Efforts increase to preserve Verdugo Hills Golf Course

At a public meeting Monday on the fate of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon vowed to block a planned residential development on the site, saying it could jeopardize the construction of a stormwater treatment facility.

Earlier this month, Alarcon also made a motion at Los Angeles City Hall calling for the golf course to be placed on the city's list of historic and cultural monuments because it was the site of a detention center for Japanese Americans and others in the early 1940s after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The designation could further hamper the ability to develop the land.

“I will do everything I can to block it,” he said in front of dozens of people who turned up to hear the latest on the long-running saga to preserve the open space.

A spokesman for the golf course's owner has said plans for a residential development on the site are moving forward.

Opponents to residential development claim it will bring increased traffic to the urban-rural area and take away a long-standing community recreational resource.

Despite his efforts to preserve the historical heritage of the site, Alarcon said sentiments on potential environmental impacts must be kept separate.

His main concern about the residential project is that it could jeopardize construction of a stormwater treatment facility on the site, which was proposed last year.

Alarcon said the project is “in the queue” for funds from Proposition O, which was approved by Los Angeles voters about eight years ago to improve local water quality.

“We should not rush in with a housing project and lose the opportunity to fix our storm-drain system,” Alarcon said.

Ken Bernstein, manager of L.A.'s Office of Historic Resources, said the historic designation process could take three to six months. If the City Council approves Alarcon's motion, the request will go before the city's Cultural Heritage Commission. Its members will tour the site and either approve or disapprove the designation.

If the application is approved, it needs only a majority vote of council members to pass. If it is not approved, it will require a two-thirds vote.

“[The site] unquestionably has tremendous historic significance,” Bernstein said.

The commission uses seven characteristics in making its recommendations, including “location and setting” and “feeling and association,” which could be weighed in the golf course's application, Bernstein said.

Other criteria — including design, materials and workmanship — probably can't be used.

“As far as we know, there are no significant physical buildings or remnants of the detention-center use that are still remaining on the golf course,” Bernstein said.

Alarcon said the journey to preserve the golf course won't be easy.

“The process is not a slam dunk,” he said, adding that it will need a wealth of community support.

As part of the development's environmental impact report, a firm has already found that the site does not merit historic designation at state or national levels, Bernstein said.

A representative for Snowball West Investments, which owns the golf course, said the company still plans to continue with the residential development, which is undergoing revisions to some of its environmental impact review.

Property owners' approval isn't needed to place a site on the city's list of historic and cultural monuments, Bernstein said.

Snowball West spokesman Michael Hoberman has said company officials are willing to work with historic preservationists to save any buildings used on the site when it was a detention center.

He also said the company is willing to install a plaque in the residential development commemorating that the location was previously a detention station during World War II.

A recent release of records at the National Archives and Records Center in Laguna Niguel showed for the first time that two detention centers were in the Los Angeles area following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The other site is now a landfill and can't be preserved, Alarcon said.

Follow Mark on Twitter @LAMarkKellam.

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