Guest contributor Jon Nahhas has submitted the following report to the Silver Strand News:
The California Department of Regional Planning Commission approved the Venice Dual Force Main Project’s proposed route underneath Via Marina in the hearing, which took place downtown on Wednesday, February 25, 2015. As in the case of the City of Los Angeles, in its public meetings on the project, the County purposefully withheld the details of its own lawsuit from its County Commissioners and was absent from their packet of information. Anita Gutierrez, Department of Regional Planning Rep, gave a five-sentence summary of the long litigation process and simply stated that the County did not prevail.
The Grassroots Coalition and others presented information to the Commissioners on the dangers of the abandoned gas/oil wells along the proposed route. Beth Holden spoke about the need for more scientific information and the need to address traffic issues associated with the project. Dr. Dan Gottlieb discussed the problems with the Shores project including the leaking abandoned oil wells beneath The Shores and false traffic studies by the County. Kathy Knight of the LAX/Marina Sierra Club spoke on the impacts of other projects and how they are related to the Sewer Project.
The City’s staff was not only backed by County staffers, but the LA Waterkeeper and Heal the Bay (each organization having only attended one meeting). They were not concerned so much about the botched environmental review as they were the idea of placing the sewer pipe on the beach close to the water (both discussed sea level rise).
The Los Angeles County Counsel quickly tried to spin the Commission after I commented on the huge debacle of the Commission not being informed of why their attorneys spent millions of taxpayer dollars fighting the bad EIR and challenging the City on its deficient traffic studies. I read part of the County’s Opening Brief in court to the Planning Commissioners during my testimony and it obviously created a nervous situation for City and County operatives (each tried to dispute my testimony):
“The EIR considered a number of impacts, including impacts on traffic from the construction of the Project. The EIR that was circulated to the public, however, understated the traffic impacts of both the Via Marina and Pacific Avenue routes. It severely undercounted the traffic impacts of using the Via Marina route because it assumed that only one lane of traffic would need to be closed during construction. However, the City later revealed that two lanes would need to be closed, leaving only one lane open in each direction. The City subsequently commissioned a second traffic study, which revealed that using the Via Marina route would cause significant reductions in the levels of service at several intersections and street segments along Via Marina. In addition, while the original traffic study only considered the cumulative impacts from ten related projects, the second traffic study considered cumulative impacts from 38 related projects.
Despite this significant new information, the City refused to re-circulate the EIR to allow the public to understand the issues relating to the Project, including traffic impacts and cumulative impacts, and to comment on them. The City incorrectly concluded that the traffic impacts from the Project will be less than significant because they will be temporary. In addition, the City incorrectly concluded that the second traffic study merely ”corroborated and refined” the information contained in the first traffic study. There is not substantial evidence in the record to support the City’s decision not to re-circulate the EIR.
In addition, the EIR was defective because the Draft EIR considered only fifteen projects in its analysis of cumulative impacts in areas other than the traffic, including but not limited to noise, air quality, visual and aesthetic resources, and geology, soils and seismicity. It later determined that there were a number of additional related projects that were not considered in the Draft EIR, but it never revised the EIR to consider the cumulative impacts from these additional projects, as well as appropriate mitigation measures, and to re-circulated the EIR if the revised EIR includes significant new information.”
Los Angeles County Counsel did say that they still believe these assertions are true but that they “lost on the claims.” Technically, they did not lose on the claims – they decided not to pursue. Why not?
In addition, many residents on either side of Via Marina have written both City and County officials about this project. Homeowner Nora Nicosia, received the following reply from City of Los Angeles Councilmember, Mike Bonin, to a letter she wrote opposing the project:
Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns about the Venice Dual Force Main Project. I understand that you and your neighbors have several concerns about this project and the potential impacts it may have on your community.
Our existing sewer system in this part of the City is a single line that serves the coastal area of Los Angeles and the adjacent communities, including Malibu and Marina Del Rey, and we are in dire need of additional capacity in this area, especially to accommodate peak wet weather flows into the Venice Pumping Station. There is also the issue of reliability – the existing sewer main is approximately 50 years old, and has never been able to be checked to determine its integrity. Given the age of the line, the increase in system usage over the last decades, and the need to increase capacity, the City must add an additional line to the system or risk a potential environmental disaster.
The question now is: Where does this line go? When the project was first proposed, there were three potential routes that would link the existing Venice Pumping Plant on Hurricane to the Hyperion Treatment Plant near LAX: 1) the beach (near the existing line); 2) Pacific Avenue; and 3) Via Marina. The beach route was eliminated due to the significant environmental impacts during construction, as well as possible spill impacts, impediments to beach access, concerns over coastal erosion, and proximity to the existing sewer line. The Pacific Avenue route was eliminated due to significant traffic impacts, including total closure of two intersections and blocked residential driveways. Via Marina was thus chosen due to the fact that though there would be traffic impacts, it was the best option of the three possible routes. There were a few benefits to this option that were not possible with other routes: Through traffic could be maintained in each direction at all times, the sewer line could placed in the public right of way and not need to go under buildings or private property, and the Via Marina route had the least potential exposure to remnant oil and gas wells.
I understand that for those who access their homes on Via Marina, the prospect of reducing the roadway to one lane in each direction for many months is a serious and legitimate concern. Unfortunately, it is a necessary challenge that we must endure to ensure that this vital project is built. The longer we wait, the more chance there is for an environmental catastrophe on our beaches.
Please know that the City is working side by side with emergency responders in the City and County, as well as the project contractor (when chosen), to ensure the community’s safety in every way possible. Our staff and the project contractor will also work diligently during the construction project to be responsive to any concerns you may have regarding access, potential noise, and anything else you want to discuss. In addition, access to all driveways on Via Marina will be maintained during construction.
I urge you to visit the City’s website on this project, http://eng.lacity.org/projects/vpp/, which includes a link to the Final Environmental Impact Report and other important information. I also encourage you to reach out to Debbie Dyner Harris in my office, who will be happy to answer any further questions or address any concerns you may have. She can be reached at email@example.com, or (310) 575-8461. I thank you for your patience and support for this incredibly important project.
Councilmember, 11th District
The proposed route still needs to be approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the the California Coastal Commission (this will be the last stand for those opposing the Via Marina route.) It is now likely that both will approve the project which is scheduled to commence in 2016. These two hearings have yet to be scheduled.
What you can do:
Write to both the City and the County officials requesting mitigations in terms of:
1) Construction hours.
2) Construction worker parking.
3) Information from the city about how they will address the problem of drivers using Via Dolce and Roma Court in order to avoid Via Marina delays.
4) Reports from the City on oil and gas wells and any leaks from same.
5) Reports from the City on preserving mature Coral trees on Via Marina and on the entrance to Silver Strand Triangle.
6) Demand that the City provide screening for the Venice Pumping Plant at Hurricane St, an eyesore that impacts the views on the Ballona Lagoon. This is something that might interest the Coastal Commission.
7) Demand specific information about how the City and the County plan to address access of emergency vehicles and services to the Silver Strand during the construction period.
Where to Write:
Sheila Kuehl firstname.lastname@example.org [Sheila Kuehl is our representative (33rd District) on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors]
Mike Bonin, Councilmember, City of Los Angeles Council District 11 <email@example.com>
Debbie Dyner Harris, District Director. City of Los Angeles Council District 11 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
California Coastal Commission:
Jack Ainsworth, Deputy Executive Director (South Coast Office): email@example.com