Board Gives Go-Ahead to Water Tank in Mountains

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles water and power commissioners on Friday cleared the way for resumption of work on the Corbin Tank, a giant water storage project in the mountains above Tarzana and Woodland Hills.

A revised plan for the 4-million-gallon tank was endorsed on a 4-0 vote, with commission Vice President Walter Zelman abstaining.

Department of Water and Power staff members said after the vote that they hope to start construction by the end of June and to finish the $4.5-million project by the fall of 1986.

Board President Jack Leeney said he "was really looking for a way not to build this tank." But he said that the added fire safety to be afforded by the project convinced him that it should be resumed.

Grading and excavating was suspended in 1984 after discovery of an ancient landslide at the tank site, which is south of Mulholland Drive not far from the southern end of Vanalden and Corbin avenues. The revised plan calls for moving the tank 90 feet south, which DWP officials say is beyond the landslide area. About $1.6 million has already been spent to develop the tank, which will be 30 feet tall and 156 feet in diameter.

New Grading Permit Expected

DWP officials still must obtain a new grading permit from the city, but they said they expect it to be readily granted.

After the vote, one environmental opponent of the project called across the hearing room: "We will be going back to court," a reference to an unsuccessful lawsuit against the project three years ago. Friday's vote came after three hours of public testimony.

The tank, proposed in the late 1970s, is intended to supply water and to increase fire protection for about 1,300 existing and an estimated 500 future homes just to the north, or San Fernando Valley side, of Mulholland Drive.

The project has long been opposed by hikers and conservationists as an intrusion on the pristine slopes and canyons of Topanga State Park, which is immediately to the south. State park officials have also opposed the tank's location.

Development Pressure Feared

Conservationists also assert that the project is oversized and that the extra capacity will build up pressure for development of private holdings on the steep and unstable hillsides south of Mulholland.

But the Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved the project in 1981, and the mayor and City Council endorsed it the next year. In 1983, a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club was dismissed, and grading began in early 1984.

Discovery of the landslide halted work and left a gaping oval crater on a crest some hikers call Beehive Mountain.

Technically, Friday's vote concerned a narrow issue: Should a 90-foot shift in the tank's location trigger another full-blown environmental review? The panel said no, thus sparing the project months or even years of delay.

Sue Nelson, the opponent who loudly predicted the decision would be challenged in court, later said her group is not sure if it will file suit. "We have to go home and talk about it," she said.

Duane Georgeson, DWP assistant general manager for water, acknowledged that the 4 million gallons of new storage capacity conceivably could serve several hundred more homes than the 1,800 that exist or are planned for the area.

"We shouldn't be in the business of promoting development," Zelman said. "If we put more water up there than is necessary, the charge is, in fact, we are making development decisions."

But other commissioners said they were won over by the project's purported fire safety benefits.

Water Pressure

DWP and city fire officials pointed out that, when big fires break out, homeowners switch on their sprinklers en masse, lowering water pressure and greatly reducing the flow of water that can be pumped uphill to canyon neighborhoods. They said the tank could help keep water pressure stable in such situations.

Leeney said that, were it not for the tank's fire safety benefits, he would prefer to supply additional water demand with more of the pumping stations that now serve the area. Leeney noted that there is a large and not particularly attractive water tank in view of his home.

But he also said he is satisfied that "we're doing everything we can to minimize the impact" of the Corbin Tank. DWP officials said two-thirds of the vessel would be buried and that it would be nearly invisible to hikers and sightseers.

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