TORRANCE — The yearlong dispute over the Madrona Marsh wetlands is headed for the courtroom.
The City Council on Tuesday directed City Atty. Stanley Remelmeyer to file suit in Los Angeles Superior Court to have a judge decide whether the city's deed to 34.4-acres of marsh adjacent to the Park del Amo residential-commercial project should be a clear title--as the city wants--or simply an easement--as the developer wants.
The City Council approved plans for the massive project in 1983 only after the developer, the Torrance Investment Co., agreed to dedicate to the city the 34.4 acres and to sell an additional 8.5 acres of marsh to the city for preservation. The marsh, on the west side of the project area on Madrona Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard, is one of the last remaining stopping grounds in the South Bay for migratory birds and other wildlife.
The city received title to the 8.5 acres on May 31 after paying $1.5 million. But negotiations over the title to the remainder of the marsh has not produced a settlement.
The developer wants the deed to be an easement that would return the land to the company if the marsh dries up or if it is used for purposes other than "a nature or wildlife habitat, nature or wildlife park, or other compatible outdoor passive recreational, educational or scientific uses."
The developer fears that the marsh will eventually dry up and that the city would then be free to develop the property.
City officials want clear title to the land and say it will be used for open space in perpetuity.
The 1983 development agreement signed by the City Council and the developer says the developer "shall dedicate" the land to the city and later says the city shall have "ownership" of the marsh.
"We are filing suit," Remelmeyer said Tuesday, "to have the court determine whether or not TIC must convey the marsh property to the the city by grant deed and not with a conservation easement."
"We will be satisfied with a court decision," said Jerry Rogers, a spokesman for Torrance Investment, after Tuesday's meeting, at which the company tried to delay the council's decision to go to court by asking for one more meeting with city officials. But the council said another meeting would do no good.
"We have made an honest, good-faith effort," said Mayor Jim Armstrong, who in the latest unsuccessful attempt at a settlement headed a citizens committee to meet with developers.
"The city and public have shown unusual patience," said Councilwoman Katy Geissert. "We've reached a point where there isn't any other alternative."
"We must reluctantly conclude that further negotiations at this time are fruitless and we are at an impasse," Remelmeyer said.
The suit, which Remelmeyer said will be filed within two weeks, will also ask the court to prohibit the developers from doing anything to the marsh that would "destroy or otherwise prove harmful to the maintenance of the marsh as a valuable ecological preserve."
The decision to file suit was endorsed by the Friends of Madrona Marsh, a local environmental group that had fought developers for 10 years to save the marsh.
"The Friends of Madrona Marsh, the residents and the business community understand the commitment agreed to by TIC in the development agreement and are outraged that they have for over a year failed to deed the land, while proceeding with the development of Park del Amo," said Georgean Griswold, the group's president.
Park del Amo will include up to 1,482 residential units and 850,000 square feet of commercial space. About 300,000 square feet of commercial space and more than 360 condominiums are under construction or have been built. The entire project is not expected to be completed until 1993.