Conservancy Wants L.A. to Help Buy Fryman Canyon


Those fighting to save scenic Fryman Canyon from a 26-unit luxury home project on Tuesday fixed their fading hopes on persuading the city of Los Angeles to spend some of its money to buy the 63-acre canyon in the hills above Studio City for a park site.

The campaign to acquire the steeply wooded canyon moved to City Hall after the directors of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy balked Monday night at spending more than $8.7 million of the conservancy's money to acquire the property.

Benjamin M. Reznik, attorney for Fryman Canyon developer Fred Sahadi, said his client was unwilling to sell the property for as little as $8.7 million, which is what a conservancy appraisal estimated as its value. Sahadi says his appraisal shows the property is worth $13.7 million, and has said he would agree to sell the land for whatever price was determined by a third appraisal.

The debate at the conservancy meeting showed that the quasi-state agency's environmental constituency has deep-seated concerns that Fryman's large price tag might jeopardize the purchase of other mountain parklands, notably Upper Solstice Canyon, a remote area deep in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Even at $8.7 million--the minimum purchase price being discussed--the price would make Fryman Canyon the most expensive buy on a per-acre basis ever made by the conservancy.

Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, in whose district the canyon is located, and Joseph T. Edmiston, conservancy executive director, said Tuesday that they hope to meet soon with Mayor Tom Bradley to see if the city could afford to kick in some of its own funds toward purchase of the canyon, located north of Mulholland Drive and west of Laurel Canyon Boulevard.

Bradley's press secretary, Bill Chandler, said Tuesday afternoon that the mayor "will sit down with the councilman to develop the most appropriate funding strategy." City officials have not been optimistic about prospects of coming up with more money, but negotiators are hoping that alternatives to abandoning the project to the developer can be found.

There are a number of suggestions for funding the project, "and the mayor's office will try to bring clarity to the issue," Chandler said. The Bradley aide denied, however, that the mayor was willing at this juncture to commit city funds toward the purchase of Fryman.

Edmiston and the board suggested that the city's Department of Water and Power could sell some of its surplus lands in the Santa Monica Mountains to raise money for the Fryman deal.

The DWP properties are worth between $3.6 million and $5 million, Edmiston said. He said the conservancy would hope that half the proceeds from the sale of these properties could be used for Fryman.

The conservancy executive director said he planned to meet with the mayor's office soon to discuss the DWP situation. The conservancy and the city-owned utility have talked about the sale of the DWP surplus lands for several years, Edmiston said.

"Now that there's a new pro-environmental DWP board this may be a good time to revisit the issue of selling the lands," Edmiston said. Bradley has recently bragged that his DWP board now has three environmental activists on it--Mike Gage, Bradley's former deputy mayor; Mary Nichols, attorney and environmental activist; and Dorothy Green, a leader in the fight to protect Santa Monica Bay from pollution.

A hearing was scheduled for today on the possibility of declaring Fryman Canyon a cultural-historic landmark, which would at least temporarily block any development. But the developer agreed to reschedule it before the Los Angeles City Council on Friday.

In their bid to protect the canyon, nature-lovers last April began a campaign to have the 63-acre property declared an official city monument, a novel idea since such status has been accorded in the past almost exclusively to buildings.

Other alternatives to raise money to buy Fryman, said Edmiston, include tapping the city's Runyan Canyon Trust Fund to help consummate a Fryman deal.

But Woo, in whose district Runyan Canyon is located, said he is planning to use the approximately $1.3 million in unencumbered funds in the trust account to buy the four-acre, privately owned Hanley property and thereby extend Runyan Canyon Park, which surrounds this parcel.

All in all, Woo said he is worried about the viability of buying Fryman. "I'm just not terribly optimistic about coming up with the extra money," he said.

But Edmiston said he was still optimistic that if all parties "bend a little" Fryman Canyon can be purchased.

"We all want to see this happen," conservancy President Carole Stevens said Monday session. "We're taking from every project we've got. We're stripping our cupboard bare . . . so we've asked the city for its help."

The bid to buy the land foundered when the conservancy's board contended that purchasing Fryman would force a major retreat in their plans to buy Upper Solstice Canyon. The conservancy has been positioning itself to spend about $2.2 million to buy 200 to 250 acres in this canyon, located west of Corral Canyon.

Some backers of the Fryman Canyon purchase contended privately that the conservancy's interest in Upper Solstice betrayed a degree of elitism. Upper Solstice is a remote area and Fryman is centrally located.

Woo and other Fryman Canyon supporters have repeatedly stressed the accessibility of the Sahadi property to inner-city dwellers as one of the reasons it should be purchased. Barbara S. Blinderman, an environmental attorney, told the conservancy board that the purchase of Fryman would, in effect, widen the agency's constituency. The conservancy has primarily been supported by Westside environmentalists.

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