Judge rules Playa Vista can advance

Brushing aside arguments by environmentalists that have stalled the project, a federal appeals court has lifted a temporary restraining order on the Playa Vista development, the proposed home of DreamWorks’ studio.

The ruling, handed down Tuesday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, stated that the activists’ arguments were not sufficient to overturn the U.S. District Court’s decision in favor of developers.

On Nov. 6, the plaintiffs received an emergency reprieve from the 9th Circuit, a few hours after the District Court’s decision ruled against the activists (Daily Variety, Nov. 7).

The Playa Capital Co., a partnership led by affiliates of investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, may resume land movement at the 1,087-acre development immediately.

“The best thing is that it gives us the greenlight to start working,” said David Vena, a Playa Capital attorney. “Our opponents’ claims have been thoroughly discredited.”

Playa Capital, rival environmentalists as well as several Los Angeles officials have long claimed that the lawsuits actually would hinder the developers’ plans to build a freshwater marsh, and thus, a more livable habitat for the endangered species.

The plaintiffs, which include the Wetlands Action Network, Ballona Land Trust and California Public Interest Research Group, have argued that the developers’ permits violate the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

“We will keep fighting on, even though it was not a good day for the good guys,” said Steven Crandall, an attorney repping the environmental groups. “We are not going away. All this means is that as the appeal moves forward, (Playa Capital) gets to destroy what we are trying to protect.”

Crandall hinted that his clients will next push forward with a lawsuit claiming violations of the Endangered Species Act. The plaintiffs claim the bird species Southwestern willow flycatcher and the least Bells vireo would be affected by the development.

Despite the environmental groups’ tenacity, their fight appears to be a steep, uphill battle.

Judge Ronald Lew, who on Nov. 6 ruled that the project would not violate the Clean Water Act, has strongly hinted the groups are unlikely to prevail with National Environmental Protection Act or endangered species claims.

Separately, sources close to the negotiating table suggest that DreamWorks and Playa Capital officials continue to make progress in hammering out a deal for a long-term lease or outright land sale at Playa Vista, where the studio tentatively plans to build a 22-acre facility.

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