Decision on True Life project in El Sereno could set CEQA precedent

Court limits timeframe for environmental challenges to development

TTLC Los Angeles' Aidan Barry; rendering of El Sereno project at Eastern Avenue and Lombardy Boulevard (Getty, TTLC
TTLC Los Angeles' Aidan Barry; rendering of El Sereno project at Eastern Avenue and Lombardy Boulevard (Getty, TTLC

True Life Companies has beat back a legal challenge to a housing project in El Sereno, giving it the go-ahead to build 42 homes, and the court victory could limit future environmental challenges to development.

An affiliate of the Denver-based developer triumphed when a state appellate court dismissed an environmental lawsuit by an unidentified open space-advocacy group trying to block the project at North Eastern Avenue and Lombardy Boulevard, the Los Angeles Business Journal reported.

The unidentified appellate panel reversed a lower court decision against the project, saying the lawsuit was filed beyond the statute of limitations.

The court decision, while not preventing future legal challenges, sets a precedent limiting the timeframe for such challenges during a project’s planning stages.

The project by TTLC Los Angeles – El Sereno, an affiliate of True Life, includes 42 homes on a hillside lot in L.A.’s El Sereno neighborhood.

Aidan Barry, an executive vice president at TTLC, expressed relief the firm could proceed with the project after obtaining an approved vesting tentative map. However, the journey has been fraught with legal hurdles and delays.

The project, launched in 2017, faced initial challenges requiring a mitigated negative declaration and zoning change.

After a settlement of an initial lawsuit filed by the open space advocacy group led to an agreement by TTLC to plant another 225 black walnut trees, the project won approval from Los Angeles planning authorities, including its compliance under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. 

The group then filed a second lawsuit contesting the negative declaration, while demanding a time-consuming Environmental Impact Report. A lower court judge agreed in favor of the group.

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The appellate court ruling is expected to streamline future development processes, reducing prolonged legal battles and associated costs, according to Brooke Miller, a special counsel with Downtown-based Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, who represented TTLC in the suit.

“That’s almost four years that this project has been in limbo from when it was first approved,” Miller said. “Things like this should not be taking four years.”

Developers hope it will encourage opponents to file challenges at earlier stages, minimizing project delays. Mark Weinstein of MJW Investments praised the decision, emphasizing the importance of timely project approvals in mitigating costs and uncertainties.

Despite the challenges, TTLC remains committed to completing the El Sereno project, their first venture in Los Angeles.

Barry, in charge of the El Sereno project, estimated that after $3 million per acre of horizontal grading and $150 per square foot of construction, the homes, if listed today, would sell for $1.2 million each.

“I have to add all of those legal costs to the price of the home,” Barry told the Business Journal. “The more time that goes on, it’s not just the legal fees. It’s the cost of that effort, plus the rising cost of materials.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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