Millennium Hollywood (illustration: Millennium Partners and Argent Ventures)
In the end, it wasn’t close proximity to an active earthquake fault that halted plans to build the $1-billion Millennium Hollywood skyscraper project, it was Caltrans and a failure by Los Angeles to heed its warning.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant said last week that developers of the twin towers—39 and 35 stories high, with housing, stores, restaurants and hotel rooms—would need to redo its critical Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to address issues raised earlier by the state’s transportation department.
Caltrans publicly expressed concerns in May 2011 that the project might cause vehicles to queue up on surface streets waiting to hop on the ever-clogged 101 Freeway. In December 2012, after reading the city’s draft EIR, the agency conveyed a series of “major concerns” about its traffic analysis.
The DEIR had found that the massive development would have no significant effect on traffic. Caltrans said the conclusion was “not based on any credible analysis that could be found anywhere in the DEIR.” The agency said the intensified traffic congestion would be inconvenient and unsafe on surface streets and the freeway.
The agency reiterated its objections when the final report (FEIR) was issued and then in a series of letters to city officials, including then-City Councilman and now Mayor Eric Garcetti. The mayor is a big supporter of dense, vertical development in Hollywood, much to the consternation of neighborhood groups.
The city argued that its only obligation was to consider the Caltrans objections, which it did, but was under no compulsion to adopt them. The judge said the methodology the city used to analyze traffic patterns did not address the specific Caltrans claims, i.e. the agency was ignored. “The city was not entitled to disagree with Caltrans,” he concluded.
Philip Aarons, a principal at Millennium Partners, told the Los Angeles Times, “The project is certainly not dead. We’re excited to keep it going. We’re not discouraged by today’s court hearing.”
The Times said it would take at least a year to redo the EIR.
The judge’s decision ties up the permit process, but there is cause for the city and developers to sense that perseverance might pay off. The state geologist, in 2013, said there was a decent chance a major fault ran under the project—before the City Council unanimously approved it based on assurances to the contrary from the developer.
The city geologist asked the developers to do additional trenching tests in early 2014, and then the L.A. Department of Building and Safety signed off on the project’s seismic safety last October.