Army to revisit Playa Vista plan

Corps to reconsider on wildlife endangerment grounds

In yet another possible setback for the Playa Vista developers who hope to make DreamWorks their main tenant, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it will reconsider the permit it issued in 1992 for the project’s construction.

Corps officials intend to re-evaluate their previous finding that the first phase of the proposed 1,087-acre development near Marina del Rey would have no effect on endangered species that might inhabit the wetlands.

But while environmentalists fighting the development hailed the move as a victory, the review is not out of the ordinary. Corps officials are following the dictates of the Endangered Species Act, which stipulates that a permit must be reviewed if new information received subsequent to its issuance shows a possibility of damage to creatures at risk of extinction.

Irreparable harm charged

The information in question was dug up by environmental activists as part of several lawsuits challenging the project — two are pending — on the grounds that its construction would irreparably harm the delicate swamp nearby and the species that inhabit it or travel through it. The activists cited studies that listed a number of creatures not found in previous listings.

“We are gratified that the federal government has at last recognized the need to properly evaluate the environmental effects this monstrous project will have on the endangered species who require this area for survival,” said Allison Rolfe, a member of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity.

Marcia Hanscom, exec director of the Wetlands Action Network, said past assessments of the area were “self-serving” and “heavily favoring the developers.”

A representative of Playa Capital Co., the developer, said that as part of the protracted litigation against the project, the activists’ information had already been reviewed by the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

“Both have determined that Playa Vista poses no threat to endangered species,” said Robert Miller, VP of planning and entitlements for Playa Capital. “We are confident that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, once it has completed its review, will reach the same conclusion as did the courts.”

At the site, part of which was once Howard Hughes’ aircraft factory, bulldozers rolled again after the appeals court ruled on May 20 that construction of a freshwater marsh west of Lincoln Boulevard could continue despite the pending litigation.

Meanwhile, DreamWorks — currently located at Universal Studios and in a new animation facility in Glendale — is still negotiating for tenancy or an out-right purchase of 50 acres at the Playa Vista property’s eastern end, including some of the Hughes hangars. Negotiations were interrupted after last year’s change in Playa Vista’s ownership; the land is now in the hands of the real estate divisions of Goldman Sachs & Co. and Morgan Stanley & Co., which became majority owners after agreeing to invest $200 million in the project.

No pressure

“We do not have a deal as yet to go to Playa Vista,” said DreamWorks exec Andy Spahn. “We’re still talking. We’re under no pressure to move — there’s no deadline.”

Once completed, the project is to include 600,000 square feet of retail stores and 13,200 townhouses and condominiums, some of which are scheduled for completion in the spring of 2000. Also planned are more than 500 acres of open space for parks, jogging paths and preserved wetlands.