Caruso Project Approved, Allen’s Appeal Denied

By FRANCES SHARPE | Editor-in-Chief

Developer Rick Caruso’s Palisades Village project passed another milestone on Thursday, April 28 when the Los Angeles City Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny Jack Allen’s appeal and to approve the parcel map and adopt the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) with a few amendments. 

Caruso Affiliated is proposing to build a movie theater, specialty grocer, restaurants, retail, a park and two levels of underground parking on 116,215 square feet on 3.11 acres of land in the heart of the Palisades.

Palisadians file into Van Nuys City Hall to speak at the City Planning Commission hearing on Caruso Affiliated’s Palisades Village project. Photo: Jayrol San Jose
Palisadians file into Van Nuys City Hall to speak at the City Planning Commission hearing on Caruso Affiliated’s Palisades Village project.
All photos by: Jayrol San Jose

“It’s fantastic,” Caruso told the Palisadian-Post of the decision. “It really does reinforce the power of the community. I’m very grateful to the community and can’t wait to get started.”

Over 70 Palisades residents attended the hearing at Van Nuys City Hall to show their support for the project while attorney John B. Murdock spoke on behalf of Allen’s organization Palisades Preservation Association. (In 2015 Murdock represented Palisades residents who successfully appealed the city’s approval of a proposed apartment complex at 17000 Sunset Blvd.)

“Tear down these walls, Mr. Caruso, tear down these walls!” shouted Palisadian Judy Silk, one of the more than 70 supporters who spoke at the hearing, expressing her eagerness for the Caruso project to get underway.

Her enthusiastic cry was met with rousing applause from the audience.

Several of the commissioners remarked on the unprecedented show of support for the project.

“Either the opposition’s bus broke down or Caruso’s team did a remarkable job on community outreach,” Commissioner Robert Ahn said, adding that he had never seen such a lack of opposition for a project of this size.

Even people who previously challenged certain aspects of the project offered their support.

Alphabet Streets resident Lou Kamer, who for the last few months has been mediating discussions between Caruso and a group called Protect Out Village (POV), said, “Late last night an agreement was reached between these parties. I feel they will produce a project that will enhance the community.”

Palisadians crowd around a table to fill out comment cards so they can speak at the hearing.
Palisadians crowd around a table to fill out comment cards so they can speak at the hearing.

Ted Weitz, a POV advisory board member, said, “This organization expressed a number of concerns at several meetings. We felt many concerns weren’t being addressed, but after many meetings, yesterday we reached an agreement with Caruso. POV supports the project as presented and looks forward to having an ongoing conversation.”

Kamer urged the Commissioners to approve the proposed project and added, “To all who still have issues, you should consider our approach instead of legal or legislative action.”

The one voice that challenged the project’s approval belonged to Murdock, who said most of the issues in his client’s appeal had already been resolved. The only sticking point?

“The one-way street is one issue that has not been resolved” and Allen won’t back down on that, Murdock said.

Murdock added that transforming Swarthmore into a one-way street will “funnel about 1,000 trips a day into residential streets and preclude them from going down to Sunset. We recommend an EIR to study that particular issue.”

Conducting an Environmental Impact Report could delay the project by at least two years.

Caruso offered a rebuttal to Allen’s claims, stating that a traffic analysis of the one-way street showed “an additional one car per minute. That is all.”

Caruso added that “in the interest of safety, one way is far superior.”

Tricia Keane, Director of Land Use and Planning for Councilmember Mike Bonin spoke of Bonin’s strong support for the project and the one-way street.

“We support the one-way street configuration as it will improve pedestrian safety, increase parking and add for street beautification,” Keane said. “Deny the appeal and move the project forward to City Council as quickly as possible.”

Allen did not attend the hearing due to a medical procedure, according to Murdock.

“I don’t know who Jack Allen is, but I can understand why he didn’t show up today,” said Huntington resident Mike McRoskey to applause from the audience.

Prior to the hearing Murdock was seen huddling near the back of the room with Pacific Palisades Design Review Board (DRB) members Donna Vaccarino and Kelly Comras.

(L to r): Design Review Board members Kelly Comras and Donna Vaccarino converse with John B. Murdock, the attorney representing Jack Allen who filed an appeal asking for an EIR.
(L to r): Design Review Board members Kelly Comras and Donna Vaccarino converse with John B. Murdock, the attorney representing Jack Allen who filed an appeal asking for an EIR.

The DRB held a preliminary hearing on the Caruso project on Jan. 13, but its final hearing scheduled for March 2 was canceled when the City Attorney’s office determined that four members—Vaccarino, Comras, Barbara Kohn and Stuart Muller—had improper communications regarding the project. Three of those board members—Vaccarino, Comras and Kohn—are disputing the City Attorney’s decision.

Project supporter Don Scott tells commissioners: “I hope work can start immediately.”
Project supporter Don Scott tells commissioners: “I hope work can start immediately.”

Vaccarino spoke at Thursday’s hearing, offering what she called a correction to the DRB’s suggestions regarding architectural style at its preliminary meeting.

“There was no DRB consensus of architectural style at that meeting,” Vaccarino said. “The DRB was never allowed to correct this misunderstood point.”

She added that the DRB had suggested that Caruso seek inspiration from the Palisades’ heritage of early Mission, Spanish, California Mediterranean and famed mid-century architects.

During the commissioners’ discussion of concerns that had been raised, CPC Vice President Renee Dake Wilson echoed Vaccarino’s suggestion that the project adopt an architectural style that she said is more in keeping with the history of the Palisades.

Dake Wilson said, “Although the DRB lost discretion on this project since no quorum existed, discretion passed to this body and the director. I’m sympathetic to the DRB findings, which requires architecture to model architecture in the area. I want a condition of approval that architecture [reflect] precedence of neighboring architecture: Mission, Spanish, California Mediterranean, case studies, mid-century modern rather than having…Cape Cod.”

A resounding round of “boos” from the audience drowned out Dake Wilson’s remarks.

A seemingly startled Dake Wilson backed down on the issue of architecture, saying, “Certainly, the crowd has spoken.”

Other commissioners commended the architecture proposed in the project.

Dake Wilson also suggested reducing the height of a brick wall proposed on Monument Street, suggesting that the wall would make the proposed park appear privatized.

The wall in question is where Caruso is planning to honor the commemorative tiles that line Swarthmore.

After a brief discussion of the matter, the parties agreed on a maximum height of 4 feet for the wall, which will allow the bricks to display the names from the tiles.

After discussion of a number of concerns that had been raised during the hearing, the CPC, led by President David Ambroz, unanimously denied the appeal and approved the parcel map and adopted the MND with some amendments.

The next step in the process is a hearing with the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, which is expected to take place in June.