L.A. City Council to Review OK of Hill Plan
The public works board had allowed a firm to remove dirt from one of the last undeveloped slopes in the L.A.’s northeast corner.
BY DAVID ZAHNISER
L.A. Times Staff Writer, 9/12/2007
The Los Angeles City Council took the first step Tuesday toward blocking a real estate firm from carving into a 110-acre hillside billed as one of the last undeveloped slopes in the northeast corner of the city.
The council unanimously voted to review a recent decision by the Board of Public Works that allowed Monterey Hills Investors to remove dirt from a site in El Sereno known as Elephant Hill — work that would prepare the land for construction of a 24- home subdivision.
The council voted in June to demand a new environmental impact report for the project, which is along the city’s border with South Pasadena and has been in the works for more than a decade.
But four weeks ago, the Board of Public Works, a panel appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, approved a series of permits allowing the developer to build streets and storm drains on the site.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the El Sereno neighborhood, said the board’s decision flouted the will of the council.
“We as a council took an action, and we have a department going in a different direction after we acted,” he said. “So who’s the ultimate policymaker here?”
Environmentalists and neighborhood activists, who appeared before the council wearing pink stickers and orange T-shirts, argued that the recently issued permits would essentially allow the developer to begin work on a project that has not yet been approved — and is the subject of a lawsuit.
Such a turn of events would not occur in the city’s wealthier neighborhoods, said Joe Edmiston, who heads the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, one of several environmental groups that oppose the project.
“If we had one of the last pieces of open space on the Westside…instead of people in orange T- shirts, you’d have all the West-side lawyers out there in the audience,” he said.
Monterey Hills Investors sued to stop the council from requiring more environmental review, saying it has the legal right to begin work on its housing tract. The firm also argued that the new permits would affect only 21% of the site.
“If the city wants to convert this to open space, you ought to buy the property,” Ben Reznik, a lobbyist for Monterey Hills Investors, told the council. “You don’t get open space by delaying a project. You don’t get open space by putting the developer in a twisting situation.”
The council must act on the matter by Oct. 2, according to Huizar’s aides.
Public Works Board President Cynthia Ruiz said after the vote that she had no problem with the council’s decision. Ruiz said her panel was not even legally required to review the permits, which were granted by a city engineer.
“We respect the council, and we respect their ability to have oversight of the board,” she said.