A Battle for the High Ground
In the hills of northeast L.A., debate flares over property rights and preserving open space.
By Jim Newton Times Staff Writer March 7, 2006
The hills north and east of downtown Los Angeles are a mishmash of small homes, narrow streets, hidden valleys and long views. A few have streetlights; others go dark at night, quiet swatches of countryside less than 10 miles from City Hall. Some of the city's last big undeveloped parcels - places like Flat-Top, Mt. Olympus, Rose Hill, Paradise Hill - frame the horizon. Now those inviting green spaces have become the staging ground in a bitter, protracted dispute, with distinct class and racial overtones, that is a microcosm of the exploding development struggles across Los Angeles.
Each side has its devoted advocates. There is Clare Marter Kenyon, a librarian with a soft British accent and a keen determination to protect plants and wildlife from encroaching development; when she drives around El Sereno, she sees the stumps of felled California black walnuts and winces.
There is James Rojas, an urban planner who lives downtown but covets the relief of the open spaces and is closely allied with Kenyon. "West L.A.," he said, "has their ocean. We have our hillsides."
And there is Tomas Osinski, a Polish emigre and architect with a critical eye, an adamant belief in the rights of property owners and an intolerance for government hypocrisy....
The problem here is they are all right.
We need to find a balance between housing and parks and to also find a way to balance the rights of property owners and the needs of the public. But instead of trying to find that balance, the city has - as it too often does - has taken easy way out. The end result is that no one is satisfied and everyone is going to get screwed over.
And the irony is that doing the right thing would be a lot easier than the recently enacted/proposed half-measures which will not preserve any meaningful park land, and will also create less housing and also continue to make all housing more expensive for everyone.
A perfect lose, lose situation.
What makes a viable solution for the largest of the parcels in question possible is that they are owned by developers who are only interested in building a certain number of housing units and, more importantly, making a certain level of profit.
Now the proposed solution can be done in one of two ways. The first would take each of the parcels as separate project, the second would bundle all of the largest, developer owner parcels that would agree to participate into one development project.
The properties would then be examined from geologic, topographic, financial and social points of view and each developer would be given one or more parcels of land (regardless of who owns them) with entitlements for higher density than single family housing in exchange for donating the rest of the land to the city as park space.
This would reduce the developer's costs (and the impact upon the environment) as they would not have to build roads and utilities into steep hillside areas, and this would also allow for more units to be built at lower prices than if only single family homes were built.
More parks, more housing, and lower housing prices.
And it won't cost the taxpayers one cent.
A real world solution.
And a real world challenge for our new planning director - Gail Goldberg to tackle.