The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

LA City Council officially approves River Park for construction

Printed with permission of HW Life
Harvard-Westlake River Park was officially approved by the Los Angeles (LA) City Council Nov. 14. The school’s conditional use plan, site plans and environmental impact report were all reviewed in the process by LA City Hall committees and officials.

The Los Angeles (LA) City Council unanimously voted to approve the school’s conditional use permit and site plan for River Park at a meeting Nov. 14. The final hearing for the project followed the approval of the River Park Environmental Impact Report by the City Council’s Planning and Land Management Committee on Nov. 7. The unanimous decision marks the final approval of the school’s right to begin construction on the 17.2 acre property, formerly owned by Weddington Golf and Tennis until the school purchased the property in 2017 for $42 million.

The conditional use permit, which outlines the official school operating hours on the property and guidelines for public use, and site plan, detailing the school’s construction plan, were reviewed prior to the vote. As the school constructs new athletic and recreational facilities, it will remove the existing golf course, driving range and tennis courts, but will preserve the historic clubhouse, putting green and golf-ball shaped lights. Additionally, the school will add a 350,000 gallon stormwater capture system, native landscaping and solar panels throughout the property.

Opponents to the River Park plan urged the Council to delay the final approval vote, as two of the sitting members of the planning commission, Samantha Millman ’99 and Caroline Choe ’98, were accused of ethics violations for their ties to the school, according to The Los Angeles Times. Choe has donated over $500,000 to the school personally and an additional $50,000 through a family foundation, and Millman has also made various donations. The two both consulted with the city attorney before voting. The ethics complaint filed claims their affiliation to the school mandates that they should have recused themselves from the vote and postponed the final vote.

City Council President Paul Krekorian, whose district previously included the site before redistricting, moderated the hearing. Krekorian voted yes to approve the school’s proposal to proceed with the project and said that he understands the historical significance of the property and the community’s sentiment.

“I understand how valuable and important this golf course is to the community,” Krekorian said. “When my mom lived in Studio City, she remembered [the property] being an open field before it was a golf course, when there was still sheep being raised on that field. I [myself] lived in this neighborhood for a number of years myself, so I understand the value of [Weddington] to the community.”

Krekorian said that the school’s new project will have more to offer to the Studio City community.

“The proposal that’s before us, is the best community serving use that has come forward for this property in well more than a decade and a half that I’ve been involved with it,” Krekorian said. “That’s why you saw the degree of community support, and [how the project] has been able to gain [progress] through much effort in [the school’s] community outreach [and] dialogue.”

Councilwoman Nithya Raman, whose district includes the site, has worked with the school and been involved in numerous local hearings with groups such as Save Weddington. Raman said the finalization of the school’s project was a result of an arduous process.

“This project has predated not only my time as the council member for Studio City by several years, it also predates my election as a council member at all,” Raman said. “We are here today after a long, fraught and frustrating process. Harvard-Westlake bought the property in 2017 and applied for a conditional use permit to build a sports facility on the site. Since [then], we took over this area in redistricting, and my staff and I have spent countless hours engaging with community members with city departments, including planning and the city attorney, and school representatives to try and address constituent concerns about the project.”

The hearing was open to the public for comment, and supporters and opponents of the project voiced their opinions to the 15 deciding council members. Parents of students attending the school, alumni of the school and some Studio City residents spoke in support of the project.

Studio City resident Teri Austin, who has voiced her dissent for River Park in multiple hearings, spoke at the final council meeting. Austin said that despite the school’s cooperation with the community, she believes there will still be minimal access for neighbors of the property.

“[There’s been] extreme difficulty in getting the individual community members heard,” Austin said. “We have people getting up to say, ‘Oh, this is so wonderful for the community.’ But nobody mentions that 14,000 people signed a petition, and [that] thousands of people have written in [with organizations] for the last three years. [Weddington] is the last 16 acres of open space. There is supposed to be public access, but this whole project hinges on a conditional use permit. The project does not meet the qualifications for the [community member] to just walk on [and have access] to the property.”

According to Raman, 5.4 acres of green space will be accessible seven days a week to the public and use of the tennis courts and swimming pool will be made available to the public. Regulations on the school include a curfew for sporting events and restrictions for events on Sundays. Raman said that she has worked hard to increase benefits and access to the Studio City community.

“We [tried to] increase public access to green spaces, improve pedestrian safety, reduce the size and frequency of events, reduce construction, noise and traffic impacts and more,” Raman said. “These wins for the community were hard fought, but we failed in truly downsizing the project significantly [for the community]. I deeply empathize with people in the neighborhood who feel a palpable emotional connection to the golf and tennis facilities. It’s been a part of their community for generations.”

Raman said that she has ultimately had to find a balance between satisfying the school and the neighbors of River Park, and that she hopes to ultimately serve both with the project.

“My team and I have done our best to honor that connection to push the project in a direction that serves both the community and the school,” Raman said. “I’m grateful for the good faith collaboration among all who worked diligently to get us to the stage in the process. My office is committed completely to making sure that the school follows through on being a responsible owner and developer, and I am sure that [the school] will commit their ample and sizable resources to making sure that they do that. I look forward to working with residents to ensure the site becomes part of a new chapter for our community that I hope we can all be proud of.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Connor Tang, Editor-in-Chief

Comments (0)

All The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *