The corporate brass from Universal Studios Inc. got its first official taste last week of the opposition it will face over a proposed massive expansion for its Universal City lot.
The second public hearing but the first to allow public airing of opposition views drew a standing room-only crowd of more than 300 at the Universal Hilton.
For five hours, supporters and opponents expressed their views on Universal’s plan to add as much as 5.9 million square feet of additional hotel, studio, office and theme park development to its Universal City lot over the next 25 years.
Universal estimates the expansion would add 13,000 jobs to the area and increase state and local tax revenues by $25 million a year.
The strongest opposition is coming from homeowner groups in Toluca Lake, the Cahuenga Pass area and Studio City, all of which were represented by sizable contingents. The meeting was held by the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission and the Los Angeles City Planning Commission.
The most vocal of the three groups was the Toluca Lake Homeowners Association, whose members complained of steadily rising noise levels coming from Universal City.
Members of the affluent Toluca Lake community pooled together $20,000 to hire Jack Rubens, an attorney from the law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, to make their case to city and county planning commissioners.
Rubens, who addressed the commissioners for 20 minutes at the meeting, gave them a 36-page report detailing Toluca Lake residents’ concerns about the project, accompanied by an inches-thick volume of supporting documents.
“The Toluca Lake residents are very concerned about noise. They’ve been plagued by noise (from Universal City) over the last decade or so,” said Rubens, who received several rounds of applause during his speech.
Following his presentation, Toluca Lake resident Sally Stevens gave a more emotional account of her frequent complaints over the past year to law enforcement and Universal officials about the noise.
She recalled making one complaint to an L.A. city police official in North Hollywood, only to be told, “If (the noise) really bothers you, I suggest you move, because Universal is bigger than City Hall.”
Meanwhile, the two biggest concerns expressed by Cahuenga Pass residents at last week’s meeting were traffic congestion and noise.
“We’re not against studio expansion that brings jobs into the community. What we are against is building a Disneyland in the middle of a mountain,” said Krysta Michaels, president of the Cahuenga Pass Property Owners Association, echoing the view of many opponents that a studio expansion is acceptable but the theme park expansion and hotel development are not.
Supporters of Universal’s plan pointed to the tax revenues, jobs and economic growth the master plan would bring to the area. Many of those supporters at last week’s meeting are members of “Universal City Tomorrow,” a group of nearby residents who have been brought together by Universal to support the master plan.
Universal officials presented their plan and its benefits to the city and county commissioners at an earlier public hearing on Jan. 13 and did not address the panel at last week’s meeting.
Some 43 supporters and 70 opponents of the plan signed up to speak at last week’s meeting, though only a fraction of those addressed the co in e who did not get to speak, city and county planners issued a continuance for the meeting to resume on March 3.