With a long list of caveats and requests, the Studio City Neighborhood Council agreed to support the latest version of the NBC Universal Evolution Plan on Wednesday night.
More than 100 locals attended this first meeting of the newly-elected board that met at CBS Radford Studios and lasted until after 11 p.m. Representatives of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Los Angeles City Council member Paul Krekorian’s offices were in attendance, as well as State Assemblyman Mike Feuer, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, and other local leaders.
It was also the largest community audience that the Universal team presented the plan to other than the over-capacity crowds at the City Planning Commission.
By the end of the evening, when the audience dwindled to a handful of people, Council President John Walker said, “Our motion tonight meant something. This is what true democracy is all about. We got the input from our community, we let everyone be heard and we made out concerns known.”
Ultimately, the new board with five new members, came to the unanimous conclusion to support the new Universal Expansion Plan, joining the Toluca Lake and the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Councils. In the past, the Studio City Neighborhood Council voted to reject the plan when it included 3,000 residences in the plan.
But, the residences are no longer in the plan, and the Universal team seemed amenable to all of the other requests that the SCNC had about the project. The Council gave its approval as long as Universal guaranteed their plans for traffic mitigation, and would work closely with Krekorian’s office, as well as the Cahuenga and Ventura Bouelvard Specific Plan Review Board. They also asked the studio to follow the Los Angeles Bike Path plan that would connect a bike path from Griffith Park to Studio City.
Karo Torossian of Krekorian’s office, said, “This is the biggest project that we are facing in a long time and we all agree that the entertainment industry needs to stay in the San Fernando Valley. This project will help them in their production, and thankfully they have removed the housing component from their plan. This is a substantial project that will affect all of Studio City.”
Corinne Verdery, who was making the case for Universal, spent two hours answering questions and concerns for the Council and the community members in the audience. She explained some of the basics of the 20-year plan for one of the world’s largest backlots.
Verdery said she was sorry that some people in Studio City didn't feel like they were part of the planning process. (See the video above.) But, she said the project is ready to go. “We would like to get this project moving,” she said.
The $1.6 billion project will bring 30,000 local jobs to the area and create a total of $4.7 billion in economic activity to the area. Universal Studios is celebrating its 100th year at its location, which borders Studio City, the Cahuenga Pass and Toluca Lake. About 70 percent of the studio lot is on county property, and the rest is in the city.
Cutting the residential development out of the project has slashed three million square feet of development, but they are planning two 500-room hotels instead, including one where the former Fung Lum’s used to be.
One of the biggest concerns by many of the speakers was about the signs, especially brightly-lit digital signage. Verdery said, “We have taken all the digital billboards out of the city property in the plan.”
Universal also pulled their request for an exception to the Mulholland Corridor Specific Plan, which involved a billboard on the corner of Barham and U.S. 101 Hollywood Freeway (at Buddy Holly Drive). Instead, the studio will pay to add another lane to Barham and move the existing billboard back onto their property and have no moving digital billboards (like the one that exists across the street now.)
“I’m concerned about the signage because I can see that from my house,” said Studio City resident Barry Johnson.
Among the other changes is the Old Technicolor Building at Lankershim Boulevard near the Los Angeles River which is where Telemundo will be moved from Burbank. At the other end of the studio lot, near Forest Lawn Drive and Barham, the studio will build the Trailhead Park open to the public along the Los Angeles River.
Universal is committing $375,000 to help develop bike paths that lead to Studio City. They plan to give $50,000 each to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Campo de Cahuenga and Travel Town, as well as to other local groups that may be affected by the construction.
Pat Gibson, who was doing the transportation plan for Universal, said that the studio is still devoting $100 million to alleviate traffic congestion. He said they studied 164 intersections in the area, and one the plans is to encourage more mass transit, such as a shuttle bus along Ventura Boulevard connecting the Red Line to the 405.
Gibson detailed a new ramp to the southbound 101 and changes to offramps at the 134 and 101 intersection.
Ron Wood of the Valley Economic Alliance, told the Council, “I hope that you consider the jobs when you make your decision, and give this project your support.”
A few residents in Studio City, especially along Whipple Street near Rio Vista Elementary School, and from the Islands near the Campo de Cahuenga, said they were concerned about traffic, light and noise. The Universal representatives said they would check into all their specific concerns.
And, many of the people in the audience supported the Universal Expansion Plan. One actor said he moved to Studio City to become an actor and said the studio is remaining a great contributor to the community. Bruce Bloom, the owner of North Hollywood Hardware, which has been in Studio City for four decades, said it will help his business, and his property values.
Walker, who met many times with Universal officials after he felt Studio City wasn’t involved enough in the plans, said, “I never felt any kind of duplicity with these people. They are showing their closets to us by doing this.”
The Universal Studios team welcomed more input from the community at another meeting specifically about the signage issues that will be discussed at the Los Angeles City Planning Commission on Thursday, Oct. 25 at 9 a.m. at the Van Nuys City Hall.