The owner of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course is suing the city of Los Angeles to halt the designation of part of the property as historically significant, but the suit may not gain traction if a residential development on the site can proceed as planned.
The L.A. City Council designated roughly 1 acre of the golf course as historically significant in June in a move meant to commemorate the history of a World War II detention center that occupied the site.
However, during talks about a specific plan for the memorial, there was discussion about expanding the memorial site, which could impact a planned 230-home residential development.
The golf course is considered a Crescenta Valley resource.
So Snowball West Investment, the golf course's owner, filed the lawsuit on Wednesday against the city and former L.A. Councilman Richard Alarcon, claiming the historic designation violated the city's municipal code and deprived the development company of its due process rights.
The original application for historic designation was initiated by Alarcon, who was termed out of office at the end of last month and was succeeded in the 7th District by Felipe Fuentes.
Fred Gaines, attorney for Snowball West Investment, said his client took legal action because the designation — which would require any construction on site to be approved by the city's Cultural Heritage Commission — never should have been applied in the first place. Also, the deadline to file a suit was looming.
"We felt from day one that the city designation is improper," he said. "[The Council] went ahead and did it, we believe for political reasons, but it was inappropriate legally."
The idea for a partial designation came from the city's Planning Land Use and Management Committee, where a working group was formed to determine the best way to memorialize the internment camp.
The working group included representatives from the Japanese American community, local stakeholders from Sunland-Tujunga, city representatives and officials from Snowball West.
The chair of the working group, Ken Bernstein, said the group had settled on a solution that would allow public access to a memorial site with informational resources but not impact future residential development.
Bernstein said that recommendation will be incorporated as Snowball's development plans work through the city approval process.
Gaines said the suit was filed before that compromise was reached, when it appeared the working group might recommend the city use the historic designation to block the development.
"There were people at the meetings who wanted to expand the designation to 10 acres or more, proposals to re-do it and put it in a different area," he said.
Gaines said it could be a year before this type of lawsuit even goes to trial. He added that if the residential development is able to move forward with the working group's memorial plan, there will likely be no trial.
"We are very hopeful that this proposal that we made that seemed to have support can be incorporated as part of the project," he said. "If that happens, the lawsuit is not particularly relevant."