Appeals court sides with DreamWorks developer

In another victory for developers, the state Court of Appeal has ruled that Los Angeles city officials complied with environmental guidelines in greenlighting DreamWorks’ plans to locate a new studio campus at Playa Vista.

The appeal was viewed by developers as the “last substantive” legal challenge to moving forward on the studio portion of Playa Vista, a massive housing and commercial development next to Marina del Rey. The Court of Appeal decision, filed on Thursday, upholds a Superior Court ruling last summer.

“We fully expected this decision to be upheld and are very pleased every argument advanced by project opponents was denied,” Douglas Gardner, partner at developer Maguire Partners, said in a statement. “The opinions of this small group of activists have been consistently rejected by the public, and now by both the Los Angeles County Superior Court and the California state Court of Appeal.”

Environmental groups, led by the Earth Trust Foundation, had charged that the city did not conduct an adequate environmental review when it gave Maguire Partners the go-ahead to bring DreamWorks and a studio campus into the project, which also includes homes, offices and retail space.

Plans were changed in 1995 to include the DreamWorks studio campus where Hughes Aircraft Co. had a helicopter plant.

But environmentalists had charged that the change in plans to a studio required a more extensive environmental review, and that it would have a significant impact on traffic and air quality, the habitat, noise and a possible Native-American burial site. The court concluded there was not enough evidence of a burial site, among other things.

Marcia Hanscom of Wetland Action Network said they were “disappointed” by the decision.

“We are surprised that the appeals court did not look at the technicalities in the law,” she said. “We were trying to uphold the public’s role in the process.”

She added that they are reviewing options with their lawyers, and “are trying to find some other ways to protect this land and find some other alternatives for DreamWorks and their studio.”

The environmental groups still have suits pending against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But developers said they did not view the suits as a “substantive threat” to moving forward on the studio campus.

Meanwhile, Maguire Partners is continuing negotiations to line up financing on the project, following months of wrangling with potential new investors and with DreamWorks.

Maguire Partners now faces a pending deadline from lenders. The banks can begin the process by issuing a notice of a foreclosure sale on June 8, and then hold sale proceedings 20 days later.

DreamWorks continues to list Playa Vista as its first choice, although it has considered alternatives in Burbank and elsewhere.

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