When it comes to Playa Vista, it seems there’s almost nothing Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter won’t do to make sure the project moves forward.
Even if it means making a complete political about-face.
Less than two weeks before the City Council is scheduled to vote on a $428 million bond issue to help subsidize the massive $8 billion Westside development, Galanter announced that she is pushing for public funding to buy some of the land west of Lincoln Boulevard — which runs through the center of the project — to make sure the entire area closest to the ocean is preserved as wetlands.
The surprise announcement, which follows last month’s pullout by the DreamWorks film studio, was made in a one-page news release touting “a rare opportunity” to “achieve this important environmental victory.”
The thing is, Galanter has been a vigorous critic of activists seeking for the past year to preserve those same acres. She’s been the most consistent local leader in joining state and federal government officials to assert that most if not all the viable wetlands at Playa Vista are already protected by the existing proposal. The rest, she has said, are not really viable.
That position was hammered out in a compromise agreement Galanter negotiated years ago with Playa Vista and environmental activists. The plan called for the setting aside of 216 acres for restoration; nearly 200 more acres west of Lincoln would be built out.
Now Galanter is saying that these same 200 acres should be spared. “I call on state and federal agencies, as well as private phi-lanthropists, to assist me in protecting all that land from further development,” Galanter proclaims, “and to expand the efforts already under way to rescue the remaining wetlands from further degradation.”
Moreover, Galanter contends she’s already taken steps to bring this new plan to fruition. “I have been working with state and local officials on strategies for acquiring those acres still slated for development so that they can be added to the 216 acres west of Lincoln Boulevard already committed to restoration.”
But wait. Wouldn’t those officials include L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, whose district includes 160 of those acres? Surely he was one of the state and local officials Galanter said she had been working with. So what sort of talks have they had?
“None,” said Knabe’s press deputy, John Wallace. “It wasn’t us that she’s been working with.”
In fact, Knabe first heard about Galanter’s proposal by reading the press release. “I put in a call to her press person that, contrary to the release in the press, we had not been contacted,” Wallace said.
Perhaps the executives at Playa Vista would have heard something. They had worked closely with Galanter in the past, after all, and would be those most affected by a change in plans.
But they’d also heard nothing of Galanter’s new approach. “We were somewhat surprised by . . . Galanter’s statement regarding Playa Vista’s property west of Lincoln Boulevard,” said Playa Vista president Peter Denniston in his own press release Monday. Denniston added, “While we are encouraged by the dialogue this option has sparked, we continue to plan for the development of this area.” In other words, the builders had no interest in abandoning the project’s prime westerly property.
Not surprisingly, the Ballona Valley Preservation League, which has waged a scrappy battle to save the wetlands, wasn’t among the environmental groups Galanter contacted.
They offered a more pointed critique of the councilwoman’s surprise announcement. “Galanter knew that without DreamWorks she would have trouble getting the votes she needed to bail out the troubled Playa Vista project,” said league director Bruce Robertson in a press release Tuesday. “A U-turn on saving more wetlands constitutes little more than political cover.”
So, does the league support Galanter’s efforts to save more land?
“We’re a little skeptical,” Robertson said in an interview. “She’s made promises before. Her word’s not that good.”
It also remains a little unclear — particularly regarding her plans to purchase property she had formerly consigned to development. And just who were the collaborators in Galanter’s new preservation drive?
On her motives and on the particulars, Galanter chose to remain mum Tuesday. Several calls to her office went unanswered, as did a page to her press deputy.