Rumor Sends Activists Rushing to Save Land : Development: Fryman Canyon preservationists vow to halt bulldozers from beginning work on a luxury home tract. But it’s just a false alarm.
Neighborhood activists and representatives of city and state lawmakers, determined to save a wooded canyon from development, were so on edge as a key deadline approached Monday that a rumor that bulldozers were on the way sent them rushing to the scene at dawn, vowing to halt grading operations with their bodies if necessary.
The bulldozers, however, did not show up. The stand off that wasn’t was the latest quirk in a land-use fight that has pitted a would-be luxury home builder against community activists, environmentalists and politicians.
The false alarm was a product of residents’ fears that developer Fred Sahadi would ignore a city stop-work order to begin construction on a 26-home tract he plans to build in Fryman Canyon in Studio City, west of Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
“Once the work is started, it’s started. Our job is to stop that physically, to lie in front of bulldozers or to put ourselves in trees so that they would have to bodily harm us in order to do what they had to do,” said Judy Marx, one of eight environmental activists who came to protect the land Monday morning.
They were accompanied by representatives of Councilman Michael Woo, and Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) and Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Los Angeles).
Marx and other project foes said the canyon--which has a perennial stream and is home to dozens of old-growth oak trees and many species of plants and animals--is a critical link in a wildlife corridor.
They want the canyon preserved and have appealed to the city Cultural Heritage Commission to designate the site a cultural monument as a remnant of the natural environment of the Santa Monica Mountains in the city. The commission is scheduled to consider the matter Wednesday.
The city Department of Building and Safety two weeks ago issued a stop-work order, prohibiting work on the site until the commission makes its decision. In addition, Mayor Tom Bradley ordered that Sahadi be prohibited from starting work until he completes environmental studies required by the state Department of Fish and Game and the Army Corps of Engineers.
But project opponents, who banded together as the Urban Wilderness Coalition, said they feared Sahadi would ignore the order and try to begin before his grading permit, issued in 1988, expired.
The permit had been scheduled to expire at 5 p.m. today.
If a developer has begun grading when a permit expires, the permit is automatically extended for six months, said Tim Taylor, director of the city’s Department of Building and Safety.
But if no work has been done, the developer must apply for an extension, and the department may turn down the request, Taylor said.
Sahadi, who acquired the canyon in 1988, has refused to comment on the matter.
To ensure that no work began in the wooded ravine, foes of the project and government officials have monitored the 63-acre parcel daily and were prepared to alert state Department of Fish and Game officials, who had promised to arrest anyone working at the site without state approval.
The department must approve construction projects that disturb a waterway--the canyon stream in this case.
Fear of illegal work was aroused late Sunday afternoon when canyon neighbors saw one of Sahadi’s engineers talking to two surveyors in the area. One resident said she overheard the engineer instruct the surveyors where to begin clearing brush and cutting trees, Marx said.
Marx said the group members also would be at the site this morning, the last morning before the permit is scheduled to expire.
Taylor said Sahadi has applied for an extension of the permit, but his request was denied. He can appeal to the Board of Building and Safety Commissioners.