The City Planning Commission today approved construction of a controversial residential/commercial building on west Sunset, despite widespread opposition from residents and various organizations in Pacific Palisades. The proposed development would be a five-story, 60-ft.-high, 32,225-sq.ft. mixed-use building with 39-dwelling units. (The recommendation and report can be found at: https://planning.lacity.org/dcpapi/meetings/document/67679.)
The L.A. Planning Department presented a 1,449-page document that included opposition to the project from the Pacific Palisades Community Council, the Pacific Palisades Residents Association, the PPCC Land Use Committee, the Design Review Board, Vons, the Self-Realization Fellowship, and at least 46 people who had letters recorded in the file.
About 22 people spoke against the project during the public comment period this morning when the Planning Commissioners met on Zoom.
The Commissioners were told that the four low-income units promised by the project’s developer would be the very first affordable housing offered in Pacific Palisades (but this is not true). The Commissioners could hardly contain their enthusiasm to remind the people of Pacific Palisades, who pay some of the highest property taxes in the city, that it’s time they changed their thinking.
One commissioner said, “No affordable housing is an indicator of a challenge to the community. I wonder if this is an inspiration for a reflection on a community to become more inclusive and be the community you want to create.”
A second commissioner asked if it was possible to give the developer the initially larger project he wanted, thereby showing Pacific Palisades residents their errors in being “NIMBYs”.
Commission Chair Samantha Milliman, who is vice president of a privately held real estate firm in Los Angeles, explained to Pacific Palisades, “This is where we want to see affordable housing go in. This is precisely the development we need to see go in. This is an excellent project. It does have one flaw: it does not provide as many affordable units as I would like.”
There are a couple of problems about the commissioners’ assumptions that Pacific Palisades is trying to keep out everyone but the most affluent.
There are already several areas in Pacific Palisades that have affordable housing, including the Palisades Bowl Mobile Home Park, which is under the Mello Act (and came under scrutiny in 2010). The Mello Act was enacted in 1981 “to preserve residential housing units occupied by low- or moderate-income persons or families in the coastal zone.” There are about 170 units in the park, located on Pacific Coast Highway across from Will Rogers State Beach.
When the Palisades Highlands was constructed in the early 1970s, the PPRA filed a lawsuit and negotiated construction of a low-income apartment complex at Palisades Drive and Sunset. There are 61 senior units and 39 family units ($1,200 a month), with two parking spaces for every unit.
Additionally, the Palmer condominium project on Castellammare has now been required to have four low-income units.
Why would commissioners think there was no affordable housing in Pacific Palisades, repeat the statement and then use that as a fact to lecture a community? An email was sent to the Commissioners asking where they received that information.
Additionally, Thomas Donovan, who represents Edgewater Towers, questioned the integrity of the system. Nick Vasuthatsawat, the planner on this project, also runs a small-scale planning and design firm, N.P.S. & Associates. Thursday morning, when Circling the News clicked on the firm’s home page, the following appeared: “We take pride in offering our clients the services to bring their preconceptual ideas to fruition. Our business strategy is focused on developing lasting partnerships with our clients in order to continually sustain growth through referrals and repeat customers. We strive to achieve the highest level of customer service by providing integrity, dependability, and commitment to all of our projects we take on. Contact us: ‘We can help get your project approved.’”
CTN tried to find information about prior projects, but that website page had been removed. Vasuthatsawat assured the commissioners, who didn’t ask, that he did have a business but is no longer associated with the company he founded. By 3 p.m. the website (npsassociates.com) stated: “N.P.S. & Associates – No Longer Operational.”
The concerns of residents and other concerned citizens about the Jack-in-the-Box project has nothing to do with affordable housing. Dave Warner spoke on behalf of Vons, the grocery store located just below the proposed residential/commercial building. “The parking situation for this project is less than two spaces for a unit. A lot of overflow would come into our parking lot. We strongly encourage commissioners to vote ‘No.’”
The Self-Realization Fellowship, located just above the project, wrote: “On review of the materials, we have several concerns about the project, all of which center on impacts resulting from the use of off-menu incentives to double the height and more than double the floor area permitted under the Pacific Palisades Commercial Village and Neighborhoods Specific Plan, Neighborhood Area B. Our specific concerns are as follows: 1. The extremely high lot coverage allows inadequate access for deliveries and trash trucks—let alone moving trucks—to the building. As our experience has shown with the apartment building several doors east (17250 Sunset), this lack of access results in double parking, as well as the use of traffic cones to block the number 2 lane eastbound on Sunset. When street parking is unavailable, moving trucks have been known to park illegally in the median while movers actually haul furniture across both eastbound lanes on Sunset, creating monumental traffic and public safety issues. 2. Doubling the FAR on this project will add more residents without adding community serving features. In our view, adding residential congestion on Sunset Boulevard is not needed. What is needed is community-serving businesses.”
The second letter from a resident summed up the position of many of those who spoke today: “The Palisades are not against development, they are against BAD development, which this is. This would be the only structure on Sunset Blvd over three stories without a setback. Their parking study is based on 3-year-old information and it does not even take into account the 80 units across the street that are about to go on sale. The developer has no experience with mixed-use development.”
The traffic study in the report was based on an impact study done in December 2016—which was before the 82 units at Tramonto Drive were completed or went on the market Traffic was not factored in from that housing project. There is no parking in that area on Sunset Boulevard (only a few parking meters)– and limited or no parking on PCH.
One commissioner noted that her nanny, who used to work in Pacific Palisades, sometimes needed two hours to go one way to work, so this persuaded the commissioner to vote for the project because it would include affordable housing.
The City is allowing 50 parking spaces for 39 residential units and ground-floor commercial uses. There will be 67 spaces for bicycles. The study reports, “No transit, construction, Congestion Management Program, bikeways or freeway significant impacts are anticipated with the Project.”
In the 2016 study, it reported that State Highway 1 (PCH) carries approximately 63,000 vehicles per day (VPD) and 5,000 vehicles per hour (VPH).
People can’t ride bikes to work on Sunset—a dangerous curving road that does not have a bicycle lane. Pacific Coast Highway does not have a bicycle lane between Sunset and the Bel-Air Bay Club. But the City of Los Angeles Mobility Plan 2035 has identified a Bicycle Enhanced Network with Tier 2 bicycle lanes that may be built by 2035. PCH is identified as part of the Bicycle Enhanced Network with an existing Bicycle Path.
If a resident wants to take public transportation, only the Metro Route 2/302 goes to this location. The Big Blue Bus (No. 9) stops at Marquez Place, which is about a mile east of the project. The light-rail train system begins/ends in Santa Monica.
In the packet was a 2018 letter from LADWP, who wrote that in the project area “There are no known water service problems/deficiencies.” Regarding electricity, LADWP wrote
“The cumulative effects of this and other projects in the area will require the Department to construct additional distribution facilities in the future.” (page 1,216)
Lobbyist Michael Gonzales, who is working for the applicant, may not have heard about the electrical shortages and power outages in Pacific Palisades in recent years.
In 2016, DWP told residents that the Palisades needs a second electrical distribution station to handle vastly increased power demands from all the new housing that has been built in the community the past 30 years. After a furor because homeowners and their organizations didn’t want the new station built near their homes, two temporary pole-top distributing stations were installed–one at Marquez Avenue and Sunset, a second at Temescal Canyon Road and Sunset. At the time, DWP warned that if usage continues to go up, additional poles will need to be placed in town.