Crossroads of Confusion
It certainly looked on the map like a good place to build large luxury estates: next to a broad boulevard that connects with one of Los Angeles’ most important thoroughfares.
So city workers apparently didn’t think twice when they slapped the stamp of approval on plans for new homes along Reseda Boulevard near its intersection with busy Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades.
The problem is that Reseda doesn’t intersect with Sunset. The San Fernando Valley street doesn’t come within miles of Pacific Palisades.
When city plan checkers signed off on a pair of million-dollar homes now under construction in a rustic canyon, they were looking at an obsolete map that falsely shows Reseda Boulevard extended through the Santa Monica Mountains.
Instead of having frontage on an 80-foot-wide boulevard, the new estates actually face an 8-foot-wide country lane that can only be reached by a rickety wooden bridge across a canyon creek.
The mix-up has left heads shaking among those living in smaller houses along Evans Road, the narrow canyon lane that more closely resembles a driveway than a roadway--and should have been considerably widened before the new homes were built, some residents say.
It has also caused red faces in City Hall, where a new generation of urban planners and building inspectors is apparently unaware of one of the longest-running street controversies in Los Angeles history.
Official city and county maps that incorrectly show Reseda Boulevard connecting with Sunset are the last remnants of an unsuccessful campaign that began 70 years ago for a road between the Valley and the Santa Monica area.
For most of that time, the concept of a “Reseda to the sea” roadway has pitted one side of the mountains against the other, led to arguments between environmentalists and commuters and even caused fistfights between homeowners.
The cross-mountain road proposal was scrapped in 1977. And for the last 21 years, Pacific Palisades residents have been trying to get “Reseda Boulevard” erased from their community’s master plan.
“You’d think it was simple,” said Jack Allen, a Pacific Palisades activist who has spent more than 30 years battling “Reseda to the sea” proposals. “But it’s turned into a tedious process.”
The controversy along Evans Road has led city officials to pledge that maps will be changed this spring.
The privately maintained lane extends north from Sunset. It parallels Rustic Canyon Creek about half a mile into the canyon and serves as a driveway to 16 properties.
It is near the end of the driveway that owners of two small houses have begun their construction projects. They have demolished all but tiny portions of their old houses and are remodeling both into luxurious estates.
At issue is the safety of tiny Evans Road.
Some of those living near the project area say that the lane isn’t wide enough to accommodate construction trucks and probably won’t be able to handle the traffic generated by the large homes.
They grumble that the city should have realized that “Reseda Boulevard” does not exist there and should have required the two property owners to widen and improve Evans before allowing the construction to begin.
City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who represents the Pacific Palisades area and the southwestern edge of the Valley, agrees. She has asked the city to red flag all future construction permit applications along Evans until the phantom boulevard is removed from city maps.
“Reseda Boulevard [is] a paper street” that is being mistaken for a real one, Miscikowski has advised building and safety officials.
Building and Safety Department officials on Thursday blamed mapping procedures dating from the 1930s and ‘40s for the confusion.
“Back then they didn’t necessarily worry about actually building the streets that were shown on maps,” said Hector Buitrago, a Building and Safety supervising engineer. “We don’t do that anymore.”
Evans Road residents say they are angry about the mix-up. But not surprised. Back in 1990, the city Planning Department issued a warning to its staff members that their maps, too, improperly showed a full-fledged Reseda Boulevard.
“A year ago at a planning meeting people asked why Reseda was still shown, and the planning people said, ‘We know, we know. . . . We just don’t have the money to make new maps,’ ” said Barbara Leonard, who has lived on Evans for nearly 30 years.
Her husband, Dr. John Leonard, said the city’s error means it will be up to longtime residents to widen tiny Evans so it can handle traffic to the new estates.
“I thought we had some protection,” he said. “Needless to say, I’m disappointed with the city.”
Those building the new homes say there is no reason for alarm, however. They contend that Evans is fine as it is.
“It’s wide enough to be safe,” said home builder Ted Harbert, a television producer. “It gives the area a lot of its rustic charm. It makes the area more private.”
The new house next door is being built by entertainment lawyer Linda Lichter and her husband, director Norman Marck. Lichter suggested that Evans Road needs resurfacing, not widening. “We like the fact it doesn’t feel suburban--it feels rustic. We don’t want it changed,” she said.
Harbert and Lichter say they would not have purchased their property if Reseda Boulevard actually did pass through the canyon.
The cross-mountain roadway was first proposed in the early 1920s by Valley civic boosters.
By 1928 various Valley chambers of commerce were handing out maps showing a potential “Reseda to the sea” roadway that meandered through Temescal Canyon to Pacific Coast Highway.
Through the 1930s and ‘40s, Valley leaders promoted Reseda Boulevard as a vital future 25-mile roadway that would link Weldon Canyon north of the Valley with the beach.
By the 1950s, the state transportation planners were listing the Reseda Boulevard route as a potential freeway that would connect with the proposed Antelope Valley Freeway.
But the freeway proposal had become controversial by the 1960s.
Valley leaders who worried that the state was dragging its feet on the project persuaded the City Council to study the feasibility of building the cross-mountain throughway as a toll road. But that idea went nowhere.
City transportation engineers who had designed Temescal Canyon Road to be wide enough to handle traffic at the beach end of the freeway failed in an attempt to block construction of Palisades High School near the mouth of Temescal Canyon.
As the freeway plan faded, city officials explored extending Reseda Boulevard through adjoining Rustic Canyon. But opposition to that idea intensified in the 1970s. Opponents argued that such a route could lead to the creation of garbage landfills in the mountains and hinder development of Topanga State Park.
Environmentalists convinced city officials to drop the extension plan in 1977.
That wasn’t the end of the controversy, though.
Valley residents debated in the 1980s and early ‘90s whether to extend Reseda Boulevard south to provide access to the state park. There was also a move to extend Reseda to Mulholland Drive as part of an alternate route for east-west Valley commuters.
A 1989 community meeting dealing with the commuter issue erupted into a brawl when residents of Tarzana who opposed extending Reseda Boulevard traded punches with Encino residents who favored it. Last month, the City Council took steps to give up the city’s boulevard easement between Winford and Mulholland drives in the Tarzana area. The action was requested by the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, whose officials oppose the boulevard’s extension.
A state assemblyman representing the Pacific Palisades area got legislation passed in 1991 authorizing state parks officials to block the boulevard’s extension.
Now, say the boulevard’s opponents, all that’s left to do is erase Reseda Boulevard from those pesky old maps.
“Delete Reseda,” said Shirley Haggstrom, head of the Pacific Palisades Community Council. “It’s not there.”