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Sat, Jul

Commissioner Claims Mayor Ousted Him Over CEQA Delay on Controversial Westside Project

 Aerial rendering of the proposed Midvale Interim Housing Project located on a city-owned parking lot at the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Midvale Avenue. Photo: councildistrict5.lacity.gov

WESTSIDE - A Westside project, which has previously drawn significant attention, is again embroiled in controversy. A long-standing Transportation Committee commissioner said he was ousted following his request to delay a vote exempting the project from a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review.

Background 

In late July, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky proposed converting a West L.A. parking lot, at the intersection of Pico Blvd. and Midvale Ave., into a 30-bed interim complex for the unhoused. The announcement drew a lot of community pushback and was also at the center of an ethics probe after nearby homeowners accused Yaroslavsky of having a conflict of interest. They claim her housing and homelessness policy director favored a former employer in the contract for the homeless housing project within her district, an allegation Yaroslavsky refutes.

Last week, this project was presented to the Transportation Committee, which works with citizen commissions sanctioned by the Los Angeles Mayor and City Council. The meeting's primary agenda was to deliberate on the potential use of the Midvale Avenue parking lot for the interim housing project and to vote on whether an exemption from CEQA regulations should be approved.

 

The California Environmental Quality Act serves multiple purposes, including disclosing significant environmental effects of proposed projects to the public.  CEQA reviews also bolster public involvement in the environmental review process through meetings, public notices, hearings, and the judicial process.

However, the commission's president, Eric Eisenberg, suggested postponing the vote. He recommended that the Bureau of Engineering (BOE) negotiate an understanding with the General Services Department (GSD) to better understand the impact of a CEQA exemption.

"Whether I support the project or not, it's a ten-year project," said Eisenberg. "We are talking about 30 little homes, each with its plumbing and trash systems. Bypassing the environmental review is beyond both my scope and that of my fellow commissioners. We aren't experts in CEQA. My request was simple: have the BOE come in and explain to us why this project would be exempt from CEQA guidelines and regulations."

In an interview with the Current, Eisenberg emphasized that he wasn't slowing down the project; rather that a special meeting should be planned for the 18th with the Bureau of Engineers so they could explain both how and why this project qualifies for a CEQA exemption.

Instead of the October 18 meeting, On Monday, October 16, Eisenberg received a letter from the mayor stating his services were no longer required.

"This lot has been bought and paid for by the taxpayers and this is the first to be designated for such use," Eisenberg said. “This project will have a real impact on neighboring residents and local merchants who rely on it for their livelihood. This was new ground - and I wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing.”

Eisenberg also highlighted that while his committee excels at their regular duties, discerning whether a project is exempt can be challenging. “People want information, and decisions should be based on informed insights. However, some city hall officials appear to hold a differing view."

Eisenberg also pointed out that he wasn’t acting alone in postponing the vote.  "Though I lead the commission and take responsibility for giving my opinion that we shouldn't take action that day, it was a unanimous vote by the commissioners.”

Eisenberg served under two previous mayors and received certificates of appreciation from both administrations, and just last month he was reappointed for another four-year term by Mayor Bass.

"I refused to buckle under pressure. My commitment to the commission and the constituents outweighs any external influences. I'm not going to sell the people out. I won't do it."

(This article was first featured in WestsideCurrent.com.)