City Takes Step Toward Creating a Wilderness Park : Environment: Council agrees to acquire tract. It hopes to purchase more land and eventually preserve 4,000 acres from development.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The City Council has agreed to buy 76 acres of undeveloped land in the Whittier Hills, the first of several purchases that the city hopes to make in an effort to create a large wilderness park.

Officials say they hope eventually to acquire 4,000 acres from several property owners, including Chevron USA Corp. and Rose Hills Memorial Park, which own more than half of the area.

The undeveloped Whittier Hills land "is one of the only remaining areas of its kind in the Los Angeles area," Councilman Michael Sullens said.

The city plans to buy at least part of the land with the $18.3 million that it will receive through Proposition A, the countywide bond issue approved by voters in 1992 to finance acquisitions of new parkland and improvements in parks and beaches.

Chevron USA and Rose Hills are among the landowners negotiating with the city. Both declined to discuss negotiations. Rose Hills owns the largest parcel of land, 1,966 acres, while Chevron owns 898 acres.

Two years ago, Chevron announced plans to build a 1,300-unit housing development on its land, but backed away after the proposal sparked vehement protests from preservationist groups such as the Friends of the Whittier Hills and the Whittier Conservancy. Both organizations favor a wilderness park.

The 76-acre tract that the city has agreed to buy is owned by a private estate.

"This just happened to be the first one that got negotiated, it was the best-priced deal that we could get, and we had a very willing participant," Mayor Bob Henderson said.

Whittier officials said they will wait until the close of escrow in December to disclose the cost, but Councilman Sullens said it was below the latest city assessment of $369,000.

The area is west of Hellman Park, also a wilderness area.

Besides Chevron and Rose Hills, the city is negotiating with two other Whittier Hills property owners and will begin talks with additional owners soon, Henderson said.

The council recently appointed 13 people to serve on a hillside parkland task force, an advisory group that will make suggestions on the management of the area.

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