The state and federal governments have reached an agreement with the Adamson Cos. to buy the firm's entire 1,500-acre holdings in Zuma and Trancas canyons for about $8 million.
The purchase would put the National Park Service past the halfway point in its efforts to put together a huge Zuma-Trancas park, covering more than 7,200 acres in the two adjoining canyons north of Point Dume in Malibu. The park service already has paid $10.3 million for 2,800 acres in the area.
The Adamson Cos. property is the largest undeveloped canyon parcel in Los Angeles County. It is owned by a partnership formed by descendants of the pioneering Adamson and Rindge families. The land was obtained by the Rindges in 1890.
If the sale does not go through, Adamson hopes to build a hotel, golf course or housing in parts of the canyons or to sell the land to others for development.
The proposed transaction must be completed by the end of December, said Alfred Edgerton, director of legal services for Adamson. That deadline was imposed because, "for our tax purposes, it would be good," Edgerton said.
The sale might still be possible after the deadline passes, Edgerton said, but "it does probably make a difference in the ultimate negotiated price." A private appraisal for Adamson set a $12-million to $14-million value on the land, Edgerton said.
The company is willing to accept the $8-million price tag now to avoid a condemnation battle in court, Edgerton said.
The state is ready to spend the $6 million for its share of the property--about 800 acres. In September, Gov. George Deukmejian authorized $3 million in tideland oil revenues to go toward the acquisition. And the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy raised another $3 million by postponing the purchase of two other Malibu properties for which money already had been approved. The conservancy board unanimously voted Thursday to switch the money to Zuma Canyon.
Federal Funds Not Assured
The park service is expected to eventually buy that land from the conservancy--and to pay $2 million now for the rest of the Adamson canyon property.
The federal money, however, is far from assured.
"There's an awful lot of hope in this," said Daniel R. Kuehn, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is run by the park service.
Kuehn said the House of Representatives has allocated $12 million to the park service for Santa Monica Mountains property. But the Senate version of the budget now under consideration includes no money for that purpose.
After the two chambers reconcile their budget differences during the next few weeks, "I really expect to get some money," Kuehn said. "The question is how much."
For two years, the park service negotiated with Adamson for 973 acres in Lower Zuma Canyon, but was unable to get Congress to grant money for the purchase.
So the park service asked the conservancy--empowered by the state to buy land to preserve open space--to buy Lower Zuma Canyon and hold it for safekeeping.
The two agencies reached an understanding: If the park service could get the money for the canyon, it would buy the land from the conservancy. If not, the conservancy could sell the property to someone else to recoup its expenditures.
Even if the park service receives $12 million for Santa Monica Mountains property this year, Kuehn said, only the $2 million immediately required is likely to be spent on Zuma Canyon.
"There are some other properties in the mountains that are being threatened by development" that would be higher on the park service wish list than the conservancy's part of Zuma Canyon, Kuehn said.
He cited as an example 272 acres near Las Virgenes Road and Mulholland Highway, where the Quaker Corp. recently received permission from the California Coastal Commission to build 34 homes.
The conservancy will use the state's $6 million to buy 800 acres whether or not the park service can raise the $2 million for the rest.
The latest arrangements reduced by about 170 the number of acres the conservancy will be able to buy for its $6 million. With all of the canyon land now for sale, the conservancy was able to select the property that would most likely have been developed, said Joseph Edmiston, the conservancy's executive director. The price per acre therefore went up.
"It's not the number of acres we're after, but the most critical portion to buy," Edmiston said. "What we're really buying here is reasonably flat, recreationally usable land."
Return of $3 Million
In any case, the park service must reimburse the $3 million approved by Deukmejian within three years or else some of the conservancy's canyon land will be sold, Edmiston said.
The $3 million from the conservancy "ultimately must be reimbursed" but there is no specific deadline, Edmiston said.
Now, fences and locked gates keep most of the public away from the canyons' chaparral-covered hillsides and plateaus with spectacular views of the ocean and mountains.
Determined hikers can reach the canyon from Kanan Dume Road or the end of Busch Drive. And Adamson has distributed gate keys to some local equestrian clubs so members can ride horses there.
Once inside, they find terrain that ranges from a flat portion with a winding stream bed and a stand of avocado trees, to gentle slopes that fold and ripple, to craggy mountain peaks. The park service would like to keep the canyons in their natural state, adding only some trails and parking facilities, Kuehn said. Edmiston said he would encourage construction of a campground, too.