A decade later, three El Sereno homeowners associations raised concerns about the project's potential for causing landslides and flooding.
On a war footing, Yanez and Garcia waged door-to-door campaigns in the modest stucco homes surrounding the hill. They also organized neighborhood council meetings and pored over public records.
"Without a penny raised or a website, we ran a highly strategic campaign," Yanez said. "We gave our lives to this issue."
Their investigations revealed that after the city had approved a final tract map for the 24-lot development in 2004, the developer had expanded the proposed project -- without further review --to 56 lots, roughly tripling the amount of grading required.
That information was handed over to the law firm of Chatten-Brown & Carstens, which represents four El Sereno residents, the Latino Urban Forum and the Natural Resources Defense Council on a contingency basis.
"What grabbed me about this case was the unfairness of it all," said attorney Doug Carstens. "Essentially, just as these community members were making their voice heard in City Hall after years of struggle, they were being told it was too late because of prior approvals."
Now, he added, "What has been for so many years a battleground can become a playground for generations to come."
In 2007, Huizar persuaded the City Council to withhold a building permit for the project until the developer completed a supplemental environmental impact report.
Instead, the developer sued the city. The developer's attorney sought up to $35 million in damages, city officials said. The City Council voted to acquire the litigated 15 acres plus five contiguous additional acres for $9 million.
"That's great news," said Chris Hogenesch, 37, a substitute teacher who walks his dogs up the hill at least three times a week. "There aren't many places like this left in Los Angeles. There's a really nice 360-degree view of downtown and the San Gabriel Valley. I like to hang out up there and watch the sunset."
Locals are already swapping possible names for the new park.
City Hall officials tend to refer to the property as Elephant Hill, a name coined in the late 1970s by Los Angeles Police Department officers who claimed the site resembled a pachyderm when viewed from high overhead in a law enforcement helicopter.
The developer hoped to call its luxury home project Monterey Vistas.
But Garcia suggested that both of those titles "have negative connotations" that might reinforce "perceptions of El Sereno as the backwaters" of Northeast Los Angeles.
Striding up a dirt road leading to the top of the hill on a recent weekday, he said, "If they come to the community for suggestions, I'm going to recommend that they call it the Heavens."