Soka Seeks Disclosure of Park Service Plans : Development: The latest request widens the rift between the university and the agency over a 580-acre site in the mountains above Malibu.

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Animosity between Soka University and Santa Monica Mountains parks officials flared again last week when Soka officials went over the heads of parks agencies in Los Angeles to request details about government plans for the Soka property.

The university says it was simply appealing the decision made by officials in Los Angeles. But California parks officials contend Soka had another purpose.

“Don’t believe for one moment they’re trying to get the information,” said Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. “This is trying to pull Washington’s strings with all their political power and political influence.”


The disagreement is the latest in a simmering dispute over Soka’s 580-acre site in the mountains above Malibu. Park officials want nearly half of Soka’s scenic property for a visitors center and headquarters of the Santa Monica National Recreation Area.

Soka has refused to sell and has proceeded with efforts to transform its 100-student English language facility into a 4,400-student liberal arts college--drawing opposition from park agencies.

The school is affiliated with the Soka Gakkai, a controversial Buddhist lay organization founded in Japan that was recently excommunicated by its priests. Soka Gakkai President Daisaku Ikeda founded the Calabasas school, as well as the main campus of Soka University in a Tokyo suburb and a language institute in France.

As a compromise, Soka has offered to donate 71 acres and various buildings to the Park Service, build a $2.5-million park headquarters and set aside a $1-million endowment for park maintenance in exchange for a commitment by the Park Service to drop its opposition to the university expansion.

Park officials, who maintain the expanded university would wreak environmental havoc, have rejected the offer. They are considering condemnation proceedings--under which the government can take land for the public good from an unwilling seller--to acquire 248 acres of the Soka land. A jury would then set the price based on fair market value.

The argument over disclosure of Park Service plans for the site is rooted in a disagreement over whether the environmental review must include the impact of alternative plans. Soka maintains it must assess the full range of possibilities; park officials have countered that the university must only analyze its own plans to establish a liberal arts university on the property.


John Schwarze, Los Angeles County zoning administrator, said last week that Soka is right to seek the information. Schwarze’s department is overseeing the environmental review process that Soka has undertaken as part of its application to the County Board of Supervisors to proceed with the expansion.

“We need to know as much as we can about a piece of property and all the proposals that are being discussed so we can fully inform the decision makers and the public as to the consequences,” he said.

Even though the Park Service has rejected Soka’s compromise proposal to establish both a park visitors center and a university, the county must still examine the potential impact of this initiative, Schwarze said.

In recent months, Soka has asked park officials twice for details about their plans. Soka has posed various questions about the nature of the proposed park facility, the number of buildings involved and the projected daily traffic flow to and from the visitors center.

In a Dec. 9 letter, three park officials reiterated their opposition to Soka’s compromise proposal and said that state law requires Soka to evaluate only “the basic objectives of the project.” They said that this did not include the Park Service’s plans for a visitor center.

“They are trying to create a straw-man situation and say that, ‘whatever the park use, we will be better,’ ” Edmiston said in an interview. “The issue in front of the public is not the Park Service, it is Soka.”