RESIDENTS FIGHT BACK, BLAME BONIN--Brentwood residents demonstrated this week that their fight to block the Archer School for Girl’s massive $100 million traffic-damaging expansion project is alive and well as a majority of Angelenos continue to say their biggest gripe is traffic congestion.
At a news conference outside the pricey Brentwood school, Brentwood community leaders unveiled their lawsuit against the Archer project, alleging it will overwhelm neighborhoods with illegally large structures, jeopardize the health of its own students with toxic fumes and swamp already-paralyzed Westside streets, including Sunset Boulevard, with “tens of thousands” of additional vehicle trips.
The news conference came only days after an LA Times poll found that “traffic and congestion” was the top concern of 55 percent of Angelenos, a worry well ahead of crime. Reporter covering the event could not reach school officials for comment on the litigation, the latest burden on Archer families, already paying nearly $40,000 a year in tuition.
“The Archer PR machine has been saying the opposition to Archer’s monster project is dead,” said David Wright, co-chair of the Sunset Coalition. “Not so. The opposition is vigorous, well-funded and loaded with talent to sustain a legal challenge of this horribly misguided project.”
The lawsuit filed by Brentwood community groups in LA Superior Court alleges Archer’s controversial expansion project – involving nearly a quarter million square feet of construction and tens of thousands of construction-related truck trips – will “significantly burden not only the nearby residential community, but also the entire west side of Los Angeles.”
Wright spoke at a news conference across the street from the school. A digital signboard, set up at the event, flashed messages to motorists stranded in the afternoon traffic jam. “Sunset Traffic Jam. Blame Mike Bonin,” said one message. Bonin, Brentwood’s councilman, was initially cool to the Archer project then became a champion of it in the final days before a council vote to approve its building program.
“Traffic on Sunset is already brutal at rush hour every weekday,” said Wright. “But if the Archer project goes forward as planned Sunset will become an even bigger traffic nightmare.“
“It’s not just Sunset that’s affected,” said Wright. “There’s a domino effect. Traffic jams on Sunset inevitably spill over onto other east-west streets on the Westside, including San Vicente and Wilshire Boulevards. Once quiet north-south side-streets are also impacted as motorists desperately try find a way out of the Sunset nightmare.”
“Our lawsuit seeks to save the Westside from Archer,” Wright said.
“Sadly, Archer’s MO has been no different than that of any big developer,” added Wright, noting that the school spent at least $850,000 on lobbyists at City Hall. “Its big-gun lobbyists pulled strings at City Hall and persuaded lawmakers to back a project that will run roughshod over Westside neighborhoods and abuse thousands of motorists. Archer’s attitude is apparently: the public-be-damned, full-speed ahead.”
Eric Edmunds, president of the Brentwood Hills Homeowners Assn., said: “It is incredible that Archer and its supporters have argued this project will reduce the traffic mess on Sunset Boulevard.”
“We believe Archer’s project violates both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the city’s own ordinances that restrict the size of buildings in a residential zone,” said attorney Douglas Carstens, whose firm (Chatten-Brown & Carstens LLP) is handling the lawsuit for the Sunset Coalition. “Archer’s project must be significantly down-sized to be legal.”
The Archer environmental impact report (EIR) “understated and improperly evaluated the impacts of the proposed project,” the lawsuit alleges. “The proposed $80-$100 million Archer School expansion project will be one of the largest and most disruptive construction projects on Sunset Boulevard [from the coast to West Hollywood] in over 100 years.”
More specifically, the lawsuit alleges the Archer EIR failed to adequately analyze the project’s traffic and air quality impacts and failed to adequately mitigate the impacts that were recognized.
Traffic is so bad now that it can take up to 1.5 hours to travel two miles along the Sunset Boulevard corridor in Brentwood, leaving residents “prisoners in their own community,” the lawsuit alleges.
The future traffic impacts of Archer’s enlarged campus (including a new 395-seat performing arts center, two new gyms and a 130 percent increase in on-campus parking) and expanded operations (including a 51 percent increase in the number of athletic and cultural “events” permitted on the campus and a 20 percent increase in enrollment) will only aggravate existing traffic terrible conditions, the lawsuit alleges.
“Archer proposes increasing the number of events on campus that will bring tens of thousands of visitors during the course of the 36-week school year for athletic and special events,” the lawsuit alleges. In addition, the city gave Archer permission – for the first time – to run six additional weeks of schooling in the summer.
“Archer wants us to believe its project will not increase traffic, that it’ll actually improve it,” said Wendy-Sue Rosen, co-chair of the Sunset Coalition. “It defies logic that adding two gyms, a performing arts and a visual arts center, increasing enrollment, staff, athletic and special events could reduce traffic.”
In addition, the lawsuit alleges all the traffic impacts of Archer’s project will be magnified by the school’s decision to intensify its construction program. Originally construction was to last six years. But at the last-minute Archer won City Hall approval to cram all its construction work into three years. But Archer – again in violation of state environmental rules –failed to adequately analyze the serious environmental impacts of a compressed construction schedule, the lawsuit alleges.
“The city failed in its duty to protect Brentwood, the Pacific Palisades and all the visitors and workers who commute on Sunset Boulevard from the terrible traffic impacts of this project,” said John Binder, president of the Upper Mandeville Canyon Homeowners Assn. and a member of the Sunset Coalition’s steering committee. “It’s irresponsible.”
(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner. He is a contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm, MediaFix Associates, is now assisting the opponents of the Archer project. )
Vol 13 Issue 84
Pub: Oct 16, 2015