Editor’s Note: The following opinion editorial is by John Schwada, former reporter for Fox 11 News, the LA Times, and the LA Herald-Examiner over 35 years. His consulting firm, MediaFix Associates, is now assisting the opponents of the Archer project.
By John Schwada
The Archer School for Girls and opponents of the school’s controversial, $100 million campus expansion project are headed for a showdown at a Los Angeles City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 4.
Opponents, led by the Sunset Coalition, a newly-formed organization, are turning up the heat on Councilman Mike Bonin to stop Archer’s project – as currently proposed – for a quarter million square feet of construction on the school’s campus on Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood.
As recently as April, Bonin called the stretch of Sunset occupied by Archer “one of the worst traffic choke points” in Los Angeles. “I can’t drive down Sunset in the afternoon without planning for maddening traffic delays.”
So it was stunning when Bonin struck a bargain with Archer and opted to support the private girls school’s massive building project (called Archer Forward) that critics say will seriously exacerbate the paralyzing traffic conditions that already exist on Sunset Blvd. during rush hours. It’s this project that is set for a final City Council vote on Aug. 4.
Critics point to the school’s own environmental studies that show the Archer Forward plan would generate 133,000 construction-related vehicle trips, going in and out of the Archer property at 11725 Sunset Blvd. over a three year period.
“The traffic impact would be unimaginable,” says Wendy-Sue Rosen, president of the Brentwood Residents Coalition; Rosen also co-chairs the Sunset Coalition with investment manager and Brentwood resident David C. Wright.
“The community has just survived five years of construction-related traffic congestion due to the 405 Freeway widening work,” says Rosen. “And now Archer wants to put us through three more years of a traffic nightmare.”
“We hoped that Councilman Bonin would represent the interests of all the residents of Brentwood in evaluating this project and not just those of Archer,” Wright says.
Eric Edmunds, president of the Brentwood Hills Homeowners Assn. which is a member of the Sunset Coalition, says Archer moved to its current location, a historic former retirement home, in 1998 with wide support from the community.
“I personally backed their move at the time,” Edmunds says. “I thought Archer would be a great asset for Brentwood, and I still believe that. But I do not support Archer’s proposed building plan. Traffic is out of control on Sunset already, and the Archer project, as it is now proposed, will only make it worse.”
The project’s traffic will effect 20,000 residents and 1500 businesses in the 90049 (Brentwood) and 90272 (Pacific Palisades) zip codes, thousands of non-residents who travel to and from work on this stretch of Sunset and thousands more beach-going motorists.
With so much at stake, homeowners were surprised when Bonin proclaimed he had negotiated a “ground-breaking compromise’’ on the Archer project with local homeowners.
Bonin, who will run for reelection, in 2017 just before the project construction is set to begin and its impacts felt, has also astounded homeowners by claiming the Archer project will actually reduce traffic congestion on Sunset.
“That’s just not believable,” says Edmunds. “Archer’s new buildings, its new playing fields are being built to accommodate more visitors and guests. That means more traffic, and more gridlock. It’s unavoidable. Can Archer try to manage the traffic, for example, by having its events before or after a rush hour? Yes, but what they’ll be doing is extending the peak traffic hours.”
“This so-called compromise is really no compromise at all because it does almost nothing to reduce the size of Archer’s originally proposed project,” adds Wright. “It’s still way too big and too impactful.”
Nor does the Bonin-engineered compromise have the community’s blessing. “This agreement was reached behind closed doors with only a handful of homeowners in the room,” says Wright. “Everyone we’ve spoken to since this ‘compromise agreement’ was announced remains opposed to the project.”
All told, 11 Westside homeowner groups oppose Archer’s plan and support what’s called “Alternative 2” – a much-scaled down Archer project.
The Archer plan would involve 234,900 square feet of construction, including an extensive remodel of the school’s main 85,000 square foot building. It would also add:
• a new 17,700 square foot, 395-seat performing arts center;
• a new 85,500 square foot underground parking garage with 164 spaces (expandable to 251 stacked spaces);
• a new two-story, 39,300 square foot multipurpose facility with two gyms; and,
• a new 7,400 square foot visual arts center.
Also, the school will be permitted to newly operate a six-week summer session and host a significantly greater number of athletic and special events on campus than it does now.
“That’s just not plausible,” says Edmunds. “Archer’s new buildings, its new playing fields are being built to accommodate more visitors and guests,” says Edmunds. “That means more traffic, and more gridlock. It’s unavoidable. Can Archer try to manage the traffic, for example, by having its events before or after a rush hour? Yes, but what they’ll be doing is extending the peak traffic hours.”