What’s the benefit to the community?

We can’t find one.   The school’s promotional materials bill the bridge as a “gateway to the community” — but it benefits only the school, at great detriment to the hillside and the neighborhood.  The only people who would use the new bridge are those going from the garage to the school.

Will the athletic field disrupt the neighborhood?

Lighting towers as high as 87 feet tall will undoubtedly bother nearby neighbors.  But even hillside residents up and across the canyon will have a new eyesore to ruin their canyon views.  Proposed “mitigation” trees along Coldwater will not hide this 3-story structure from hundreds of residents up the eastern hillside — the structure would need retaining walls that reach 90 ft high (three times higher than the hillside limit).

Wildlife will be affected all the way to the Mulholland Corridor (only 34 feet away from the outer corridor).  The school even wants to use the proposed practice field after dark and on Saturdays and weekday holidays. (They already loan out their existing field, yet they say they “need” another?!)

How will this affect me? I don’t live nearby.

Construction and delays — increased traffic — affect thousands of commuters and anyone who drives this canyon road.

The proposed excavation involves over 137,000 cubic yards of soil! That’s 400 million pounds of earth. The excavation and construction is estimated to take almost THREE YEARS.

Any delays on Coldwater affect traffic on Beverly Glen and Laurel Canyon, as well as other hillside routes.

Read the Brohard & Associates Traffic Impact Report. (Aug. 2017)

Does less than pristine land need protecting?

Even disturbed land, if designated “desirable open space,” deserves extra protection. This land is zoned minimal and low residential — any school use must be compatible with the land use, not an out-of-scale parking garage that needs retaining walls THREE TIMES as tall as allowed, and excavation of the hillside 85 TIMES as much as allowed in a hillside!

The “heavily vegetated” land (Draft Environmental Impact Report, p. 3.5-3) is directly adjacent to Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy land, and the project site is part of the known wildlife corridor that runs East of the 405 through the Santa Monica Mountains.

The Hillside Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy saw the importance of protecting this open green space from urbanization and both voted unanimously to OPPOSE such a massive development on the West side of Coldwater Canyon.

Read the Hillside Federation letter of opposition.

Read the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy letter of opposition.

But the school says they will add a new “throughlane”, won’t that help traffic?

The so-called ‘improvements’ to Coldwater are only right in front of the proposed garage — and they only attempt to OFFSET all the negative impacts from the project in the first place. The new Southbound turn lane would be minimal compared to how many cars need to use it (which will cause back up closer to Ventura)… and the lane of Northbound traffic waiting to turn LEFT into the garage would need to cross the already congested Southbound traffic.

Two lanes merging back into one just South of the garage only creates a bottleneck a few yards later, and a new merge will create another opportunity for congestion. So there is no new throughlane miraculously helping Coldwater Canyon traffic flow.

The Brohard & Associates Traffic Impact report challenges many other unsubstantiated assertions by the school about the supposed traffic benefits of this parking expansion plan.

Coldwater traffic is bad enough! Either the garage will sit empty (and therefore isn’t needed), or MORE CARS will come to fill these new parking spaces.

Isn’t there a need for parking?

The school already has 30% more parking than the law requires.   The school currently has far less carpooling than other private schools in residential neighborhoods and no mandatory restrictions. Yet they “need” to increase their parking spaces by almost 200%?

Even if they do not make the environmentally-responsible choice to increase carpooling to solve their alleged need, the school’s suggested need is exaggerated. The school’s own numbers suggest they “need” 265 spaces for staff and 400 for student drivers.  That’s 665.  They have 568 spaces already.   That’s only an 87-space shortfall, yet they are asking for a total of 1085 spaces. They have not proven the need for such an extreme increase in parking spaces.

Until 2013 when this garage was proposed, the school argued numerous times to the City (since 1992) that they have “ample” parking to meet their needs. Other LA schools in residential hillside communities have mandatory carpooling and busing in much higher numbers, and use nearby shuttles during special events — LOWERING their carbon footprint.

Harvard-Westlake should be a leader in environmental stewardship and work with the community to minimize its impact on the environment and nearby residences.

What about student safety? And won’t this get parking off neighborhood streets?

The school strongly discourages students parking in the neighborhood and there are only a few big events each year that create overflow into the neighborhood.  Although there are some neighbors who don’t want students parking in their neighborhood, what the majority of the community overwhelming doesn’t want is a massive new parking garage across Coldwater!  More modest parking increases on the existing campus footprint are possible, but have so far been rejected by the school.

A mandatory increase in carpooling/busing would eliminate any need for residential parking for all but the biggest events.  (Even a new giant garage wouldn’t stop occasional parking in the neighborhood — the school says that even WITH the giant new garage they would still have residential parking overflow during their biggest events).

Regarding safety, Coldwater is no more dangerous than any other main roadway to park or walk in LA — arguably safer than many roadways because the street is wider right by the campus. If the school were really worried about students safely walking along Coldwater, why haven’t they brought up this concern in the decades prior to the proposed project?

The WEXCO Safety Report found that moving students across the canyon roadway to the West side INCREASES their risk of injury or death from jaywalking.  This risk from running across the roadway increases at night (particularly after a crowded game with 100s of people all waiting to use the proposed pedestrian bridge). Keeping the students all safely on the EAST side of the canyon road should be the school’s priority.

There are also concerns that the proposed bridge across Coldwater is “likely to fail” in a moderate to large earthquake, given the different types of soil on each side of Coldwater Canyon. No matter what assurances the school’s engineers make, if an earthquake like the Northridge quake happens, students, faculty and staff could be in danger, and the collapsed bridge would block a major artery for emergency vehicles into and out of the canyon.

I heard some of the protected trees are diseased anyway.

The initial study found some walnut trees with disease. But their roots are still protecting the hillside from erosion. Protected plant and animal species are protected even when they have disease or injury. The school’s project would destroy 147 protected oak and walnut trees.

Even trees with “canker disease” create walnuts and provide habitat for the many sensitive biological resources found on site. Furthermore, NONE of the oaks trees are diseased, and the particular disease (potentially in only 78% of the walnuts) has not been found to be fatal in the walnut trees (Southern Black walnut) that are present on site. (see Land Protection Partners Biological Impact Report, Dec. 2013)

The mitigation trees the school has proposed are tiny new trees — 1-gal and 5-gal — even at a 4:1 ratio these trees cannot replace the existing tree canopy from the 100s of mature trees on site. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and the Community Forest Advisory Committee called these mitigations “inadequate” and “insufficient”. The City found the project has a significant adverse impact to biological resources, and the SMMC said this project would result in the “most severe native woodland impacts in the Santa Monica Mountains east of the 405 freeway in at least three decades.”

Is this hillside safe to develop?

Wilson Geosciences, Wexco Engineering, and other professionals prepared expert reports detailing numerous SAFETY CONCERNS with the project:

1) Massive retaining walls — far in excess of legal limits — and the inadequacies of the proposed “soil nails for the walls, making it likely that the walls will fail over time”.

2) The proposed private bridge over Coldwater Canyon is “likely to fail” in a moderate to large earthquake given the different types of soil on each side of Coldwater Canyon. (Wilson Geosciences Report, Nov. 2013)

3) Other homeowners on Potosi Ave were denied permits due to concerns of hillside stability in this area.

4) Valley Fever spores are likely present in the hillside — this staggering amount of excavation could unleash harmful spores and other pathogens. Spores of the fungus coccidioides are prevalent in So. California, spread far distances when dirt is disturbed, and can result in serious illness, especially in immune-compromised people, young children, and the elderly. The school plans to excavate and remove 400 million pounds of dirt over an 8-month period. A thorough investigation needs to be done throughout the site before any project is approved.