feels the DEIR neglects pollution concerns that will be further aggravated if Universal adds new homes and businesses to the area.

"We have a scrubber in Studio City," White-Sedel said. "You're talking about above ground. Do you know what's underground? Nothing. The pipes are breaking. It is a mess and the city hasn't the money to do anything. You're just going to run into terrible, terrible problems. This whole city will have scrubbers in their backyards."

Studio City Residents Association President Alan Dymond pointed out that the DEIR permits too many pollution issues to slip by.

"'Significant Unmitigatable Impacts,' can't be mitigated, these run from pages 255 through 373," Dymond said. "They cannot be prevented and 'They cannot be reduced to a level of insignificance.' That quote can be found on page 255. The one that scares me is solid waste. We all know what solid waste is and it cannot be mitigated? I have real concern on that."

Construction itself will of course involve making room for new buildings, and that means cutting down trees. Studio City resident Francesca Corra, a director of Communities United for Smart Growth, took issue with this.

"What about all the trees that Universal plans to cut down, hundreds and hundreds of mature oak and walnut trees?" Corra asked. "The whole conversation in the DEIR about which trees are in the county and which trees are in the city and which trees will be switched from the city to the county is such complete doubletalk that it's impossible to get the numbers straight. I would like to know how many trees are being cut down, how many trees will be replanted, what size and where exactly? The DEIR says they can plant them offsite. What is offsite? Does that mean Cincinnati? Add to that the 200 trees being cut down as part of the MTA DEIR and I would like to know the cumulative effects on the environment and on the ecosystem."

Some speakers characterized the NBC Universal Plan as an effort to urbanize the area. 34-year Studio City resident Barbara Monahan of Wilkinson Avenue does not want to see the area turn into a cluster of high rises.

"Our area is suburban," Monahan said. "It is not urban. That's very important. We have urban, suburban and rural in the city. It is not all urban. It would destroy our visual environment, our air, our natural habitat as well as create traffic accidents, which is shown in national studies. We do need open space for quality air, trees, viable natural water for the Los Angeles River which is important to us in this area and the whole city as well as the San Fernando Aquifer. We need this open space for walkways and for bicycle paths and for all of us to be able to enjoy our environment, not only for us now but for future generations. For life, for eventually extinction of our community character and our earth and our lives would happen if we continue to approve these outrageously overdeveloped projects."

Studio City resident and Los Angeles native Richard Adams put it more dramatically. "I don't want to live in New York City," Adams said. "It really annoys me that people want to force me to suddenly live in New York City by building these huge high rises, adding more traffic to the point you're supposed to stay in your own neighborhood, don't go anywhere. If I wanted to live that way, I'd move back east."

Noise is a major factor covered by the DEIR as well. John Patrick Garner, Toluca Lake Residents Association founder and chairman of the Universal Noise Committee of the Toluca Lake Homeowners association, said the DEIR addresses noise issues regarding construction, but underestimates the noise Universal's new facilities would cause after they're finished.

"The DEIR is absolutely wrong that the majority of the other noise sources at Universal City do not impact the nearby community as they do not generate enough noise to be audible above ambient noise levels at the receptors in the project area," Garner said. "For us, the community, the issue is not decibels. It is noise that disturbs Universal's neighbors in a major way. The remedy that should be mandated in the DEIR is to make the process now being developed by senior management at Universal to deal with community complaints about noise from Universal City current as a condition of the approval of their master plan. What has been lacking is a sustainable ongoing Universal program to effectively deal with noise issues."

Richard Carr was chairman of the Hollywood Knolls Community Club negotiating committee, which planted trees as a noise berm to shield the neighborhood from studio and theme park noise. The DEIR estimates that Universal's plans to remove the trees would not affect the noise issue.

"I would certainly hope that the planning commission looks at having those trees transplanted within the plan and also the berm itself," Carr said. "It's been said that the burm can be moved without significant impact to the Hollywood Manor impacted homes which are a small number but they're representative of something here. The berm itself reduced the freeway noise five decibels when it was put in place. The DEIR says that there will be no impact by removing the burm. I don't know how that's really possible to be truthful since one measure is an after-the-fact measure and the other is a projected measure."

Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge is concerned that the Universal plan would create a light disturbance. "I want all the bright lights down Citywalk, but I don't want a light district that affects the Hollywood Freeway," LaBonge said. "Often that is a distraction to the safety of the drivers. It also does affect and bounce off into the canyons. It does affect those who live here. I think we can do it right if we all do it together."

There are also concerns about historical areas near the construction site. Supporters of Campo de Cahuenga have been expressing concern as they awaited the DEIR. Now the DEIR says that mitigation measures will be rolled out in phases. Campo de Cahuenga Historical Memorial Association president Duke Perrin is concerned that those phases might not protect the historical landmark.

"We've had some presentation by Universal that talks about something in the neighborhood of five phases but nowhere in the document can I find what those five phases were, what was going to be built and where," Perrin said. "This is extremely, extremely important because as Universal tells us, successful mitigation, we're talking about transportation mitigation measures, if they're not met, or if they're impossible or unfunded that that next phase doesn't begin. So we really need to see what those phases are in order to see what the transportation improvements are. Then we need to monitor those improvements as the phase begins. I see that Mitigation Monitoring Reporting Program, MMRP is going to be provided in the final EIR, not in the draft. I think that's wrong. I think you should take a shot at it now in the draft document."

The Mulholland Scenic Parkway Design Review Board has been working to preserve Mulholland Drive with the City of Los Angeles. Board Chair Alan Kisbaugh protested the Universal plan's intent to adjust the part of their property visible from Mulholland.

"The NBC Universal evolution plan contains within it a request application to the city of Los Angeles for the removal of the property's southeast corner from the Mulholland scenic parkway's specific plan," Kisbaugh said. "There is widespread concern that removal of this corner from the Mulholland specific plan can subject it to, among other things, overscale signage illuminated or otherwise that will be highly visible from Mulholland Drive, thus diminishing the outer corridor view protected by the Mulholland specific plan. The Mulholland Scenic Plan Design Review Board and a broad consensus of residents within the specific plan boundaries and across the city of Los Angeles oppose any modification of the Mulholland plan's boundaries. We hold that the Mulholland specific plan boundaries and jurisdiction both inner and outer corridors must remain inviolate as it was originally drawn and enacted in 1992."

The public has until Feb. 4 to write or e-mail further comments in response to the DEIR.


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