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Cam Noltemeyer: Community is big loser in court ruling

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: July 7, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 7, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

In a recent Signal article “Court dismisses suit over hospital addition (July 2),” City Attorney Joe Montes is quoted as saying, “I think the city is very pleased that the Court of Appeals upheld the determination of the trial court indicating and validating the city’s environmental analysis for the project.”

The Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment and Community Advocates for Healthcare SCV lost this legal decision at the 2nd District Court of Appeals over the approval of the huge G&L Realty Corp office project in Valencia.

Unfortunately, this venue is known for its rulings against environmental issues, and this decision was no exception. But the question is, who really lost?

While the city and G&L Realty have always framed this action as opposition to the hospital expansion, everyone who spoke against the project before the City Council — including SCOPE — made it clear that the oversized commercial office and parking structures were our concern.

Failure to fully mitigate for traffic, air pollution and the horrendous impacts this project would have on an existing neighborhood contrary to zoning laws, were the subject of controversy. These unresolved problems resulted in community opposition and a split council vote for approval.

Zoning was not the only problem, however. There was the question of the political action committee that G&L Realty, a Beverly Hills-based company, provided $30,000 to city Councilwoman Laurie Ender’s council campaign after she made a statement that she supported their project and needed $30,000 to win a council seat.

While, unfortunately, this sort of thing is legal in our current political system, one certainly has to ask whether it is ethical. The three other council members who voted for the project received large contributions from G&L Realty in their re-election bids.

Our city has a section in its Unified Development Code regarding the need to protect existing neighborhoods that states projects must not detrimentally affect the health and welfare of neighboring residents.

During the office complex approval process, Mayor Marsha McLean asked how the council could approve this project when it was obviously going to have a detrimental affect on the adjacent low-density neighborhood built more than 30 years ago.

The City Council could not make a finding that this project would not result in adverse impacts to the neighborhood because it just simply isn’t true. SCOPE argued that the council abused its discretion by making a finding that “the project will not detrimentally affect the health and welfare of neighboring residents.”

We believe that the residents need to understand what to expect from their city’s codes and elected officials. Either the city must remove this section from the development or not make a finding that is so obviously untrue.

However, the city attorney advised otherwise, and the court agreed.

The other issue was air pollution.

Our valley has some of the worst ozone and dust levels in the entire nation. These two contaminants especially affect children’s lungs, and have resulted in increasing asthma rates in our valley.

It is ironic that G&L Realty, a medical-office developer, would not want to address this community health issue, but perhaps that is because they don’t live here.

While Providence Holy Cross Hospital, just over the hill, complied with Los Angeles’ request to include clean-energy standards and efficiencies in its expansion plans, our own city refused to add additional energy-efficiency requirements, and instead approved the office complex with “over-riding considerations” to save the developer money.

This legal term essentially means the developer is off the hook for mitigation.

As California starts to address air pollution that also causes global warming, one solution is to fully mitigate for traffic and require energy efficiency in new buildings.

With the G&L complex being one of the largest commercial office buildings ever approved in our valley, SCOPE and Community Healthcare Advocates felt this was certainly the place to start.

Requiring energy efficiency is a win-win situation, except for an out-of-town developer that is only looking for short-term profit. For long-term sustainability, such modern building techniques that not only reduce air pollution, but they save energy costs for those leasees that must pay utilities in the future.

You would think that a hospital and medical complex would want to help the environment for the health of their patients.
So, who really lost here?

We and many others in the community did our best, both during the hearing process and afterward, to get the council and the developer to address these important issues.

We may have lost in court, but the whole community will lose when this huge office complex is developed with less than the best modern improvements for reducing air pollution and traffic.

Cam Noltemeyer is a board member of SCOPE.

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