(Note: Under Los Angeles City Planning Commission President David Ambrose, L.A. has taken a distinct turn against working-class neighborhoods and environmental equity. Here is the latest example, from the respected blog The Horizon and the Skyline, by Casey Maddren)
By Casey Maddren
Back in February I was at a Los Angeles City Planning Commission hearing. I’d come to talk about one of the items on the agenda, but while I was waiting for that to come up, I noticed a group of people sitting together holding signs that said “NO on 7”. These people wanted to voice their opposition to a new distribution center that had been proposed for their community. Logistics REIT giant Prologis was seeking permission to build a 341,000 sq. ft. warehouse with 36 truck loading positions and parking for up to 71 trailers that would operate 24/7. Amazingly, the site they had in mind was right across the street from a residential neighborhood in the Harbor Gateway area.
A long list of speakers got up to talk. First there were the applicants and their reps, all of whom boasted about what a great project this was. There were also a number of union members who came forward to tell the Planning Commissioners that the distribution center would create lots of jobs. And staff from Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino’s office showed up to speak in support of the project.
But the people who actually live in the community were dead set against it, talking about impacts from diesel truck exhaust, and noise from a distribution center that was going to operate 24/7. They explained to the Planning Commissioners that the site was just across the street from apartments and houses. They pointed out that a healthcare facility, a convalescent home and a public park were all within a few hundred feet of the proposed distribution center. The City Planning Commission listened to all this, and then voted to approve the project. While Commissioners Vahid Khorsand and Veronica Padilla-Campos voted against, everyone else gave the distribution center a thumbs up, and it passed easily.
The final tally was 6-2.
Even though I’d never heard of the project before that morning, it was pretty easy to see that the approval process was a joke. The applicant wants to build a 300,000+ sq.ft. warehouse right across the street from a residential neighborhood. The warehouse will generate hundreds of diesel truck trips every day, and will operate all night long. This is a project that will have major impacts on the surrounding community, but instead of doing a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the Department of City Planning allowed the applicant to slide it through with a much less rigorous Mitigated Negative Declaration. In other words, the Department of City Planning is saying that even though there could be negative impacts, don’t worry about it, because we can mitigate them to the point where they won’t be a problem.
It’s a familiar game. The City of LA plays it all the time. The Department of City Planning lets the applicant run the environmental review process without providing any meaningful oversight. Department of City Planning staff will offer some suggestions, the City Planning Commission will set some conditions, but the project that gets approved generally gives the developers pretty much everything they were asking for.
These days most of the Commissioners on the City Planning Commission seem to believe their job is to approve projects. No matter what’s being proposed, the routine is pretty much the same. They listen to testimony, ask the Department of City Planning staff a few questions, spend a little time haggling over conditions, and then give it a green light. Occasionally, as with this distribution center, one or two of the City Planning Commissioners will dissent, but almost without exception the majority gives the proposed project a thumbs-up and the developers and their reps walk out smiling.
But the people who live in the neighborhood aren’t smiling. And they’re not taking this lying down. I contacted one of the residents, Rosalie Preston, to ask if the community was planning to fight the project. She sent me a copy of the appeal they’d submitted. Preston points out that the community is already considered disadvantaged by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) because of its proximity to the 110. The freeway carries hundreds of diesel trucks through the area every day, causing CalEPA to rank it in the highest percentile for pollution burden.
I really hope the appeal will be granted, because the community has already spent way too much time opposing this awful project. But if the appeal is denied and this goes to court, I’ll be laughing my head off on the day the judge hands the City of LA another embarrassing defeat. The City has lost a number of high-profile cases related to development and planning. This will just be one more demonstration of how badly broken the approval process is.
But let’s take look at the appeal, and see why the community has a problem with the City Planning Commission’s decision to approve the project….
An Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Not an MND
There’s really no question about this. According to State law, an EIR is required if “substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the project may result in significant adverse impacts.” The Prologis Distribution Center will bring hundreds of diesel trucks in and out of this residential community, all through the day and all through the night. Prologis argues that they can mitigate air quality and noise impacts to the point where they’re not significant. It’s not surprising to hear developers make idiotic claims like this, but it’s depressing that the City is happy to take their word for it. The fact that the Department of City Planning allowed Prologis to get away with an Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) shows just how little they care about how new development impacts LA’s communities.