Those fighting to keep 26 luxury homes out of scenic Fryman Canyon fixed their fading hopes Tuesday on persuading the city of Los Angeles to help buy the 63-acre canyon in the hills above Studio City for a park site.
The campaign to acquire the steep, 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.
Ben Reznik, attorney for Fryman Canyon developer Fred Sahadi, said his client was unwilling to sell the property for as little as $8.7 million, the estimated value in a conservancy appraisal. Sahadi says his appraisal shows the property is worth $13.7 million and has said he would 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 high 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 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 Mike Woo, in whose district the canyon is located, and Joe Edmiston, conservancy executive director, said Tuesday that they hope to meet soon with Mayor Tom Bradley to see if the city can afford to kick in funds toward purchase of the canyon, located north of Mulholland Drive and west of Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
Bradley's press secretary, Bill Chandler, said late Tuesday 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 can be found to having the land developed.
"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. He denied, however, that the mayor was willing at this point to commit city funds toward the purchase of Fryman.
Edmiston and the conservancy board suggested that the city Department of Water and Power could sell some of its surplus land in the Santa Monica Mountains to raise money for the Fryman deal.
The DWP properties are worth anywhere from $3.6 million to $5 million, Edmiston said. He said the conservancy would hope that half the proceeds from the sale of these "unproductive" 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; attorney Mary Nichols, and Dorothy Green, a leader in the fight against pollution in Santa Monica Bay.
In their bid to protect the canyon, nature-lovers last April began a campaign to have the property declared a city monument, a novel idea since such status has been accorded in the past almost exclusively to buildings.
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.