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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Park Agencies to Take Possession of SOKA University Site in Center of Santa Monica Mountains in June

Several years ago former Task Force Co-Chair Margot Feuer made a comment about the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area that, “There’s no ‘there’ there,” meaning that there was no central focal point or destination for visitors to the Park that would give the Park an identity in the public mind the way Yosemite Valley creates an identity, a focal point, and a destination for Yosemite National Park.

In the 27 years of its existence the Santa Monica Mountains NRA has had to compete with developers for land, while watching that land escalate in value while public funds became increasingly scarce, resulting in incomplete, scattered units of protected land interspersed with subdivisions, ugly mansions, and horse ranches in what the media still often refers to as the “Malibu Hills” or the “Hollywood Hills.” Meanwhile, properties deemed essential to the Park have been lost to development.

About all that was left for a “there” was the beautiful rural valley occupied by SOKA, and for years SOKA stoutly resisted offers of purchase and proceeded with plans to develop a major institution on the site.

Two years ago SOKA was finally persuaded to sell, and by herculean efforts, the $35 million asking price was put together. Part of the purchase agreement was that SOKA could lease back the property until December, 2007 in return for knocking $2 million off the purchase price.

Last Friday SOKA notified the park agencies that it would be vacating the property on June 27, six months ahead of schedule. Then, as the ribbons are cut and the speeches are made, we will finally have our “there” — a combined park headquarters, visitor center, interpretive center, and staging area for the entire Santa Monica Mountains park system set in a beautiful, unspoiled valley surrounded by the rugged peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains and filled with 4000 oak trees.

On June 27 the MRCA — the management arm of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy — plans to take possession of the “campus” portion of the former SOKA property that has been under lease to SOKA and open it to the public. The National Park Service will move their headquarters and visitor center from its current location in Thousand Oaks, but that move will not take place until sometime in the Spring of 2008. State Parks will also move in SOKA at some point, creating a “one-stop” headquarters and visitor center and moving the “center of gravity” of the Santa Monica Mountains park system that much closer to Los Angeles, where most of the people are.

As soon as the park agencies move into the buildings that SOKA “University” is vacating, we can expect them to start work on their master plan for the 588 acre property. Information on the interagency planning process is posted on MRCA website, where people can sign up for the updates (

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