Bad grades at Playa

City halts construction in dispute over permits

Compounding the problems at Playa Vista, the proposed development struggling to keep DreamWorks’ interest as a future tenant, Los Angeles city officials have ordered a stop to grading and other work in two sections of the site.

Inspectors for the Dept. of Building and Safety posted the orders after visits to the worksite near Marina del Rey showed construction activity in two areas for which grading permits had not been granted.

“There’s no question that they’ve graded several hundred acres that they’re not supposed to — it’s heart sickening,” said Marcia Hanscom, director of the environmental coalition Wetlands Action Network, which recently won a judge’s ruling that suspended work on 16 acres of wetlands at the site pending an environmental impact study.

But David Herbst, a spokesman for developer Playa Capital, said Thursday that there has been no grading in either of the areas covered by the city’s two “correction” orders. In one area, he said, workers were simply driving trucks loaded with dirt from one part of the site to another; in the other, workers had “moved some dirt with a piece of equipment” as part of a weed-abatement program.

His comment came just hours after Daily Variety’s publication Thursday of excerpts from a letter by DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg to principal investors in the 1,087-acre development, accusing their negotiators of being “disingenuous and lacking in good faith.”

Katzenberg threatened to pull DreamWorks out of the development if, among other matters, principals Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. and Goldman, Sachs & Co. did not adhere to an agreed-to $20 million purchase price for the parcel on which DreamWorks intends to build a studio.

In his letter, Katzenberg also said that the issue of “environmental liability” was “one major issue to be resolved.” Opponents of the project have repeatedly gone to court to hold up the project on the grounds that it will harm endangered species and ruin fragile wetlands.

Hanscom said Thursday that she and other opponents had just visited the sites covered by the city’s stop-work orders — both issued in the last week — and observed “nine earth-movers, two bulldozers, several water trucks and a parking lot full of workers’ autos and trucks.”

“The city council has not authorized any construction activities in these areas,” Hanscom said.

In response, Herbst promised to look into the situation. “If we have trucks parked somewhere they’re not supposed to be, we’re going to get them moved,” he said. “We’re going to do what’s right.”

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