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L.A. city council kills Las Lomas

Posted: March 19, 2008 10:11 p.m.
Updated: May 21, 2008 5:03 a.m.

LOS ANGELES - Las Lomas is dead.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 10-5 Wednesday to support a motion put forward by Councilman Greig Smith to stop all work being done on the plan to put the 5,553-unit urban village into the steep hillside off The Old Road, near the intersection of Highway 14 and Interstate 5.

"I'm extremely impressed with the level of commitment shown by the opposition to this project," said Smith, beaming in the hallways of City Hall after his motion carried.

A staunch Las Lomas opponent, Smith said he wasn't sure of a victory going to Wednesday's council session.

"We walked in there this morning and we weren't sure we had eight votes needed," he said. "A week ago we felt we had 10 votes, but today we worked hard for those two hours this morning."

To make his case, Smith distributed to council members an information package including several articles published by The Signal.

"It's a flawed project," he said about Las Lomas.

Over Smith's shoulder, in the same hallway, Las Lomas developer Dan S. Palmer was giving his own series of interviews to reporters.

"We're disappointed today," he said. "We're going to look at all our options. We believe Las Lomas is a fine project and we remain committed."

When asked if one of those options involved suing the city of Los Angeles, Palmer said: "No comment."
Palmer can sue for damages and can also file a lawsuit asking a judge "to compel the city to process the project and complete the process," according to the advice of a city lawyer consulted during Wednesday's council session.

The argument made against Smith's motion hinged on the fear expressed by some council members that the city of Los Angeles would expose itself to a "million dollar" lawsuit if it pulled the plug on Palmer's project after having invested time and money to make it happen.

City planning staff have billed Palmer for about $30,000 worth of clerical work done "intermittently" since 2002. Work includes processing the paperwork necessary to make Las Lomas a reality, specifically an environmental impact report.

Councilman Richard Alarcon spearheaded the move to reject Smith's proposal and to give Las Lomas the green light to continue developing its EIR and the necessary pre-zoning.

"Mr. Smith says, 'If we get sued, we will prevail.' My theory is we avoid a lawsuit and continue with the process," Alarcon said to council members. He was the last person to comment on the motion before the vote.

"I urge you to vote 'no' to Mr. Smith's motion and vote 'yes' to my motion," he said.

Alarcon's motion, echoing an earlier motion of his, called for the city to enter into a supplemental fee agreement with Palmer so that the city assumes no cost in the pursuing the project.

Near the end of the debate, Smith tried to allay fears about litigation, reminding council members of a lawsuit filed against Los Angeles after it canceled a similar development project.

"We're City Hall, we've got the final say, not the developer," Smith said. "The city never took official action on this project. The city did something to give him hope. But we have done nothing to obligate the city to continue with this project."

This point was met with loud applause by people attending the public session, many of them from Santa Clarita.

One of those clapping was Sandra Cattell of the Sierra Club's local chapter.

"To quote (Sierra Club founder) John Muir: 'Let's go do something to make the mountains glad,'" she said. "There shouldn't be a development up there. It's a fire hazard zone. And, Las Lomas would have exacerbated traffic through the Newhall Pass.

"Hopefully, (the council's decision) will protect the vital link of this area of the Rim of the Valley," she said, referring to the federally-recognized strip of protected wilderness along the Angeles Mountains.

Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar applauded Los Angeles City Council's decision to stop what he has argued is "the wrong project in the wrong place."

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Kellar said: "On behalf of the people of Santa Clarita, I am very pleased that the city of Los Angeles voted today to deliver a deadly blow to the proposed Las Lomas development. This development would have been massive both in size and in negative impacts on surrounding communities including the city of Santa Clarita."


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