Despite intensive lobbying by opponents, Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday released $29 million in voter-approved funds for parkland acquisition and improvement with no new strings attached.
The release of the funds will allow the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to buy or improve hundreds of acres of open space, mostly in the mountains dividing the Los Angeles Basin from the San Fernando Valley.
“This is the best day the Santa Monicas have had in a decade,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who testified before the supervisors at a public hearing on the issue Tuesday. “Key parcels of parkland will be preserved for the public for all time at a price we’ll never see in the future.”
The action also will enable the conservancy to pay a final $9-million installment on a loan it took out to buy the former site of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Agoura.
The conservancy had defaulted on the loan last week. Critics said the conservancy could have paid off the debt with other funds, but defaulted to pressure the supervisors into quickly releasing $40 million in Proposition A money approved by voters last November.
The supervisors, who under Proposition A control disbursement of the funds, released all but $11 million of the money Tuesday.
In a compromise forged by board Chairman Ed Edelman after Supervisor Deane Dana proposed a prohibition on acquisitions that interfered with the county’s road plans, each additional acquisition will be considered individually with regard to the county’s need for roads.
About 60 supporters who attended the hearing greeted the vote with resounding cheers. Among them were Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood) and members of several environmental and homeowner groups from Agoura to Tarzana, including the Sierra Club and Friends of the Santa Monica Mountains.
They were jubilant that land they had feared would become housing tracts will be preserved as parkland.
“Today is the day we walk into the promised land,” said Louise Frankel, president of the Tarzana Property Owners Assn., a longtime advocate of parks.
“The community has been fighting for Wilson Canyon for four years now,” said Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) in a phone interview regarding the 235-acre property in the San Gabriel Mountains above Sylmar, where a developer wanted to build 97 houses. “It’s significant oak habitat . . . and will provide access to hiking, biking and horse riding trails.”
The action was a defeat for Soka University, which lobbied fiercely to get the supervisors to place additional restrictions on the conservancy’s use of Proposition A funds.
A key condition sought by Soka and proposed Tuesday by Supervisor Mike Antonovich would have blocked the conservancy from leveraging the Proposition A funds to help it seize by condemnation 472 acres the university owns near Calabasas.
Under the original terms of Proposition A, the conservancy cannot use the money to purchase property, including the Soka land, from unwilling sellers through eminent domain. But a loophole in the measure that Soka failed to close Tuesday allows the conservancy to buy property with the Proposition A money, sell it to another parks agency and use those proceeds to purchase the Soka land by condemnation.
Another motion supported by Soka and proposed by Dana failed to win board support. Dana had proposed that the conservancy be required to pay the full price of any parkland it acquired at the time of purchase. That had the potential of reducing the conservancy’s ability to buy the Soka land, because money set aside for that purpose might have been needed for other projects.
Dana also proposed a provision that would have required the conservancy to allow roads to be built across all parkland acquired with the funds. Instead, the board agreed that the remainder of the Proposition A funds would be released only after the case-by-case review of each acquisition’s impact on roads.
The following Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy parkland acquisition and improvement projects in the San Fernando and surrounding valleys can proceed now that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has released $29 million in Proposition A funding:
Bennett: 5 acres, borders Malibu Creek State Park in the Kaslow Wilderness Preserve.
Corbin Canyon: 419 acres along Mulholland Scenic Parkway.
El Cariso: 30 acres, take over operations of El Cariso Regional Park from the county for at least two years.
Elrita Bowl: 4 acres, abuts Laurel Canyon Park.
Frawley / Bourguignon: 31 acres in the west fork of Benedict Canyon.
Lecohabe: 32 acres adjacent to Fryman Canyon.
Longridge: 52 acres along the Mulholland Scenic Parkway in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains above Sherman Oaks.
Paramount Ranch: 320 acres in Agoura, former site of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.
Reseda Ridge: restrooms and other park amenities on 9 acres at the southern end of Reseda Boulevard.
Rez: 5 acres adjoining Malibu Creek State Park.
Siegler: 4.4 acres at the intersection of Beverly Glen Boulevard and Mulholland Drive next to the Frawley / Bourguignon property.
Sunland Boulevard Trail: a 1.3-mile regional trail linkage between Sunland, Sun Valley, Tujunga, Lake View Terrace, the Tujunga Wash and Angeles National Forest.
Towsley Canyon: restrooms and other park amenities in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Westlake Vista: 492 acres, including watershed of the Las Virgenes Reservoir near Westlake Village.
Wilson Canyon: 235 acres in the foothills of the western San Gabriel Mountains above Sylmar.
Woodland Hills Estates: 63.7 acres near Topanga State Park.
Source: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy