Roar of the crowd greets hearing on U expansion

Residents living near Universal Studios Hollywood on Monday drilled into the entertainment giant’s plans for expansion, complaining of a host of existing woes ranging from the traffic coming from CityWalk to the random roar of dinosaurs at Jurassic Park: The Ride.

The testimony came during one in a series of public hearings concerning Universal’s 25-year plan to build new resort destination hotels, new offices and soundstages, an expanded CityWalk and a family entertainment attraction on their 415-acre property.

U faces a lengthy approval process before city and county officials, as well as very vocal neighborhood groups who are opposed to the plan. Among the critics is radio deejay Rick Dees, president of Toluca Estates Homeowners.

“My mom came last year from North Carolina and said ‘Son, what’s going on? We’re getting invaded,” Dees told a panel of city and county planning officials who are conducting the hearings.

Although there was a mix of supporters and opponents — including politicians and a few celebrities — the hearing Monday primarily was for critics of the project to speak out. Supporters had their crack at the microphone at a hearing last month, although more testimony is expected at further forums.

Getting heard about the noise

Dominating much of the talk among project opponents was the prospect of additional noise coming from the lot, where U’s production and theme park routinely utilize special effects.

U claims its future plans will fall within government noise guidelines. But instead of complying with county noise thresholds, several opponents say U should have to comply with stricter city noise guidelines.

“I can’t imagine that the city turns a cheek on its own noise ordinance,” said Paul Rich of Toluca Lake.

Meanwhile, nearby resident Debbie Herzoff expressed worries about the shadow from proposed new office buildings to be built on Lankershim Drive.

“It will leave me with a yard full of mushrooms, a very cold swimming pool and a very heavy heart, because this is my home,” she said at the hearing.

Jobs issue

Supporters have argued that the project will mean much-needed new jobs for the region, and that the studio’s plans are an extension of what already has been done on the lot. They also point to a lengthy environmental review of the proposal, which projects that traffic will have a severe impact at only one intersection: a proposed new onramp to the Hollywood Freeway.

But critics questioned the traffic studies, and called for additional evaluations. Among their other issues: fear of gang activity at CityWalk, and U’s request for dozens of new liquor licenses for the project.

Critics’ loudest applause went to state Sen. Tom Hayden, currently running for mayor against incumbent Richard Riordan.

Hayden cited a list of concerns about the project. Among them: That MCA/Universal is asking for a “blanket” approval for a 25-year project, instead of obtaining a project-by-project review. And he said U should contribute to the restoration of the Los Angeles River.

And he also doubted that the coming MTA subway would help alleviate traffic problems.

“What seems to be taking shape is a tunnel that will carry foreign tourists from downtown hotels to Universal Studios and back, while Universal City builds its own downtown business district to compete with the downtown we already have,” Hayden said. The MTA’s Red Line will run from downtown to a stop at the edge of the Universal lot.

Among Hayden’s friends is Ron Meyer, president and chief operating officer of Universal. Outside the meeting, Hayden said that when he had asked for Meyer’s support in the mayor’s race, Meyer said he would send a check to the campaign. Hayden then brought up the subject of U’s expansion.

“(Meyer’s) response was they are going to do the right thing,” Hayden said.

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