The California Second Appellate District Court reversed a lower court’s ruling on the first phase of the Playa Vista development last week, holding that the City of Los Angeles violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in 2001 when it approved the methane gas mitigation system for Phase One.
In effect, the ruling sends the Playa Vista methane gas safety measures back to the Los Angeles City Council for reconsideration.
The Council could require a new or supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) on the question.
Petitioners in the lawsuit include Grassroots Coalition, Environmentalism Through Inspiration and Non-Violent Action (‘ETINA’), Spirit of the Sage Council and concerned local residents John Davis and Daniel Cohen.
The lawsuit contends that the methane gas safety measures are inadequate, unproven, and have significant environmental impacts. Though the ruling states that the gas safety measures may be adequate, the Court found that they may also create serious environmental and safety issues of their own.
The Court ruled that the City and Playa Vista’s characterization of the environmental and safety issues was misleading and inaccurate.
“This victory sends a clear message that justice will prevail when citizen perseverance is supported by sound science. I’m hopeful that the new mayor and city councilperson will avail themselves of the facts and scientific evidence and utilize this opportunity to protect the public and the environment,” said Sabrina Venskus, lead counsel on the case.
She was referring to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Bill Rosendahl who represents the district in which Playa Vista is located, neither of whom was in office when the City approved the gas mitigation measures..
In recent months, three investigative reports by KNBC News have alleged that methane gas is leaking up into the buildings at Playa Vista.
It also questioned whether the mandated venting wells existed. They were to be dug to 50 feet below the ground level into the old Los Angeles Riverbed.
“The NBC broadcasts show what we have been saying for several years: the City and Playa Vista have not proven that the gas safety measures are working,” said Patricia McPherson, President of Grassroots Coalition.
Through four years of litigation, petitioners have also asked City and State agencies to investigate the connection between Playa Vista’s methane gas and Southern California Gas Company’s (Sempra) gas storage operation.
The Gas Company’s operation is adjacent to and underlying the c Playa Vista project area. It is the only one of its kind to be located in a densely populated metropolitan area.
A recent report prepared by the safety branch of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the agency charged with oversight for (Sempra) gas storage operations in Playa del Rey, stated that there is a 50 percent likelihood that the gases surfacing at Playa Vista are storage gas.
To date, there has been no independent state or federal oversight of oilfield gas migration hazards at the Playa Vista site. The City’s original 1993 Environmental Impact Report claimed that the oil field gases, which were subsequently discovered by Grassroots Coalition in 1999, were non-existent.
The first phase of Playa Vista is still under construction, with about half still to be built. Its plans call for 3,246 housing units, a small amount of commercial space, and an office complex, with one tenant, Electronic Arts.
Two lawsuits were litigated in August of this year that raised questions about Playa Vista’s second phase, including the viability of the methane gas safety measures.
The second phase calls for 2,600 additional housing units and some commercial space.
Councilman Rosendahl Reacts to Ruling
Councilman Bill Rosendahl issued the following statement on the ruling, the day after it was made public.
“Yesterday’s court ruling regarding Phase One of Playa Vista is potentially significant. The court reversed the City of Los Angeles’ approval of the methane mitigations for Phase One of the project. If that decision is upheld, it means the issue will return to the Los Angeles City Council.
“Questions of public safety are paramount to me. I will insist that City officials and the developer do everything in their power to insure we protect the health and safety of the residents of Playa Vista and the residents of neighboring communities.
“Over the next few days, I will be meeting with appropriate City staff to assess the full implications of the court decision, and I will be reviewing the City Council’s options in this matter, including the possibility of requiring the developer to do a supplemental EIR.”During my campaign for office, I was repeatedly told that Playa Vista was a “done deal,” and there was nothing I could do to address concerns about traffic, the environment, sacred Indian burial grounds, or public health and safety. That assessment was wrong and I intend to work on all of those concerns to the satisfaction of my constituents.”