Posted: June 12th, 2017
|Case Title:||Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance v City of Los Angeles and Douglas Emmett Management LLC|
|Case Type:||California Environmental Quality Act|
|Court:||Santa Monica Courthouse (Los Angeles County)|
In March 2017, a California environmental group filed suit against the City of Los Angeles and Douglas Emmett Management LLC to stop Douglas Emmett’s “Landmark” apartment tower at 11750 Wilshire Boulevard in Brentwood. The case is new, and so far the only document available online in the docket is the environmental group’s complaint against the City and Douglas Emmett.
In March 2017, a California environmental group filed suit against the City of Los Angeles and Douglas Emmett Management LLC to stop Douglas Emmett’s “Landmark” apartment tower. The plaintiff filing the suit was the Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance, a self-described advocacy organization devoted to the preservation of the environment as well as the promotion of safe and healthy communities.
Douglas Emmett’s Landmark apartments will be a 34-story contemporary glass residential tower consisting of 376 new apartment units with ocean views and luxury amenities. The tower will be located on the 2.8-acre site of the former Pavilions supermarket near 11750 Wilshire Boulevard in Brentwood. Construction was anticipated to start in 2017 and estimated to take about 30 months, with the projected completion date sometime in 2020.
Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance filed suit under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) on behalf of the public interest. The Alliance claimed that irregularities in the approval process invalidated LA’s approval of the project. In particular, the Alliance objected to aspects of the project’s associated Environmental Impact Report.
Objections to Landmark Project’s Approval Process
The Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance has raised a number of objections to the Landmark apartments’ permitting and approval process.
The Alliance alleged that, because the LA City Council is the ultimate land-use authority and decision-making body in the City of Los Angeles, it should have directly overseen the approval process instead of delegating authority to other departments of the city government. Such delegation of the important work of the project’s approval was “unlawful” according to the Alliance.
The Alliance objected to aspects of the project’s associated Environmental Impact Report (EIR), noting that the City and City Council failed to engage in the necessary analysis of greenhouse gas emissions required under the CEQA. The Alliance further claimed that the City failed to require that the project include Energy Star appliances within the apartments for the proposed building, meaning that the apartments would consume more energy.
The complaint alleged that the City also failed to engage in an adequate analysis of traffic and air quality issues. This is because the EIR used the traffic and air quality of the Pavilions supermarket, closed since March of 2013, as a baseline measurement. By setting a baseline for emissions and traffic at the higher level of a supermarket, even though that use has been discontinued, the EIR allegedly downplayed the effects on air quality and traffic.
Using that disputed baseline, the publically available EIR claimed that the Landmark apartments would result in a “net reduction of operational emissions” because the apartments “would generate substantially fewer daily [car] trips than […] the supermarket” (SOURCE). Using that disputed baseline, the EIR could also claim that “Potential cumulative impacts [on traffic] were found to be less than significant, and no mitigation is required.” (SOURCE)
According to the plaintiff’s complaint, LA and the City Council approved the Landmark apartment project in the face of a study submitted by the Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance from qualified experts concluding that air pollution from construction could cause community cancer rates to increase. The plaintiff also alleged that the Environmental Impact Report that the city relied on “failed to include a health risk assessment for the impacts to the surrounding community from the emissions of diesel particulate matter (“DPM”) which would emanate from construction equipment and vehicles.” The filing continued:
“Petitioner raised this issue on the DEIR and subsequently submitted the comments of Soil Water Air Protection Enterprises (“SWAPE”), who prepared a Screening Health Risk Assessment for the Project. That document concluded that impacts to infants and children in the vicinity could be quantified at 1040 new cancers per million of population-far in excess of the SCAQMD’s threshold of significance of 10 cancers per million. The City disregarded SWAPE's analysis baselessly, and did not adopt any mitigation measures or a statement of overriding considerations on the Project.”
As context, in Los Angeles, cancer risks are measured using a methodology set by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). According to SCAQMD’s methodology, health effects from toxic air contaminants (TACs) are described in terms of individual cancer risk. “Individual Cancer Risk” is the likelihood that a person exposed to TACs over a 70-year lifetime will contract cancer.
Regarding TACs, the Environmental Impact Report for the Landmark apartment project concluded that “cumulative toxic emissions impacts during construction would be less than significant” and “No residual emissions and corresponding individual cancer risk are anticipated after construction.” In the Landmark project’s defense, the EIR maintains that “construction activities at each related project would not result in a long-term substantial source of TAC emissions.” The EIR continues, “SCAQMD CEQA guidance does not require a health risk assessment for short-term construction emissions.” The EIR concludes that “It is therefore not meaningful to evaluate long-term cancer impacts from construction activities which occur over relatively short durations.”
The Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance claimed that its report about potential new cancers caused by the construction project was ignored by the City.
The Alliance’s report about cancer risks is not publically available and has not yet been entered into evidence as part of the litigation.
The Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance asked the court to set aside a series of approvals greenlighting the process. If the court granted the request, it would delay Douglas Emmett’s Landmark apartment project indefinitely.
Below are the specific approvals that the plaintiff asked the court to set aside.
- City Council File Number 16-1458, approving a Development Agreement between the City of Los Angeles and Douglas Emmett Management, LLC for the properties located at 11750-11770 Wilshire Boulevard,
- City Council File Number 16-1458-S1, adopting the Environmental Impact Report and the Planning and Land Use Management Committee Report,
- Ordinance No. 184764, an ordinance amending Section 12.04 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code by amending the zoning map,
- Any and all motions purporting to adopt findings and certify an EIR for the Project, including any Statement of Overriding Considerations and any Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Plan for the Project,
- Approvals of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission's:
- Certification of the EIR and Errata, ENV-2013-3747, State Clearinghouse No. 2014031014, and adoption of the associated findings and Mitigation Monitoring Program,
- Special Permission for the Reduction of Off-Street parking spaces pursuant to Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 12.24-Y to allow a ten percent parking reduction for an existing commercial building located within 1,400 feet of a transit facility,
- Design Overlay Plan Approval pursuant to Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 13.08 with respect to the West Wilshire Boulevard Community Design Overlay District, and
- Site Plan Review pursuant to Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 16.05-C, 1-B, for a project resulting in a net increase of 50 or more residential units.
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