DEVELOPMENT: Judges stop second phase until three land-use issues are reviewed. By Kristin S. Agostoni STAFF WRITER A trio of appellate court judges on Thursday delivered a blow to Playa Vista, ordering developers to halt work on the community’s second phase until three disputed land-use issues are reviewed. The 114-page decision from the Second District Court of Appeal sends the case back to a lower court for further direction. The judges ruled that the project’s environmental impact report was deficient in its analysis of the land’s development potential, the project’s wastewater effects and the disturbance of American Indian artifacts. In the meantime, construction of The Village – a mixed-use plan that would bring more homes, retailers, parks and offices – will be on hold as another legal battle plays out. “This is a huge victory that Playa Vista is going to have an enormous problem trying to get around,” said Rex Frankel, president of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit. “To rework an EIR with major problems like this is going to take awhile.” But Playa Vista spokesman Steve Sugerman said no one can say what the lower court will direct the city and Playa Vista to do. “We’re going to have to seek the guidance of the Superior Court,” he said. “The bottom line is, The Village will get built,” he said, adding: “The decision has no impact on the Phase I residential and Phase I commercial plan.” Today, the first phase of the long-litigated project between Westchester and Marina del Rey includes roughly 2,700 homes, neighborhood-serving retailers, a library and senior housing complex, among other amenities. A commercial campus and the Los Angeles Clippers’ new training facility are rising at Playa Vista’s eastern edge. The legal battle over The Village started shortly after the Los Angeles City Council approved the project in 2004. Opponents including the city of Santa Monica, the Surfrider Foundation, representatives of the Tongva/Gabrieleno Indians and groups dedicated to preserving the nearby Ballona Wetlands said in two separate lawsuits that the project’s environmental impact report was flawed. Specifically, they argued the city didn’t properly address an increase in traffic, high methane gas concentrations, the disturbance of Indian burial grounds and wastewater treatment issues. In January 2006, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger ruled that the city and Playa Vista provided the public and decision-makers with adequate information in the EIR. But the appellate court, which consolidated the cases and reviewed more than two dozen issues raised by opponents, singled out three “deficiencies” with the document. The judges questioned the city’s analysis of the project’s effects on Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant, the land-use documents used to approve the density of commercial and residential development for The Village, as well as the treatment of human remains and artifacts dating back 3,500 years. The judges agreed with opponents’ contentions that the EIR failed to discuss whether more resources could have been preserved on site by moving the path of a drainage channel called the Riparian Corridor. “The EIR alluded to the consideration of impacts on archaeological resources that had taken place previously behind the scenes,” the judges wrote, “but did not describe the ? measures considered and rejected or the reasons for rejecting those measures.” The decision went on to state that the city can achieve full compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act “only by vacating the project approvals and revising the EIR to remedy these deficiencies.” The ruling Thursday drew cheers from environmental groups fighting the plan. “The court has given the City Council another chance to get it right,” Tom Francis of the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust said in a statement. He urged the city to use the land slated for development to build a natural treatment wetland and park. Joe Geever, Surfrider Foundation’s California policy coordinator, said: “Our major concern was that the city was approving more pressure on outdated sewage treatment capacity and unabated urban runoff without fully understanding the additional adverse impacts on coastal ocean water quality and human health risks.” But Playa Vista’s Sugerman pointed out that two main arguments opponents have used to oppose Playa Vista – clogged roads and concerns about underground concentrations of methane – weren’t supported by the appellate court judges. “Contentions over the years on traffic and methane were struck down by this ruling,” he said. Developer Playa Capital is considering whether to request a rehearing before the appellate court or petition the state Supreme Court to take up the case. In a statement, Playa Vista President Steve Soboroff said the community “? continues to thrive, and this ruling will not in any way alter our plans. ? Despite the professional project opponents, we remain confident that the Playa Vista vision will ultimately be realized.” It’s unknown how long the decision could hold up construction of The Village, which is planned along a strip of Jefferson Boulevard that has already been graded by bulldozers. Resident Steve Donell, who serves as chairman of the neighborhood group Friends of Playa Vista, said he was relieved the decision didn’t question methane and traffic issues. But he also said he had a “level of disappointment” that the ruling could affect second-phase construction. “It’s a shame a vital retail component of our community is going to be delayed,” he said. “It keeps us on the streets when we should be in our own community riding bikes to the store.” [email protected] Staff writer Andrea Woodhouse contributed to this report.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!