Local issues still plague expansion

Despite Mayor Richard Riordan’s initial public approval this week of U’s new reduced expansion plan, unveiled earlier in the month (Daily Variety, July 3), residents living near the studio still have some beefs.

“My gut tells me it’s really an excellent compromise,” Riordan said. “I certainly have a lot of respect for (Councilman John) Ferraro and (Supervisor Zev) Yaroslavsky and I would tend to follow their lead,” Riordan said, referring to the two lawmakers’ initially positive comments regarding U’s new expansion blueprints.

But Patrick Garner, a spokesman for the 11 area resident and homeowners’ groups, said, “Our efforts are far from over. The issues of traffic and noise are far from being resolved.”

Still eyeing plan

Riordan says he will continue to sift through the details of the plan, which included eliminating building a new theme park, cutting the number of hotels and agreeing to close its existing Waterworld attraction if necessary to comply with noise ordinances.

Universal’s new plan certainly has appeared to gain momentum following Riordan’s comments.

“We are encouraged, but we have a long way to go,” said Helen McCann, Universal’s VP, master plan. “We have a public process to go through where Mr. Yaroslavsky and Mr. Ferraro are key players.”

But locals still need some issues resolved. The first key issue, according to Garner, is U’s planned theme park expansion, which some residents oppose in any capacity. U agreed to scrap its new kids theme park, but still plans to move forward to expand the existing park.

“When you look at the revised plan, because of the way they mix the studio with the theme park, they have the ability to expand a minimum of 388,000 feet,” Garner said.

“That’s a good example of detail that needs to be ironed out, which couldn’t be done before this process,” McCann said.

Details, details

Renee Weitzer, chief planning deputy for Ferraro, says Universal needs to further outline the details of its new plan. “We never said the existing park couldn’t be expanded. We need specifics on the new venues, if there are any venues to be added,” Weitzer said. “It depends on where and what type will be added to the existing locations.”

The second contention is how noise levels are measured. Residents near the studio, who live in the city of Los Angeles, want it measured by city standards, which is defined by the prohibition of audible amplified noise 200 feet from the source. However, Los Angeles County ordinances specify noise to be measured in decibels. (Two-thirds of U’s land sits on an island of county property and one third sits on city land.)

Stay tuned. The next hearing addressing U’s expansion is scheduled on Sept. 17.

Meanwhile, within the next few weeks, the various residents and homeowners’ associations will give their comments to the County Planning Commission in response to Universal’s proposal.

In a potential boon for the industry, Mayor Riordan says he favors incentives, such as tax breaks, that support builders of new soundstages. “Right now you cannot rent a film stage in Los Angeles until mid-1998,” Riordan said. “If you are No. 1, you can never rest.”

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