By CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA and MARIE TABELA | Reporters
The battle to build an eldercare facility in The Highlands has grown more heated as a residential representative accused community councilors in an open meeting of “betraying” the area while the first appeals against the project were filed with the city.
One way or another, the issue is set to resurface at the next Pacific Palisades Community Council meeting—while the appeals could add months of delays to the multi-million dollar project at 1525 Palisades Drive.
Few dispute that the Palisades, one of the fastest aging cities in California, needs more facilities for the elderly who wish to stay in the area. But the issue remains whether The Highlands is the right place for it—or whether lawyers can delay it to extinction.
Robert Flick and Jonathan Klar, both local attorneys, have each filed separate appeals to the West Los Angeles Planning Commission against the decision by city zoning administrator Henry Chu to approve the blueprints by Brentwood developer Rony Shram.
The appeals insist that the decision violates the California Coastal Act and the California Environmental Quality Act, giving planning commissioners plenty to look into.
Flick and Klar also accuse Chu of endangering the elderly, subjecting them to fire hazards and stranding them long distances from hospitals.
Once in the hands of the WLAPC, the volunteer planners will “decide whether to grant the appeal or whether to sustain the decision of the zoning administrator,” according to City Planner Courtney Shum. If they deny the appeal, it might still go to the California Coastal Commission.
While Flick submitted an initial eight-page appeal, Klar hoped his 58-page blitzkrieg of a document would keep the commissioner’s hands full.
“I wanted to make sure that everything I wanted to state got into the appeal,” Klar told the Palisadian-Post. “And Bob [Flick] wanted to control his appeal, so we ended up filing independent appeals … but in complete agreement with regard to the necessity of it and every major point.”
Prior to the official appeals, approximately 124 emails and letters, a petition with 150 names, and an online petition signed by more than 480 people were submitted in opposition to the project, according to the zoning administrator’s decision letter.
Flick took his efforts a step further by setting up an opposition fund asking for the financial help of his neighbors, raising more than $10,000 in two weeks.
“The eldercare project is grossly inappropriate for the neighborhood,” Flick wrote in an email to the Post. “Many interested parties, myself included, find the ZA’s approvals to be defective, and we are appealing those approvals.”
Taking a different approach, Marc Jackson, a member of the recently created residents group Highlanders United for Good, took to the floor during public comments at the last PPCC meeting on Feb. 8 to express what he characterized as its failure to protect residents from outsider developers.
He said that the council had betrayed residents by failing to protest more vigorously against the plans or subject them to closer scrutiny under Coastal Commission guidelines.
Although he was not accompanied by the large group of HUGgers who noisily dominated earlier meetings on the issue, he did cause councilors unused to such frontal attacks to blanch.
Jackson then submitted a letter to Maryam Zar, PPCC chair, insisting that the council and its Land Use Committee issue “a retraction and/or a restatement of the PPCC’s public recommendation” and demanding the recusal of LUC Chair Howard Robinson from future discussions.
Robinson was not available for comment.
On Tuesday, Feb. 13, Zar responded to Jackson via email, promising to consult fellow board members and “discuss the content of your letter and the crux of your opposition to what has been deemed to be a permissible development of an eldercare center in The Highlands.
“As you may surmise, I also hear from people who either support or do not oppose the construction. I will attempt to seek out the crux of their argument as well, and perhaps be able to gather a small group of people to talk about some elemental points at play, specifically with respect to environmental or coastal impact.”
Members of HUG are expected to return to the next pair of LUC and PPCC meetings, from 5 p.m. at Palisades Branch Library on Thursday, Feb. 22, to raise the issue during public comments.
Then it is up to PPCC whether to return to the issue or rule it beyond their legal scope.
They could go through the arguments again, and possibly reach the same conclusion—Shram has the legal right to build the senior care facility.
Either way, together with the appeals, ground breaking on Palisades Drive will not be happening any time soon.
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