April 23, 2013 – Numerous failed attempts spanning two decades. Various ownership changes. Seven years of starts and stops. A housing plan removed. And finally, one plan, one vote, and one outcome – approval.
Today in downtown Los Angeles, before a gathering of over 60 supporters representing hundreds of individuals from various labor unions, Chambers of Commerce, homeowners associations, and Universal Fans, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the long-discussed and highly anticipated NBC Universal evolution plan. The plan, which has seen extensive coverage on this website already, has been hotly contested from the start of the hearing phase, and has taken multiple concessions on the parts of Universal Studios Hollywood and its neighbors to reach the point it has come to on this day.
The Board of Supervisors hearing saw its first attendees lining up down the corridor to the hearing room at 8:55 AM, PST, though the hearing itself began a little after 9:45. Stickers supporting the Evolution Plan were distributed by Universal representatives going down the corridor, and discussion seemed lively. At 11:15 AM, PST, the Evolution Plan was formally brought before the Board. After a short video introduction by NBC Universal and a short overview of the plan and its goals, the discussion was opened to the public. Over 30 individuals came forward to speak before the board, representing a vast range of groups and almost entirely in support of the plan’s approval, such as the following:
• Friends of the LA River
• Bikers Coalition LA
• Land Use Committee of Studio City
• Studio City Council
• Teamsters Union (Representing actors, tram drivers, and other talent)
• Valley Industry of Commerce
• Cahuenga Pass Homeowners Association (Conditional support, on the basis of Universal’s dedication to preserving the view of Cahuenga Pass residents by lowering a proposed lighted sign, camouflaging the rooftop of the parking structure with mesh fencing, and mitigating increased noise through noise reduction techniques)
• Carpentry Association
• IATSE Entertainment Union
• IBEW Union
• Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
• Sheet Metal Workers Union
• Island Neighborhood of Lankershim Blvd.
• Southwest Union of Carpenters
• LA Chamber of Commerce
• Hollywood Chamber of Commerce
In addition to these organizations, there were a few private residents of the surrounding areas who also pledged their support of the plan, and one in particular – a self identified Hollywood Hill resident and professional actor – who attested to the studio’s upstanding relationship with residents in the surrounding areas, calling them a good neighbor and claiming that they have worked tirelessly to make this plan a win-win situation for all.
The few voices of dissent in the hearing came from two public speakers representing the residents of Blair Drive, which is located near the furthest end of the Universal backlot. The complaints aired by these residents were mostly in regards to current noise levels from 24 hour filming access availability, and despite multiple meetings between Universal and the residents of Blair Jones Drive, there has to date been no resolution. This was noted again in the discussion between the Board of Supervisors following the conclusion of the public addresses, and Universal was urged to continue working with these residents – from about 22 homes in total – to settle the matter amicably.
The overwhelming support of the plan seemed to stem from a common theme – jobs. Job creation was the theme of the hour as labor unions came forward to support an immediate approval, making mention of multitudes of skilled craftsman of a plethora of fields desperate for work. The kind of skilled labor that a project of this magnitude requires would indeed require scores of workers, and the opportunity to help lower Los Angeles County’s immense unemployment rate struck a chord with the Supervisors and the other supporters assembled. Besides the short-term construction jobs that the Evolution Plan would bring, Universal promised that permanent jobs would be created far beyond just construction fields. When considering the amount of maintenance and staffing that the addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter alone will require, Universal can more than back up their word.
The secondary theme of the discussion was Universal’s financial investment into the local economy. The Studio has already pledged millions of dollars to helping improve the 101 freeway near the theme park by adding an off ramp and widening the streets, as well as working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to increase service along Lankershim Boulevard and expanding their own shuttle services to and from the Metro Red Line and CityWalk. The County of Los Angeles stands to gain the majority of its benefits in approving the Evolution Plan from these promised transportation improvements as well as a bike trail and park area along the Los Angeles / San Gabriel River that runs at the border of the Universal Studios backlot property.
The preservation of that same backlot property was also brought to the attention of thoe present several times throughout the hearing. The housing development aspect of the retracted original Evolution plan in which a proposed 3,000 unit housing and retail development on the Universal Studios Backlot was called the “most ridiculous plan….ever seen” by District 3 Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the unincorporated Universal City and several other high-profile cities, such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Burbank, and the majority of Hollywood. Several NBC Universal representatives present in the audience shook their heads in a sort of sheepish agreement as Supervisor Yaroslavsky went on to emphasize the importance of the Universal backlot and the film and television industry as a whole to the economy of Southern California.
This echoed with the statements of representatives from the film and television unions who reminded the crowd that over the past few years, high taxation on filming in the state of California has resulted in the loss of revenue as production companies look to cheaper alternatives in other parts of the country. Universal’s promise to revitalize and revamp their own backlot facilities and strengthen the studio has resulted in many productions coming back to California in a show of good faith. One representative speaking to the Board claimed that there was currently a two year wait to rent out one of Universal’s famed sound stages for filming purposes. This bodes well for the faltering film division of NBC Universal, which has lacked a genuine box office hit for quite some time.
There were scarce details revealed about the theme park and CityWalk portion of the Evolution Plan beyond what is already known, such as the confirmation of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter coming to the West Coast. However, here is a small summary of what we do know:
• Following the approval of the NBC Universal Evolution plan, construction is set to begin late this summer (Summer 2013)
• There will be one hotel built instead of the rumored two
• The County of Los Angeles and Universal Studios will see an estimated 15 million dollars in annual revenue
• There will be a total of 544,460 square feet of demolition, 2,433,000 square feet of new development, and a total of 1,888,540 square feet of total development by the end of the plan, as stated in this excerpt from the official Hearing Agenda:
[“Specific Plan No. 200700001-(3): to authorize the Universal Studios Specific Plan to establish eligible uses and/or activities on the subject property and to provide a mechanism for implementing the appropriate operational requirements, regulations, conditions, and other requirements, and procedures for construction of 2,433,000 gross new square feet of development and 544,460 square feet of demolition, for a total of 1,888,540 net square feet of new development on 323 acres of property” ] – From page 5 of the Agenda for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Public Hearing on the morning of Tuesday April 23rd, 2013.
• The Evolution Plan ranges from 20-25 years total in the full term for completion. This figure is likely due to the amount of time that the road developments will take to complete, as it is believed that the studio construction will be completed as rapidly as possible in order to increase the amount of filming possible on the lot.
The Board of Supervisors spent a total of five minutes discussing the plan, during which Supervisor Yaroslavsky commended Universal Studios for their hard work with him, his staff, and the other residents of Universal City in moving the Evolution Plan to this stage, and for the care with which all elements of the plan are being handled. During his commentary, Supervisor Yaroslavsky made special mention of the enormity of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, noting the attraction’s success in Florida and calling it a huge economic boost for the revenue it will generate and deeming it a highly successful attraction. He expressed his admiration for current Universal owner Comcast and their willingness to work and compromise for the Evolution Plan’s success, pledged his full support of the plan, and was followed in this support by Supervisor Michael Antonovich after both supervisors again reminded Universal to work something out with the residents of Blair Jones Drive.
The remainder of the Board voted to approve that plan, and at 12:23 PM, PST, after over an hour of public address and official presentation and discussion, the NBC Universal Evolution Plan was officially approved to tumultuous applause and cheers. The good mood continued as that portion of the hearing came to a close, and the Universal supporters exited the building all smiles, exchanging handshakes and pats on the back.
In the coming weeks, we expect to see more details from Universal Creative and the NBC Universal Evolution Plan team regarding the first round of construction, and perhaps more detail on what exactly The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will entail. Regardless of what the Studios confirm or decline to comment on, we can be certain that a new era for Universal Studios Hollywood is about to begin.
We at Inside Universal will continue to bring you the latest news as it comes. In the meantime, we’d like to hear your thoughts! Come and join the discussion at USHForums.com! You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the go, and chat with us through our GroupMe account. Thank you for making us your source for all things Universal. And as always, thank you for reading.
Adriana Morgan – also known by her internet handle Miss Betty Juice – is an editor and one of the field reporters for Inside Universal.
Adriana made her first trip to Universal in 1995 during Nickelodeon’s Big Help-A-Thon, and was hooked from day one. Since that first trip, her passion for films and for Universal Studios has grown, and she continues to enjoy the park and its history today as an annual passholder and a reporter for Inside Universal. Her areas of Universal expertise include Jurassic Park, the Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, and the Studio Tour.
Adriana currently resides in Los Angeles. You can reach her at her blog on Tumblr at MyUniversalExperience.tumblr.com, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.