The city has decided to sue the developer of the Park Del Amo residential/commercial project in order to gain title to Madrona Marsh.
The City Council on Tuesday night authorized City Atty. Stanley Remelmeyer to hire an outside attorney and spend up to $25,000 to obtain the deed.
The decision to sue marks the latest skirmish in a years-old battle over the fate of the marsh, one of the area's last remaining stops for migrating birds and other wildlife.
The Friends of Madrona Marsh, a community environmental group that fought for 10 years to save the marsh, has supported the city's position in the yearlong dispute over title to the land.
The deed was promised in a development agreement and a memorandum of understanding. The developer, Torrance Investment Co., wants to include language in the deed that would allow the land to revert to the developer if the marsh dries up.
The City Council last year approved plans to develop the 182 acres on the corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and Madrona Avenue, but only after the developer agreed to dedicate 34 acres for marsh preservation and to sell another 8.5 acres to the city for $1.5 million.
Remelmeyer will also seek an injunction against the developers to protect nearly 43 acres of wetlands set aside in the agreement. Remelmeyer said he intends to file the documents within two weeks.
The city has already returned two versions of the deeds because the developer has included wording that makes the dedicated land a "conservation easement" and includes a reversionary clause on the 8.5 acres the city bought. The city wants clear title to the land.
"They won't accept our position, and if we accept their position we feel it is not in the public's best interest," Remelmeyer said. "At this point we are in a stalemate, so we'll let the courts decide who is right."
"We're a little surprised by their action," said Jerry Rogers, a spokesman for Torrance Investment, who was at the council meeting to hear the city's plans. "We just don't understand the position of the Friends (the environmentalists). We feel that what we have been saying has been to strengthen the Friends' position. However, our position has not changed."
Remelmeyer said the city will not prevent further construction on the project as suggested earlier because the city could become liable for damages if it lost the court decision. The city has allowed foundations to be poured for two commercial buildings and a condominium complex in what will eventually be 850,000 square feet of commercial space and 1,482 residential units.
Betty Shaw, president of Friends of Madrona Marsh, said the group wants to see the marsh remain a wildlife preserve in perpetuity.
Looking to Future
"We are definitely in support of the city, 100%," she said. "The Friends do want to see wording that would tie the land for as long as possible in the future. We do want to see city councils in the future bound to the agreement. Marshes do not remain marshes forever unless you do things to make them that way."
Two weeks ago, Councilwoman Katy Geissert said, "The time for politeness is at an end," and the council initiated steps to rezone the marsh to ensure it will never be developed. The developer was also ordered to rebuild a wire fence around the marsh that had been knocked down to dig an adjacent drainage sump.
"We're optimistic it can be resolved, " Shaw said of the dispute over the marsh. "How quickly is another point."