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In Silver Lake, a feud over an open-space corridor

In a heavily trafficked city crisscrossed with freeways, where do you put the pastoral trails for furry commuters and nature-loving city dwellers?

Well, you put half a mile of it alongside the big condo development proposed on Riverside Drive in Silver Lake, says the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, aggressive fighters for open space in the city.

No, you put trails near the Los Angeles River, argues City Councilman Tom LaBonge, avid hiker and protector of Griffith Park who finds himself in an unusual battle with the conservancy.

And if you’re speaking for the developer, the Menlo Trust, you argue that the land alongside the condo development is too steep for a trail.

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So goes the fight over a half-mile stretch of dirt in Silver Lake that the conservancy contends is already a wildlife corridor and part of a proposed — but not yet improved — pathway. The Silver Lake-Echo Park-Elysian Valley Community Plan, approved by the city of Los Angeles in the early 1980s, set aside that parcel as part of an envisioned 5-mile trail between Elysian Park and Griffith Park for hiking and horseback riding.

It may be too steep for humans to hike right now, but all kinds of other animals use the trail, said Paul Edelman, deputy director of natural resources and planning for the conservancy. “We need this for gray foxes and bobcats.”

The conservancy has appealed a city planning agency decision to let developers build a 120-unit condo complex — alongside the existing 157-unit Riverglen development — and obliterate the corridor. The full City Council is expected to vote on the conservancy appeal Wednesday.

Neither the conservancy nor their supporters oppose the actual condo development. “I’m just opposed to it being done without a trail,” said Diane Edwardson, a longtime Silver Lake community activist.

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Not everyone in Silver Lake agrees. “The terrain is very treacherous over there anyway,” said Elizabeth Bougart-Sharkov. “Building a path is a stupid idea. It’s like a bridge to nowhere.”

Countered Edelman: “If you use that argument you would never get anywhere: ‘Oh it doesn’t go anywhere.’ Well you have to start somewhere.”

This trail, he said, “would be the first official segment of the contiguous corridor.”

Supporters say removing the trail sets a dangerous precedent for dismantling other community plans in the city. But LaBonge contends that “a community plan is a guide. It’s not an ordinance.” Wildlife will survive the lack of this particular trail, he said.

Land-use consultant Jim Ries says that the developers will install a 900-foot landscaped median on Riverside Drive — as requested by LaBonge’s office and as a goodwill gesture to the neighborhood.

Menlo Trust is connected to Sam Menlo, the controversial landlord who was cited for code violations so often that a Superior Court judge sentenced him to live in one of his decrepit Anaheim apartments a decade ago.

Those days are past, Ries said. Menlo is elderly and ill. “He is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.” Frank Menlo, his son, runs the company.

carla.hall@latimes.com


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