Some dissed Harry Potter. Many dissed traffic congestion and digital billboards. Some talked about bat populations, periodic explosions, and a mountain lion looking for a mate.
Hundreds of people from all across Los Angeles came to speak at the to offer their input on the for Universal Studios held at the Van Nuys City Hall Council Chambers on Tuesday. The meeting lasted all day and more than 200 people attended.
The number of speakers seemed to take Theodore Irving of the Planning Department by surprise. He was planning on an hour lunch break, but then amended that, saying, “We’re going to work through lunch because I have 70 more speakers signed up.”
Many of the speakers came from the local neighborhoods—particularly Studio City, Toluca Lake, Hollywood, Cahuenga Pass, North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks. A majority of the audience seemed in support of the project when people were lined out the door at 9 a.m. They wore stickers with “YES!” showing support for the massive project that would redevelop nearly 300 acres of Universal Studios in the east San Fernando Valley.
“I don’t know who all these people are who are in support of this, and how they knew about this hearing,” told Studio City Patch shortly after he walked into the hearing room. Walker said he found out about the hearing quite by accident while attending a private affair where NBC Universal President Ron Meyer mentioned it. Walker, in turn, notified City Councilman Paul Krekorian’s office staff—and they were equally surprised about the public hearing. Both Walker and about the hearing late last week and that was reflected in the homeowners groups and neighborhood council representatives in attendance.
“The Studio City Neighborhood Council put together an extensive report of the that this plan would have on our community and it’s unimaginable that this could continue without any response to the list of negative impacts we have identified,” Walker testified at the hearing.
“None of us who worked on this extensive report got any notification of this hearing, and I find that highly suspicious,” Walker said.
The hearing was to collect feedback, reports, letters, questions, complaints, petitions, and all other kinds of data for the Planning Commission and the politicians who will eventually decide on whether to approve any or all of the expansion, which would include land within the city limits and in unincorporated Los Angeles County. A tentative hearing for that decision is set for Sept. 27.
Representatives from Universal Studios made a 20-minute presentation with slides, explaining how this plan was in development for more than a dozen years and more than 10,000 full- or part-time jobs as well as 30 unions are employed at Universal Studios, one of the world’s largest movie studio backlots. They are celebrating 100 years of filming in the Valley this year.
“We took a hard look at the residential units we wanted to build with the project and decided to eliminate the proposed 2,937 units,” said George Milstein, who is representing the $3 billion project for Universal. “We did not make that decision lightly... but it will reduce the environmental impact and we hope [by eliminating it] that will move the project along.”
The additional housing was one of the biggest objections for the local community groups concerned about the traffic, the sewage and the schools. Nearby schools such as Rio Vista Elementary School in Toluca Lake and Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City would be most affected, along with Valley View Elementary School in the Cahuenga Pass.
“It’s the jobs that are important,” said Russell C. Nordstedt, of IATSE Local 80. “This will bring thousands of jobs to the area, and many of them will be permanent.”
Chuck Cortez, of the plaster shop workers union, said he represents 320 skilled workers who have regular jobs at Universal. Ed Duffy, representing teamsters and costumers based in North Hollywood, said the project should be expedited “especially in these economically competitive times.”
But Rachel Torres, representing 1,000 hotel workers of Local 11, expressed skepticism.
“There are retail venues and two 500-room hotels, but we want to see if there are good jobs,” she said.
Marian Dodge represented homeowners for the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations and the animals for the Friends of Griffith Park, said there were many species of bats that could be affected by the construction. She also said she was concerned about a mountain lion that is missing in the area that is looking for a mate.
, chief of staff of City Councilmember Tom LaBonge said the councilman had reservations about the project with the nearly 3,000 units of housing, but after that was eliminated, “he applauds Universal focusing on their core business: movies and tourism.”
Spokespeople from the Los Angeles Business Council, the mayor’s office, and various chambers of commerce spoke in favor of the project. Spokespeople from Friends of the L.A. River, bike path advocates and various environmental groups spoke against the project—even at the reduced level.
“This will have an enormous impact on us,” said Krista Michaels, a director with the Cahuenga Pass Property Owners Association, who owns the Design Works sign company nearby. “I think the project is still too large.”
She pointed out that traffic congestion is at a maximum already, and proposed digital billboards in the area are “considered to be a blight.”
Michelle Gilstrap of the Universal City-North Hollywood Chamber said the proposal follows current city plans for the future growth of the area and they endorse the Evolution Plan. Likewise, Richard Creamer of Sherman Oaks said, “The millions of dollars spent will help Studio City and the entire area” and the project shouldn’t be delayed.
Residents of Blair Drive, where the homes overlook the studio backlot, were concerned that the proposed addition of the “Harry Potter” ride would create more noise and traffic for the area.
“We understand that progress needs to be made,” said homeowner Lisa M. Stang. “But Universal is surrounded by residents and we are affected by the daily activities.”
She talked about noise from explosions from loops in the theme park as well as film production noise until 4 a.m.
Neighbor said he had a guest at his house on Blair Drive, where he lived since 1978, who was traumatized by a pyrotechnic explosion in the middle of the night and a woman screaming, “Help, please, I’m being killed” over and over.
“My visitor suffered post-traumatic stress disorder,” Gombar said. “There are car crashes, explosions and other disturbances 24 hours a day.”
But, neighbor Bert Champagne, who works for AIDS Walk L.A., said the studio has helped support many charities “and I will support the Universal Evolution for the rest of my life.”
spoke against the proposal, but encouraged the studio to remain vibrant and active. His wife, Beth, who is involved in the Studio City Beautification Association also showed support, as well as Studio City Neighborhood Council Safety chairman Richard Adams.
And, longtime activist Art Howard said that the neighborhoods in Studio City and the area would not only be affected by increased traffic, but “the ambient lighting from the extra signage will cause light pollution on their homes.”