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City Council OKs Trade for 50 Acres of Porter Ranch Parkland : Growth: L.A. will swap five parcels it owns, valued at $4 million, for two held by the builder.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After some testiness and a cautionary amendment, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a land swap that leaves the city with a hilly 50-acre park in the heart of the planned Porter Ranch project.

“We’re happy to finally put this to rest,” said Larry Calemine, a partner in the huge Porter Ranch project, after a debate during which Councilman Hal Bernson assured his colleagues that the deal was “not a sinister thing.”

Under the swap adopted Wednesday, the city will trade five parcels of property it owns for two held by Porter Ranch Development Co.

The five city properties, totaling 30 acres, have been valued at $4 million, while the two Porter Ranch properties--the controversial 50-acre parcel and a 14-acre parcel--are worth $7.6 million, according to a city-approved appraisal. Porter Ranch will be able to build anywhere from 100 to 150 homes on the properties it obtains from the city.

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The trade was endorsed by Recreation and Parks Department General Manager Jackie Tatum and by the city’s parks commission as a good deal because the city will get viable parkland in exchange for five city parcels that are unusable for park development.

But Walter Prince, a longtime critic of the Porter Ranch project, testified that the city was already entitled to obtain the 50-acre parcel for free under the terms of a 1991 contract between the city and the developer--a charge denied by Calemine.

Prince also challenged the accuracy of the appraisals, saying they inflated the value of the Porter Ranch properties.

Such accusations incensed Bernson, who represents the Porter Ranch area and whose 1991 reelection bid was challenged by Prince.

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This land swap is “not a sinister thing that Mr. Bernson is instigating,” Bernson told his colleagues. “I don’t care” if the swap goes through, Bernson fumed. “If this is not of overall benefit to the city, let’s not do it.”

But Councilman Joel Wachs, who had questioned the deal last week during a council committee hearing, urged Bernson to calm down. He personally does not see this as a “case of good and evil,” Wachs said.

Instead, Wachs said his own concerns were triggered by a suspicion--based on past history--that the parks department is incapable of successfully negotiating fair deals for the city with developers.

Wachs also won council approval of an amendment that prevents the developer from using the land swap to obtain a $3-million credit--based on the difference in value of the two parcels of land--against future fees that the Porter Ranch project is to pay to the city.

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After learning that the land appraisals were done by a private firm hired by Porter Ranch Development Co., Councilman Mike Hernandez told the parks department staff that he was relying on their judgment that the appraisals were fair. But, he warned, “if we do find some inside deals here, we’ll hold you responsible.” The private appraisals were checked for fairness, city officials said.

Despite the lingering concerns some had about the deal, a motion by Councilwoman Rita Walters to send the proposal back to the Arts, Health and Humanities Committee that she chairs for further study died for lack of a second.

Walters also challenged Bernson’s contention that he was not promoting the land swap. “It was your staff that was urging that it go forward” from her committee, Walters said.


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