Highlands Eldercare Facility Part 3

Proposed Highlands Facility Avoided a CEQA Review

(Editor’s note: This is the third story in a four-part series examining the proposed Highlands eldercare facility.) 

When Circling the News was asked why people opposed the proposed the elder care/Alzheimer’s facility, we sent the question to Sarah Conner, president of the Pacific Palisades Residents Association.

“We are not opposed to an eldercare facility or development projects in general,” Conner said. “We’re just opposed to the lack of parking and the size of this facility. The PPRA also discovered that notification from the Coastal Committee to appellants was inadequate and that some of our documents never made it into the [Coastal Commission] staff report.”

Infill Exemption: The project received an urban infill exemption from L.A. City, which meant it doesn’t need a California Environmental Quality Act review.

Opponents say that the City erred in calling this plot of land “infill.” In order to be classified as urban “infill” it either has to be surrounded by developed parcels or previously had to have development on it.

This parcel of land has never been developed, and 237.09 feet of the lot’s 868.75 ft. perimeter borders on the City’s Santa Ynez Canyon Park.

There are a series of state rules regarding CEQA guidelines. One guideline addresses “infill development” on a site “substantially surrounded by urban uses.”

According to the developer’s attorney, this property is “substantially surrounded,” thereby qualifying as “urban infill.”

Opponents argue the lot has to be totally surrounded by urban areas, but even if a lot were not totally surrounded, and a lower standard applies, the proposed Highlands facility still does not qualify for an exemption because it is less than 75 percent surrounded by urban uses (27.3 percent of the site’s perimeter borders the Park).

Additionally, project opponents argue that there will be traffic and air quality issues with excavation and hauling that were not addressed by the City, but which negate any exemption from CEQA for which the site might otherwise qualify. Hence, opponents believe an environmental impact report (EIR) should be required.

Excavation Issues: According to a March 2017 report by Meridian Consultants of Westlake (hired by the developer), 19,308 cubic yards will need to be excavated to build the four-story structure, which includes excavation for underground parking. But some residents think the amount of soil which will have to be removed is underestimated.

A May 2017 Geology and Soils Report Approval Letter from the L.A. Department of Building and Safety stated: “The earth material at the subsurface exploration location consists of up to 50 feet of uncertified fill” and noted that “existing uncertified fill could not be used for support of footings, concrete slaps or new fill or lateral support of deep foundations.”

The letter also stated that for at “least part of the proposed project site, about half of the hill will need to be removed and rebuilt. Thus, at a minimum, the developer would have to remove and export the uncertified fill under the garage and foundation of the proposed building to a depth of up to 50 feet.”

Developers are aware that if more than 20,000 cubic yards of dirt are excavated and exported, an Air Quality Study and a full environmental review may be required.

The proposed building’s footprint is 51.42 percent of the site (22,160 sq.ft.) and the depth of the garage is supposed to be 24 feet. But if just one more foot of the soil under the footprint needs to be removed, the threshold is surpassed.

Multiplying 22,160 sq. ft. times a depth of 25 feet and then converting to cubic yards, yields 20,518 cubic yards of dirt that would need to be removed.

Tomorrow, the Highlands series concludes.

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