After ending a two-decade battle over an El Sereno hilltop long slated for a housing development, the City Council took the final and welcome step in protecting the area last week by rezoning Elephant Hill as open space. The process may not have offered the best model for securing future parkland in Los Angeles, but the bottom line is that generations of Eastside residents — and in fact anyone visiting this verdant corner of the city — will have trails to hike, a black walnut grove to enjoy, unmatched views and respite from urban grit.
Open space is one of Los Angeles' treasures, all the more valuable now as the last remaining tracts are developed. Ample parkland and development-free ridgelines are well known, well loved and carefully stewarded on the city's Westside, where land-use ordinances govern what and where developers can build. Similar protections lagged on the Eastside, and for years it didn't really matter — few landowners found it advantageous to build in what were then less-desirable areas. But Los Angeles filled up, housing values rose, construction accelerated — and the need to preserve open parcels became clear.
Without the kinds of specific plans that protect, for example, much of the area along Mulholland Drive, activists were forced to choose different tactics to protect Elephant Hill. The City Council imposed a temporary moratorium on development there, prompting the owner of the 57 lots to sue. Eventually, the city entered into a settlement under which it purchased the land for about $9 million. It then resold the land at a huge discount to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
The city is far from flush and doesn't have money to buy up additional remaining undeveloped space in woodsy parts of the Eastside, or for amenities that make land already acquired more accessible and usable for neighbors and visitors. It must now make better use of other tools — land-use ordinances similar to those employed on the Westside, for example, or private fundraising, or purchases funded by parcel taxes like those recently and enthusiastically embraced by property owners in two Hollywood Hills districts within city limits.
In the case of Elephant Hill, the costs were high but so are the benefits. They accrue not just to kids who have new places to play or walkers who have new vistas, but to all Angelenos, Eastside and Westside, who can look up from the dense city and enjoy the view, and the relief, of green space and open ridges.