Lawmakers Aid Bid to Acquire Soka's Land


Developments in state and federal legislation could aid park agencies' attempts to acquire land in the Santa Monica Mountains now owned by a Japanese organization seeking to build a 4,400-student university there.

The two U. S. senators from California--John Seymour and Alan Cranston--filed an amendment to a bill late last week concerning the land. The amendment is aimed at overturning a provision that would have prevented the National Park Service from using federal funds to buy the Calabasas site through condemnation proceedings.

In addition, a state bill carried by Sen. Nicholas C. Petris (D-Oakland), which appeared likely to increase the cost of the land by up to $10 million, did not meet a Friday deadline for passage.

It will be held over until the next legislative session, which begins in January, giving state and federal parks agencies more time to come up with money to make an offer on the property.

"This is definitely a win for us," Marc Litchman, a spokesman for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said Wednesday.

Representatives of Soka University could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Soka University, a wing of the Japanese religious organization known as Soka Gakkai, began purchasing land near Mulholland Highway and Las Virgenes Road in 1986, amassing 580 acres.

Buildings on the land, formerly owned by a Catholic seminary, now house an English-language program for about 100 Japanese students from Soka's Tokyo campus.

The level portion of the land--about 248 acres--has long been coveted by state and federal park officials as the ideal site for a Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area headquarters.

When Soka officials last year announced plans to expand the school to a four-year liberal arts campus, the parks officials began searching for ways to acquire the property.

Officials have suggested that taking the land through condemnation proceedings might be necessary since Soka has thus far refused to sell it.

At the end of July, however, a U. S. Senate committee added a condemnation restriction to an appropriations bill, which contained $7.5 million for 1992 acquisitions in the Santa Monica Mountains.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Seymour said that he and Cranston did not want to see the park agencies hamstrung and did not like the manner in which the restriction "magically" appeared without review by either of the California senators, apparently as a result of Soka's intensive lobbying efforts.

The Seymour-Cranston amendment still faces several votes, in committee and on the Senate floor, said Seymour's press secretary, H. D. Palmer.

In Sacramento, Petris agreed to postpone consideration of a bill that alters the method of calculating the value of property owned by a nonprofit school or church for condemnation purposes. That bill was drafted by a condemnation attorney for the Seventh-day Adventist school in Lynwood. The attorney also works for Soka University.

Carolina Capistrano, who represents the Seventh-day Adventists in Sacramento, said she agreed to the postponement after receiving a national study on the subject that she thought merited further review.

"We want to have the best possible bill on the books," Capistrano said.

She added that she would try to resurrect the legislation early in the 1992 session. If it passes, the bill would not officially take effect until January, 1993.

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