By JOHN HARLOW |Editor-in-Chief
Plans to construct a four-story senior center in The Highlands are growing into, arguably, the most controversial building project in the Palisades since the Caruso project.
The debate has already become marked by deeply personal conflicts on social media, an alleged assault in a Vons supermarket and theft from a Pacific Palisades Farmers Market stand promoting the proposed eldercare and dementia facility.
A joint homeowners association meeting held at the Summit in The Highlands on Monday, Oct. 23, started loudly, according to people on both sides of the debate, and after 30 minutes devolved into a cantankerous shouting match.
Both sides blamed each other for the escalation of verbal hostilities.
It does not bode well for civilized debate at the Land Use Committee, a subsidiary of the Pacific Palisades Community Council, which has listed the project at 1525 Palisades Drive as the prime item to be discussed at the Palisades Branch Library at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26.
Although Chair Howard Robinson has already published the rules on the PPCC website, limiting presentations from Brentwood developer Rony Shram and critics from the newly formed Highlanders United for Good (HUG) to 10 minutes each (and public comment to 40 minutes) it will be a management test for the recently revived committee.
There is history to the testiness: In 2014 Shram tried to build residences on the neglected site near the Casa Nostra restaurant, then characterized as “condomania.”
The plan failed after a Summit meeting overflowed with angry objectors.
Three years later, the Summit was not quite as full, but just as angry.
Around 30 members of the public joined David Dwyer and other local housing association presidents at what had been scheduled as a routine maintenance meeting.
There have been unsubstantiated reports that a member of Dwyer’s family was deliberately hit with a backpack when she was shopping at Vons in Castellammare on Saturday, Oct. 21.
The assailant is suspected to be a neighbor upset with Dwyer who feels he is too sympathetic to Shram.
There was another alleged incident the next day, at the farmers market, where Shram’s team was handing out literature to counter HUG leaflets decrying the project as a traffic and safety hazard.
A witness from a nearby stand said that a man first intimidated residents speaking with the team, “bullying” them loudly.
And then he “made off” with architectural renderings of the 65,000-square-foot project. As with the Vons incident, no police report has yet been filed.
At the Summit meeting Dwyer reportedly told the unhappy residents that the empty site could be turned into something far worse than an elderly carecenter, such as condos with late-night stores on the ground floor.
But he also said the look of the structure could be modified, perhaps made more Spanish or Tuscan, if that would ease aesthetic tensions.
Apparently, not entirely.
One resident, a well-known realtor, said neighbors should each contribute $2,000 to buy Shram out and turn the grassy lot into a park.
A second suggested a dog park and a third, and others, want Trader Joe’s—although an official at the German-owned supermarket chain has stated they have no plans for the Palisades.
Already warm temperatures soared when a HOA official told a female protestor “you remind me of my ex-wife, who would never stop talking” followed by eight minutes of raised voices. After which the public was ushered out of the meeting.
Legal decisions are some distance off: On Oct. 4, City officials, after facing a long line of objectors, decided to delay a planning decision for 30 days, allowing more time to gather input. This includes LUC comments.
And then there is the California Coastal Commission, which takes up to six months to even schedule such issues. And even if it passes muster on planning issues, commissioners in Long Beach could still crush the application on vaguely-defined “aesthetic” grounds.