Fox, growth opponents square off

Advocates and opponents of Fox’s proposed expansion of its headquarters faced off in a long and lively meeting as the battle over the studio’s future entered its public hearing phase yesterday.

More than 700 people jammed a meeting room at the Century Plaza Hotel to make their case to hearing examiner Charles Bausch. He will in turn present his recommendation to the Los Angeles Planning Commission, which will have another meeting next month. Fox officials in attendance said they hope to get final approval by mid-spring.

The stakes are high. Fox rep David Handelman confirmed to Daily Variety that “we want to stay” in West L.A., but if the expansion proposal is turned down, Fox will move lock, stock and barrel to another location, possibly Valencia or Ventura.

Early in the proceedings, Handelman, senior veepee of external and legal affairs at Fox Inc., emphasized the “Fox studio will continue to use the site as a studio and therefore proposes to rezone the property for ‘Studio Use Only.’ ”

Handelman said that the proposed $ 200 million expansion of 771,000 square feet, adding to its current 1.1 million square feet on the 53-acre lot, is essential to allow Fox “to meet our competition.” He noted that Sony, Disney and Warner Bros. have plans for expansion.

Handelman’s view was countered by dozens of individuals and groups concerned about traffic, pollution, neighborhood safety and reduced property values.

UCLA professor Julia Liebeskind offered a cost-benefit analysis that compared Fox’s proposals to having someone “build a restaurant in their front yard when you own a single family home in a residential neighborhood.”

Quoting from a report prepared for the Cheviot Hills Homeowners Assn., she said the changes would lead to a $ 200,000 per-house property devaluation on streets in Cheviot Hills area and a minimum $ 300 million negative impact.

“No wealth will be created for the Los Angeles community, but a lot of wealth will be created for Fox,” she said. “No jobs will be created” and “100 jobs will be lost at KTTV” if Fox goes through with plans to move the Fox O&O.

Finally, Liebeskind warned that Fox owner Rupert Murdoch’s plan is to create an “office park” that he will turn around and sell at a profit.

Later, Handelman told Daily Variety that Liebeskind never contacted Fox: “I don’t know where she gets the idea of property value decline. If Fox leaves, that will drive property prices down.” He also added, “Mr. Murdoch has no intention of selling whatsoever.”

Handelman also countered that 1,600 new jobs will be created, in addition to 600 employees being transferred from other Fox sites.

Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky offered “conditional support” of the plan, proposing a gradual expansion in three phases and electronic monitoring to measure environmental impact.

Yaroslavsky told Daily Variety: “The overwhelming position of the community is conditional support. They don’t mind the idea, but they want the traffic issues addressed. That’s it in a nutshell.”

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