Homeowners in the upper reaches of Palisades Highlands are locked in a struggle with the city over a popular entry into the Santa Monica Mountains.
Homeowners in the gated community of $2-million houses are fighting city improvements to the entrance to the mountains at the end of Verda de la Montura, about four miles east of the ocean off Sunset Boulevard.
Claiming that the street has become a hangout for gang members, drunks, drug abusers, skateboarders, arsonists and other miscreants, the homeowners want to fence off the entrance.
The proposed fence would be similar to the one that surrounds Palisades Country Estates, a gated community on the other side of the street that is patrolled by private guards.
"There are gang fights, noisy parties, coke gatherings, litter and junk," said Hyman H. Haves, chairman of the Palisades Highlands Assns., a coalition of 14 homeowner groups representing occupants of about 1,000 residences.
"The end of the street has become a parking lot and nobody with an expensive home wants a parking lot right next to them. We also are extremely concerned about the threat from illegally set fires in the area."
Haves lives in a relatively modest Pacific Highlands condominium on the ridge above the access to the mountains. "The noise reverberates directly into our homes and is a terrible nuisance to residents," Haves said.
While agreeing with homeowners that some visitors abuse the privilege of using the mountains, the city has refused to budge from the principle of wide public access to what will eventually become part of the 10,000-acre east end of Topanga State Park.
Braude Favors Access
City Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents the area and has championed efforts to add the acreage to the park, is committed to the widest possible access for hikers to the chaparral-covered mountains. He does not favor closing off the entrance but decries abuse of the park.
"You always have people who will make noise and otherwise abuse the privilege of using parklands," Braude said. "It is a common problem with every park.
"I think there is a way to work out a compromise to retain the access way and correct the abuses."
To close off access at Verda de la Montura would force legitimate park users to enter the mountains a mile farther down at the entrance to city-owned Santa Ynez Canyon Park, off Palisades Drive.
Hike an Extra Mile
Homeowners contend that legitimate hikers would not object to climbing the extra mile, while the rowdy elements would be discouraged by the additional hike.
"The entryway off Palisades Drive has always been the official entryway to the mountains," Haves said. "We tolerated the unofficial entrance off Verda de la Montura only until conditions became intolerable."
Work to improve the entrance on Verda de la Montura is continuing and includes construction of steps down to the canyon and a paved road giving city vehicles improved access to a debris catch basin 200 yards from the street. The city has approved construction of the fence, but only if it includes a gate to allow daytime use of the entryway.
Home construction by Headland Properties Inc., developer of Palisades Highland, has been slowed, according to W. Charles Chastain, president of the company.
'Dragging Our Feet'
"Basically," Chastain said, "we're dragging our feet to allow the city and homeowners a chance to reach a mutually satisfying solution to the problem."
Headland Properties agreed to donate 1,100 acres to federal, state, city and any other government agency that will maintain the land in its natural state in exchange for approval from the state Coastal Commission to build 1,750 units on 3,500 acres acquired by the company in 1964.
About 1,300 of the homes have been built and are occupied, Chastain said, adding that the number of homes in the community will be 1,694 when construction is completed in the next few years.
"I am in the middle as far as the current access-way dispute goes," he said. "I understand both points of view. But ultimately I will do what the city requires me to do as part of the agreement to allow development of the community."
Land to Be Ceded
He is scheduled to cede the land on which the Verda de la Montura entrance to the mountains is located to either the city or the state sometime within the next year, complete with whatever improvements the city ordered.
Claire Rogger, an aide to Braude, maintained that the perfect solution to the dispute is to finish improvement plans and encourage residents and private guards stationed next to the entrance to be alert to discourage improper activities in the canyon area.
"Since the private security system already is built into the community," she said, "our office believes that the situation can be controlled."
But Haves said Braude's solution is less than perfect. "Private guards do not have the authority that public officers or rangers have to do the job," he said. "In the last resort, private guards can only call police and patrolling mountain areas is not a high public priority."
Terry G. Brann, supervising ranger for the east sector of Topanga State Park, who is based in Will Rogers Park, said that he does not have the personnel to station a ranger at the site.
"We can make occasional patrols of the area," he said. "We are limited in what we can do, although we can respond to major problems. One of the major reasons for our existence is to make public lands publicly available."