Learning some new lines at Universal
December 9, 2010
Norman Bates is planning a road trip.
Universal Studios’ “Psycho” house and the Bates Motel will be spooking tram-riders from new locations on the Universal lot if plans for a major new 2,937-unit housing development on the site are approved. Also hitting the road (or cul de sac, as the case may be) are Wisteria Lane of “Desperate Housewives” fame and Falls Lake, where movies ranging from “Jaws” to the upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean 4″ were shot.
But those high-visibility locales aren’t the only places that will be getting an Earthquake Ride-sized shake-up if the $3 billion, 20-year development known as the NBC Universal Evolution Plan goes through.
Jurisdictional lines that now cut through the property, unseen by the naked eye but crucial to delivery of public services, also are set for a retake.
The 391-acre property currently is divided between Los Angeles County (with 296 acres) and the City of Los Angeles (95 acres.) Some buildings on the Universal lot now are literally split between the two jurisdictions, as is the pedestrian shopping-and-dining mall CityWalk.
Thus, munching a hot dog at Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom places you in city territory, but sipping a margarita at Camacho’s Cantina lands you in unincorporated L.A. County. Shoppers at Billabong and the Dodgers Clubhouse store are browsing through the city, but anyone taking in a movie at AMC Theatres has entered the county zone. The big Universal globe at the theme park entrance? That’s in the city, as is the Zen Zone’s Oxygen Bar (which, at least for visiting out-of-towners might seem to have a certain only-in-L.A. logic to it.)
The new plan proposes to redraw the lines so that all of CityWalk and the entire Universal Studios theme park would fall squarely into county territory while the new housing development would reside completely within the city limits. The city and county would share equally in the project’s economic benefits, NBC Universal executives say, adding that the idea of redrawing the jurisdictional lines is to keep related functions together and under the same governmental system.
That means relocation for the “Psycho” house, Bates Motel, Wisteria Lane, Falls Lake and other facilities, including the NBC Universal employee childcare center. All except the childcare center are now in county territory but will need to be relocated to other unincorporated county land on the lot to make way for the proposed residential development.
Because the plan will require changing jurisdictional boundaries, it will require approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission for the County of Los Angeles (LAFCO.) That vote is expected to come at the end of a lengthy review and public comment process, and a series of official actions including votes by the county Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council, which will need to approve the housing component of the plan.
With the release of the project’s draft Environmental Impact Report last month, the initial round of public comment is underway, with a meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. on Dec. 13 at the Universal Hilton. The public comment period on the massive, draft EIR (which weighs in at 39,000 pages, including supporting documents) has been extended to Feb. 4, 2011, at the request of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and City Councilman Tom LaBonge.
“NBC Universal’s proposed project is a massive undertaking and it is vital that the involved Planning departments provide ample opportunities for potentially-affected residents to participate in this important public process,” Yaroslavsky said in a Nov. 5 letter requesting the extension.
(The agenda for the Dec. 13 meeting is here. This city Planning Department document also has information on the meeting and how to comment on the draft EIR.) More opportunities for the public to weigh in on the overall project will take place once a final EIR is prepared.
Among the “significant and unavoidable impacts” raised by the draft EIR are traffic and air quality, and, during the construction period, solid waste removal and noise. Neighbors of the project already have expressed concerns. Daniel Savage, president of the Hollywood Knolls Community Club, said his organization is worried about the local impact of the proposed residential development and especially about the potential for worsening traffic in the area.
“We’re not unilaterally against the concept of some kind of development,” Savage said. “We do recognize the right of NBC Universal…to develop their own property. But it can’t be at the expense of their neighbors.”
The project’s website devotes a page to proposed transportation improvements to help mitigate potential problems. Still, Savage, who said his own group is in the midst of a “deep dive” into the project’s traffic study, expressed some early reservations about how those measures would work out—and for how long.
As for the annexation of land, the county stands to lose a net 44 acres to the city under the plan. (For those keeping score at home, that’s 252 acres for the county, 139 acres for the city.) NBC Universal executives say the end result—if approved by LAFCO—would be a fair and sensible division.
“Realigning the jurisdictional boundaries allows us to effectively align property uses with the goal of equitably sharing the economic benefits that the Evolution Plan brings,” Tom Smith, NBC Universal’s Senior Vice President of West Coast real estate, said in an emailed statement.
“This will allow the City and County to equally benefit from the $2 billion in new economic activity and the $26 million in new tax revenue generated by the project.”
Smith said NBC Universal believes the city is “best equipped to fill the public service needs of the new residential community,” while the county, with a long track record of serving the studio and theme park, “is best able to continue doing so.” NBC Universal headquarters would remain in county jurisdiction under the plan.
“The majority of the project remains within the County,” Smith said, “and NBC Universal will continue to be a major employment and economic engine as a result of this project.”
In addition to the new housing, the project would add a new 500-room hotel right at the entrance to the theme park as part of 1.83 million square feet of new entertainment, studio and office space planned for the site. An additional 115,000 square feet would be devoted to “neighborhood-serving retail/commercial uses” for the new residential development and up to 65,000 square feet of “community-serving uses.” (This interactive map provides more details of what’s being proposed.)
CityWalk would get a new sheriff’s station, under the plan. A new additional fire station or upgraded county fire station also is proposed, along with a new city fire station located in the city to serve the residential community. And 35 acres of new open space, including parks and trails, would be set aside.