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Opponents of Universal Expansion Make Their Voices Heard at Public Meeting

Area residents raise a variety of concerns over the Draft Environmental Impact Report on NBC Universal's expansion plan. Here are some of their comments.

The city and county of Los Angeles held a public meeting Monday at the Universal City Hilton for members of the public to respond to the Draft Environmental Impact Report findings about the . The plan for expansion and renovation of the space has been a source of controversy for , environmental and other reasons.

On Dec. 11 and Dec. 12, Patch published interviews with representatives of NBC Universal and the expert who wrote the traffic section of the DEIR. This story will focus on speakers at the meeting who were opposed to the expansion.

Legal Issues

Before addressing the practical issues that construction and new development would cause for the area, some citizens believe it should be a legal matter.

"I believe that this project affects the entire city and it should appear on the ballot next March. All of the state voters will have a chance in the ways that they do to express their will. Heaven help the councilperson that opposes the will of the people regarding this project." —George Andros (A 40-year North Cahuenga Boulevard resident and a former member of  the L.A. Planning Commission, South Valley)

"I respectfully submit that the DEIR is legally inadequate and a revised DEIR must be prepared and circulated. It's also procedurally deficient. This DEIR proposes an automobile-oriented development with significant and in some cases severe impacts. In the DEIR, even when it recognizes the significance of the impacts is quick to declare the impacts 'unavoidable,' rather than make a good faith effort to fully evaluate feasible alternatives and mitigation measures or present a proposal that doesn't have such an impact on the environment. Public Resources Code 21002.1, 21003.1 says the purpose of the DEIR is to provide the public detailed information about a project before it is approved. We are looking at a DEIR at the initial state to give us detailed information. This is woefully lacking in detailed information." —Alan Dymond (president of the Studio City Residents Association)

NBC Universal Evolution Overlaps With MTA Expansion Plans

The NBC Universal Evolution plan covers some of the same area as a proposed expansion of the MTA station on Lankershim Boulevard.

"I would like to know which buildings in this DEIR are duplications of buildings that are included in the DEIR for the MTA site. If there is rooftop dining on top of a production building on this site, do you still need a production building on the MTA side with rooftop dining? Is the combination of noise from both dining areas considered? Should Universal not reconsider what it really needs and eliminate some of the building on the MTA side that is accounted for on this site? The MTA DEIR should be redone based on what is being built in the evolution plan and based on what Universal really needs, not on the basis of getting the maximum entitlements, surrounding communities be damned." —Francesca Corra (Studio City resident and a director of Communities United for Smart Growth)

Major Streets Missing From the DEIR

"It's very perplexing to me that a major artery that connects the Westside to Universal directly, Wrightwood Drive, is not even in the study. It's the street that comes directly down the hill on one side to Vineland, on the other side to Lankershim Boulevard. It's not even there. We don't even exist." —Brian Sullivan (Wrightwood Drive resident)

Traffic Analysis Inaccurate

The traffic sections of the DEIR analyze present conditions at intersections and quantify the benefits of proposed improvements. However, some of the current data fell into question.

"It was almost as if it was written by people who have never driven the roads around here. They categorized the existing conditions at the intersections on Highland Avenue and Odin Street as level of service A, both morning and afternoon peak hours. Anybody who's ever driven through them knows they're level of service F due to the congestion that backs up from Highland and Franklin. Same thing on Cahuenga W at Oakcrest and Mulholland. They say they're A and/or B. They're both F because they're backed up from Barham and Cahuenga." —Michael Meyer (president of the Outpost Homeowner's Association and board member of Communities United for Smart Growth)

"Presently, it could take anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes to drive 1.1 mile and that is from Pass Avenue to Blair Drive during peak hours. So I wonder if this project is approved, how much longer would it take me to drive this 1.1 mile. This is something that you should check. You have to go out there during rush hour traffic to see how impacted we are. In the interest of better communication, I'm asking them to show us their criteria that the traffic consultants used to arrive at their trip calculations so that we can all have an opportunity to review it." —Miriam Palacio (A 30-year resident of Blair Drive, board member of Hollywood Knolls Community Club and a member of Communities United for Smart Growth)

Traffic Is Bigger Than Just Intersections

Referring to figure 73B on page 904: "It shows that our local street's traffic will not be affected. I challenge that finding as it makes no sense that there could be negative impacts on the north and south 101 and Cahuenga E and W but not on any of the feeder streets. It's literally impossible. I live in the Hollywood Knolls which already suffers from tremendous cut-through traffic at all times of day and especially when any special event is held at Universal or the Hollywood Bowl. How will that problem be solved by 36,000 additional daily vehicle trips?" —Daniel Savage (Hollywood Knolls resident, president of Hollywood Knolls Community Club and a director of Communities United for Smart Growth)

"They go on and project that there'll be impacts of the project on the Hollywood Freeway, Cahuenga west and east all down Highland and yet they say none of the traffic will seek an alternate route because there's no alternate parallel route. Obviously they don't understand how traffic works in the Cahuenga Pass because it doesn't need a parallel route. It uses all the winding streets that go through the hills and through all of our neighborhoods. They don't even show that Outpost Dr. connects to Franklin." —Michael Meyer

Some Traffic Improvements Are Not Feasible as Proposed

Universal proposes to improve 139 intersections. Some residents believe its ideas, like widening Lankershim Boulevard to add a lane, might not be physically possible.

"I can't imagine Lankershim widening. Everybody's talking about widening Lankershim. How are you going to widen it? It's not like there's any land between. How are you going to do it? Are you going to tear down buildings? I don't know how you can widen it. It's a narrow street. I don't see any way that this can actually happen without creating a horrible, horrible blockage both on Lankershim."—Louise Spigel (Aqua Vista Street resident)

"Additionally there is concern over mitigation measure B7 regarding the proposed widening of Forest Lawn Dr. At this point, Forest Lawn drive goes through Griffith Park, historic cultural landmark no. 942. Any changes in Griffith Park or Campo de Cahuenga must be approved by the Cultural Heritage Commission. The developers should not be permitted to ease the traffic jam that they created by funneling traffic through Griffith Park. To do so is a violation of Col. Griffith's intent when he donated the parkland to the city to provide an escape valve for the masses from the hustle and bustle of urban life. The project must not disturb the geography of Griffith Park, its wildlife or the tranquility of its visitors. This project is too massive, creates too much congestion and is located in an inappropriate place. It is ill conceived." —Marian Dodge (president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations)

"What they are proposing is the closure of the Barham/Bennett off ramps. That would be a tragedy for anybody that lives in this neighborhood. They want to build a drop ramp southbound from their bridge onto the southbound Hollywood Freeway. Because of its closeness to the on and off ramps at Barham, otherwise known as Bennett, Caltrans is likely to close both of those ramps, which will be devastating not only to Cahuenga Pass, but for the people that come along Barham in the morning to go to work downtown and make a right turn onto Cahuenga and another right turn going southbound." —Joan Luchs (Chairman of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations and president of the Cahuenga Pass Neighborhood Association)

Shuttle Service Has No Long-Term Accountability

Universal is planning to include a shuttle service that will take people to and from the new Universal City to areas around Studio City, North Hollywood and Toluca Lake. However, some at the meeting pointed out that the DEIR only outlines a commitment to the shuttle service for 20 years.

"What happens to the various shuttles and such after the stipulated 20-year period? Do they just disappear like magic? Does another entity take them over? What happens to them? I see no provisions for their continuals. How can this be a mitigation? What if state and federal highway funds are not available to enact proposed freeway improvements? What happens? Does the region just suffer the massive traffic load and Universal just get off Scot free?" —Florence Blecher (A 30-year resident of Cahuenga Pass, president of the Cahuenga Pass Property  Owners Association and a director of Communities United for Smart Growth)

Budget for Traffic Improvements

NBC Universal proposes to pay for many public traffic improvements, but not all, according to the DEIR.

"Many of the mitigations that are called for are supposed to be funded publicly: city, county and state funded. Well, as we all know, our city and our state at least don't have any money. We're out of money and that may well be true for the county too. How are the tax payers supposed to pay for the widening of Lankershim Avenue so that Universal can have this massive new project? Are we going to fire more police officers? Are we going to close more libraries and parks?" —Ronald Taylor (Studio City resident)

"They go on to project future conditions adding in traffic improvements that have no funding, such as the widening of Highland and Franklin, the widening of Cahuenga and Barham, the widening of Odin at Cahuenga. These things have no funding. They should not be in the base of future conditions." —Michael Meyer

Lack of Mitigation Efforts

NBC Universal does offer to make traffic improvements and compensate for added tourism, shopping, business and residents. However, some feel the DEIR avoids making specific commitments:

"When I look at the DEIR I see there's a lot of analysis of the potential impacts but not a lot of description of the actual mitigation efforts. In 'Noise,' one of the things that could be done ... would be to model, to use computer simulation modeling, to show how the impact of the sizes of the buildings against the generating noises of the theme park, what would be the consequence." —Peter Hartz (president of the Toluca Lake Homeowner's Association)

Should Locals Believe the Report?

Some speakers encouraged skepticism at the promises that are made in the DEIR.

"If you Google 'Universal Studios Fires' you'll find the reporting from back in the '90s. Executives at Universal convinced the community and your committee and the city officers that the water pressure problem had been solved after that tremendous fire. Just a couple of years ago, there was another fire. The first department could not put it out because there was no water pressure. The Universal executives have a credibility problem." —Michael McCue (Studio City resident and a former Studio City Neighborhood Council member)

"I've been sitting on this board for 5 and a half years. The one thing I've observed over the years, people come in and they say they're going to do something. Then I go to see the building after it's built. Lo and behold, not everyone has told the truth and people get away with things. That's on a very small scale. I just am deeply concerned that we give Mulholland Design Review Board the right to review the plans so that the people can come to our meeting in Van Nuys and have their say." —Joan Krieger-Hoffman (Vice chair of  the Mulholland Design Review Board and a partner in Fred Hoffman Architecture)

"A good neighbor respects their neighbor across the fence. What I've seen in my short time here is Universal does what's good for them. Halloween [Horror] Night is a profit-generating program, makes millions of dollars for Universal and for years the residents of Hollywood Manor have been asking them to stop. It continues to this day 100 feet from our property, going on well past midnight. That's just one sample of the kind of respect Universal has for its neighbors. This plan again is disrespectful to its neighbors." —Jason Goldklang (resident of Blair Drive)

Check back with Patch for more information on the public hearing, including Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge's comments.

sheryl appleton December 14, 2010 at 03:43 PM
As former Chair for the first 5 years for the Greater Toluca Lake Neighborhood Council Planning Committee, I/we have been tracking these Universal and MTA plans, and as a result ,our community leaders have helped to form Communities for Smart Growth to analyze these tremendous projects and the impact they will have in our tiny community. They haven't considered the increased pollution and environmental impact that will affect our residents as the new apartment building is constructed Toluca Lake Florist (northwest side of Riverside) at Riverside Drive and Cahuenga. Apartments don't require guest parking. We have been waiting for 4 years now just to get left hand turn signals at this dangerous intersection, because the City of Los Angeles can't get the funding for these arrows??? The City has no money. conflict looms in the traffic divisions. Our stoplight at Trader Joes has been stalled by city redtape. The much needed stoplight has been sitting ...unconnected since August, because of City/traffic redtape regarding which contractors can connect the electrical connections . We've had numerous folks hit by distracted drivers at this intersection. Is human life so unimportant? Where is our quality of life that we were promised? Co-Chair, GTLNC Planning Committee, and Director, Toluca Lake Chamber of Commerce
Cricket Yee December 14, 2010 at 06:33 PM
Thanks so much for this article. As a real estate agent, I tend to be pro-development, but this article showed me how much this project would effect homeowners in very specific ways. I would like to know if there are any positive comments from the community. Please keep us informed.
Jean Jeunet December 15, 2010 at 12:44 AM
I feel the exact same way. I hope Patch dedicates an article to those members of the community who approve of the project. As a homeowner in NoHo, I'm hoping this development will help revitalize the area and increase property values.
Keith Roberts December 19, 2010 at 02:11 PM
Please don't change Lankershim Blvd. It's so pristine now. It's a beautiful drive, full of empty store fronts for lease, and awesome stucco finished walls.

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