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Mountain Maneuvers

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors had to choose this week between a home-builder’s project and a bigger park. The supervisors chose development, approving a subdivision on the former site of the Renaissance Faire in the Santa Monica Mountains, even though construction would exceed the density allowed in the county’s own land-use plan. The decision not only dashes hopes that the land might become public parkland, but also tells Congress that the county won’t do its share to support the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

The 320 acres of Agoura land in question is known as the Arthur H. Whizin property. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency that works with the federal government, had hoped to add the property to the recreation area. In this case, hope could have been fulfilled because last year Congress appropriated $11 million for land acquisition, with $8 million of that amount earmarked for the Whizin property.

Now, however, the price tag on the property will go up, because the supervisors decided on a 3-1 vote Thursday that developer Brian Heller can build 150 homes on the site. The county plan allows only 103. Supervisor Ed Edelman cast the lone dissenting vote. The decision made the land more valuable, by enough, probably, to put it out of the conservancy’s reach. That’s unfortunate because the land is needed to provide open space near another area already being developed and to connect existing parkland to the major north-south trail through the mountains.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich says that the county might have been subject to a lawsuit if it were “to unreasonably withhold a development approval to hold down the price of the land.” But surely it could have argued successfully that it is perfectly reasonable to withhold approval for a project that exceeded the density standard set by the county’s general plan.

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The county’s decision will have repercussions in Washington. Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) have warned that the next time Congress is asked to spend more money on the park, it could well ask why it should bother if the local government doesn’t care. Local voters who use the park will now be justified in posing these questions to the supervisors: Just what are your priorities? And which do you care more about, a developer’s profit or a park for the public?


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