City Controller's Report On Playa Vista

POSTED: 2:28 pm PDT June 7, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- Our investigative series into the Playa Vista housing development -- a massive project on the Westside. Environmentalists were concerned about the safety of the project. A city official has released a report on Play Vista.

STUDIO LEAD: City controller Laura Chick issued a long awaited report today on methane protections at the Playa Vista housing development near Marina Del Rey. The report was inspired in part by an investigative series we've broadcast over the past year and a half. Chick told us it was the most difficult report she's ever done because of the confusion surrounding city safety inspections at Playa.  

LAURA CHICK: We went in and what we found quite frankly was mush.

PAUL MOYER: Inconsistent testing, poor record keeping and confusing bureaucracy -- these are the things that, according to city controller Laura Chick, make it difficult at this time to prove that gas detection and safety systems at Playa Vista actually work.

It was July 2006 when KNBC first broadcast serious concerns regarding the safety of the Playa Vista development. Playa Vista is an enormous -- and growing -- development located near Marina Del Rey, built on old oil deposits, next to a gas reservoir.

At issue is whether explosive methane gases under the site are being adequately managed and if the agencies responsible for monitoring this development are actually complying with safety guidelines.

Over the last year and a half KNBC has consulted several inside sources.

SOURCE: There have been efforts to whitewash the contamination issues out there.

PAUL MOYER: And, environmentalists…

PATRICIA MCPHERSON, ENVIRONMENTALIST: No one is paying attention to whether the most critical safety protections out there really exist.

PAUL MOYER: And we brought these allegations to the attention of city officials.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: If these allegations are true and this is the tip of the iceberg, it would cause me great alarm.

PAUL MOYER: Today's review included some hard conclusions – "Residents had moved into their homes without final (safety) certification from LAFD or planning."

And, as we've reported, "one single-family home development has no methane detection system installed."

Chick concedes that nothing came to her attention to prove that inspections had not been done properly, but many of her findings point to a theme -- that without evidence to affirm the safety of this site, no city official can vouch for it.

LAURA CHICK: Certainly, as city controller I am not vouching for anything.

PAUL MOYER: Much of this confusion is bureaucratic, since the following city agencies all share oversight -- building and safety, the fire department and the planning department.

LAURA CHICK: I had three departments disagreeing with each other and it was very hard solid facts.

PAUL MOYER: And the city controller confirmed another of our findings -- sloppy record keeping by the department of building and safety.

LAURA CHICK: Poor record keeping, first of all, in my opinion, is a surest way to cover things up.

PAUL MOYER: And as KNBC's initial investigation exposed -- and as this report confirms -- there was "inconsistent... Testing of detection systems in some single family homes."

And finally, the issue of who is really guaranteeing the effectiveness of the methane protections...

According to the report, "DBS required the manufacturers of the methane systems to certify the deputy methane inspectors."

In other words, in single-family homes, these potentially life saving devices are not being examined by the LA fire department, but by the people that make and install them.

LAURA CHICK: To have an inspector who works for a methane company to me doesn’t give us the level of assurance that we need and that we need to give the public reassurance.

PAUL MOYER: In conclusion, Chick is calling for clearer rules and better coordination among city agencies.

LAURA CHICK: There must not be this kind of confusion and murkiness, especially about safety issues on construction projects in the city. We have to correct it.

TAG: In response to the controller's report, Playa Vista president Steve Soboroff notes that methane exists all over the city and he issued the following statement.

"We are pleased the audit confirmed that the required methane prevention systems are installed and the required testing and inspections are being performed. We also note that the auditors believe the appropriate city departments should better coordinate their internal communications."

We will continue to follow this story.

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