A controversial precedent set by the February ruling on development on People’s Park is making noise in Southern California, blocking a proposed housing development near the University of Southern California campus.
A ruling by the Second Appellate Court filed Thursday reversed a determination by the Superior Court of Los Angeles that the housing development was exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act. The ruling specifically cites the First Appellate Court’s decision in Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California, which determined that “crowds of people talking, laughing, shouting, and playing music” may significantly impact a project’s environment, particularly neighbors of the development.
The city of Los Angeles’ defeat is believed to be the first of its kind to rely on the infamous Berkeley noise precedent. The appeal is focused on a proposed rooftop deck, which appellants worry will generate too much noise.
Class 32, the type of exemption initially granted to the proposed development, refers to in-fill projects — developments that are built on underutilized land with the purpose of “accommodating growth and redesigning our cities to be environmentally- and socially-sustainable,” according to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.
In-fill projects are preemptively considered environmentally benign if they meet certain criteria. However, the court noted that in order to qualify for the Class 32 exemption, projects must “not result in any significant effects relating to traffic, noise, air quality, or water quality.”
“Surely, music and other noise that will ‘overwhelm’ neighboring properties is a ‘significant effect’ relating to . . . noise,” the ruling states.
Similar to the People’s Park noise feud, residents made arguments to consider the effect the project would have on local historical resources — in Berkeley’s case, that meant the complete demolition of the park. People’s Park was admitted into the National Register of Historic Places in Summer 2022, just months before the Aug. 3 unannounced groundbreaking attempt on the park by UC Berkeley.
Jim Childs, an appellant in the case, noted in evidence that the proposed site both neighbors multiple historic buildings and is in close proximity to districts with historic designations. The ruling also notes a letter of opposition to the development from Mitzi March Mogul, a self-identified historic preservation consultant.
“A 4-story contemporary building looming over a 2-story historic building is a major impact,” Mogul wrote in a Jan. 15, 2020 letter to the Los Angeles City Council. “Issues of traffic, noise, and other human-induced actions and effects will alter the quality of life for those occupying the historic structures as well as the way that others will experience the historic resources.”
The proposed site in question is a 2.8 acre lot less than a mile from the campus of USC, on the corner of West Adams Boulevard and Severance Street. According to the ruling, the site was occupied by a building used by USC as an office, childcare and classroom facility at the time of the city’s plan approvals.
The city intended to demolish the existing site and parking lot to make way for a seven-building residential apartment complex. Six of the buildings were planned to be four stories with a combined 100 five-bedroom apartments and two three-bedroom apartments, and the seventh building was planned to be a four-story clubhouse with a variety of amenities for residents.
Five units were to be restricted for “very low income households.”