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Sale of Ranch to Pay for Boy Scout Aquatics Center

November 27, 1986|MYRON LEVIN and DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writers

A state agency has earmarked $5.85 million for public acquisition of a scenic mountain tract in Ventura County, which the Los Angeles Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America wants to sell to help pay for a new aquatics center in San Pedro.

The State Coastal Conservancy board voted last week to put up the money--its largest grant ever--for the 1,655-acre Circle X Ranch, which includes a bunkhouse and six campgrounds used by the Boy Scouts. The ranch is next to Point Mugu State Park and offers sweeping views of the coast from the most prominent ridge and the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Bert Keller, director of support services for the Scouts' council, said the group decided last year to sell the ranch, which it has owned for more than 30 years, because of its remote location. Most of the money will go toward the $3.5-million waterfront sports center being built at the Scouts' 12-acre campground near Cabrillo Beach, he said.

The ranch "is just too far away for the kids we want to serve in Los Angeles," Keller said. "Many of them have difficulty getting transportation, and we haven't been able to get enough kids out there. The waterfront sports center gives us a chance to serve more kids in the city."

There are about 60,000 Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts in the Los Angeles area, according to the council.

The Cabrillo Beach Waterfront Sports Center, as the aquatics center is called, is expected to open next July. Although it will be operated by the Boy Scouts, Keller said the center will be open to other youth organizations as well. The facility will have a full-time resident director, a dining hall, offices, work-out rooms, a swimming pool, boating areas and overnight camping grounds.

The Boy Scouts have maintained a camp at the site since the 1940s under short-term leases with the Los Angeles Harbor Department, which owns the land. Two years ago, however, the Scouts secured a 30-year lease for the property from the department, Keller said. The camp is now part of the port's $100-million Cabrillo Beach Recreational Complex, which will also include a 3,000-boat marina, a hotel, restaurants and other public facilities.

Keller said public acquisition of the Ventura County property--which includes 22 miles of hiking trails and rugged Boney Ridge and Mt. Allen, the highest point in the Santa Monicas--will give the Boy Scouts the best of both worlds by providing them with needed cash for the aquatics center while preserving the rugged land for recreation.

"Now everybody can use the property--including the Scouts," he said.

The state board, which met in Sacramento, said that another state parks agency must provide suitable repayment guarantees next month in order for the complicated transaction to go forward. Those guarantees will require that other state lands in the Santa Monicas be put up for sale unless voters approve a state parks bond issue within the next two years from which the Coastal Conservancy would recoup its money.

Behind-Scenes Battle

The planned sale of the tract had touched off an unusual and bitter behind-the-scenes battle among the staffs of the Coastal Conservancy and the other parks agency, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. At one point earlier this fall, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy--an ardent supporter of the acquisition--threatened to sue the Coastal Conservancy for not acting more quickly on the project.

In approving the grant, the Coastal Conservancy board rejected its staff's advice that half the money be provided and the land be purchased in phases. Board members decided to commit the full $5.85 million on the condition that an acceptable repayment agreement is brought to them at their meeting Dec. 22.

After last week's vote, Joe Edmiston, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy executive director, expressed satisfaction that the agencies were able to "resolve their differences and, in this case, do something spectacular for the public."

The land actually would be owned and managed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a joint venture of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Thousand Oaks-based Conejo Recreation and Park District. Edmiston said the property would be available for group and individual camping and other outdoor activities.

Valued at $6.5 Million

After learning that the Boy Scouts wanted to sell the ranch, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy--a Los Angeles based agency that acquires parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains and in the hills ringing the San Fernando Valley--commissioned an appraisal and the land was valued at $6.5 million.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy had no money to buy the property. But lawmakers earlier this year inserted the purchase in the Coastal Conservancy's 1986-87 budget--provided the grant proved to be consistent with the Coastal Conservancy's mandate and the money could be repaid.

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