Friday, April 10, 2009

OPINION: Eyewitness to Ponte Vista Drama

By Doug Epperhart

Playing to a packed audience in the L.A. City Council chambers, the planning commission voted Thursday to leave the crowd in suspense for another four months. The commissioners are hoping Ponte Vista front man Ted Fentin and project opponents will rewrite the final act of the nearly four-year-long drama.

The commission was considering the developer’s application to build a 1,950-unit residential complex. However, Ponte Vista presented its latest incarnation – a 1,395-unit mix of townhomes and condominiums – and asked commissioners to keep the project alive long enough to see if it will survive.

A long line of speakers defended Ponte Vista. An equally long line attacked it. Everyone agreed an environmentally-sensitive project built with union labor is desirable. Human nature being what it is, though, just about everyone in the room was motivated by their own self-interest.

“We need jobs.”

“We don’t need more traffic.”

And so on.

If there are any heroes on this stage, it’s the men and women of the city’s planning department. Hiring Gail Goldberg to lead this bureaucracy is arguably the best personnel decision made by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Her reputation as a visionary yet down-to-earth planner is well deserved.

The policy to “do real planning” was adopted thanks to her leadership. The people who work in the department reflect these ideals. Last fall, the planners assigned to the Ponte Vista project recommended denying the application for 1,950 units. They suggested a project with a density approximating that of The Gardens, which is a complex of semi-detached homes bordering Westmont Drive east of Western Avenue.

Using these criteria, Ponte Vista would consist of somewhere between 775 and 886 units. If the developer took advantage of the “density bonus” by providing affordable and senior housing, as many as 1,196 units would be allowed.

Staff also said Ponte Vista should not be a gated community, not include senior housing and have no more than two access points to Western Avenue. These are all sound positions based on good planning and not the developer’s profit motive.

The planning commission should have adopted the staff report and rung down the curtain on this production. I don’t know how the next act will play out, but I’ll be surprised if the project lives happily ever after.
Doug Epperhart is a San Pedro business owner, community leader and member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council.

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