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Kids Versus Developers: Fairfax Community Up in Arms

DEEGAN ON LA-How school kids and an adjacent massive demolition and construction project will coexist continues to be a strong point of contention, with both sides trying to seek a resolution.

There’s still a long way to go before the development plan activates, signaling another year of anxiety for the Fairfax community, especially the Hancock Park Elementary School (HPE), before physical work begins. 

While the project has attracted community opposition for reasons that include density and traffic congestion, the most tender constituency is the school kids and the parents who speak for them, such as Shanon Trygstad, the President of the Friends of Hancock Park Elementary School (HPE). Her concerns include fears for the “health, mental well-being and education” of the students who, she notes, will also suffer from “significant noise pollution… Our children,” says Trygstad, “will be exposed to toxic dust and contaminants, especially when they are outdoors. We believe that this could expose our children, and the employees of HPE, to life-long health problems.” 

Nick Melvoin, the LAUSD board member (District 4) who has jurisdiction over HPE, told CityWatch, “I share the concerns about the environmental impact on our students -- not just from this development project, but in regards to any potential hazards that pose a risk to our students. Once the Environmental Impact Report is complete, we all need to work together to ensure that the health and safety of the students of Hancock Park Elementary is a priority for all parties involved.”

As the run-down Town and Country shopping center that abuts the campus of Hancock Park Elementary School is planned for a massive redevelopment, the parents of students at the school have been insisting that kids and construction are a bad mix. Besides the noise and dust and distraction, the demolition of existing buildings may unleash toxic airborne particles from rats and other creatures that may have burrowed into the site over decades.  

There’s also the underground methane. Parents who remember the Ross department store methane explosion several years ago on the parcel adjacent to the construction site, may be frightened for their children’s safety should there be another explosion connected to the digging needed to make the developer’s dream project come true. His dream could become their nightmare. 

Those at the heart of the issue include the developer, the local councilmember, the residential community, and the Hancock Park Elementary School. Each has its own agenda regarding what was initially presented as a twenty-seven-story apartment building to provide residential units. After meeting with the school and community members, the project was scaled down to reflect their concerns -- a project that would now have several smaller, squatter buildings with 331 apartments. 

Tom Warren, Executive Managing Director for the Holland Partner Group stressed to CityWatch: “The health and safety of the community and our neighbors is our priority. That’s why we have and are continuing to go above and beyond what would be required for the project by undergoing a rigorous city-led environmental review process, participating in community-focused working group meetings and conducting extensive outreach to neighbors, including school administrators and parents, to better understand concerns and ensure we thoroughly address any and all potential issues. 

“Our conversations with the school and community have already allowed us to proactively address concerns by moving to a mid-rise design, agreeing to a full environmental impact report and working to develop school-specific community benefits. The Council Office’s leadership in establishing a working group of local stakeholders, including school parents and administrators, along with the ongoing, thorough EIR process will help ensure that the project is fully vetted in an open and inclusive manner. Holland Partners is also committed to meeting or exceeding all safety requirements, with the ultimate goal of delivering a project that reflects the needs of the many residents who are in support and addresses concerns we are hearing along the way.” 

The community is wary of traffic impacts that will be caused by rejuvenating the shopping center, which will join other booming enterprises along the Fairfax Mile. This includes The Petersen Automotive Museum, LACMA, The Motion Picture Academy’s Movie Museum, The Farmers Market, The Grove, and the recently sold-to-a-developer CBS Television City. 

All of this exists within a very small section of the neighborhood. City planners envision more towers as part of the Purple Line Transit Neighborhood Plan in neighborhoods like Fairfax that are adjacent to mass transit. This is another development concern shared by the Fairfax area and surrounding neighborhoods. 

Everyone touched by the project -- from the students to the millions of annual visitors to the Farmers Market and The Grove across the street, to the surrounding homes and apartment dwellers nearby – wants to coexist in the safest way. This will be an ongoing challenge for all stakeholders: school, community, politicos and developers. 

Minimalist architect Mies van der Rohe’s design credo was “less is more,” the complete antithesis of what is happening in the City of Los Angeles which is already bursting at the seams in some areas, with lots more development planned. 

Still to come for the Fairfax community is finding out what kind of development will occur at CBS Television City. Some in the community believe that the project is bound to be dense and high in order to be cost effective. It will surely dwarf what’s happening next to the school. This promises to be another real threat to the community, touching not only school kids but everyone else.

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.