DOWNEY — Heeding the desires of area residents, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to prohibit agricultural, recreational and other uses on land that runs under electric transmission lines on the northwest edge of the city.
The council was acting on a request for the city to clarify its policy by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said Lee Moussafir, the department's chief real estate officer. The utility earns about $900,000 a year in licenses for farmers and business owners to use the largely undeveloped land under power lines throughout Southern California, Moussafir said.
"The residents are just bitterly opposed to it," said Councilman Robert G. Cormack, whose district includes the land under the power lines.
The right of way runs about 1 1/2 miles along the Rio Hondo Channel--from north of the Santa Ana Freeway to a point south of Firestone Boulevard--on Downey's western border.
The utility rents land in its right of way for the income it generates and also because it reduces the cost of mowing weeds and other maintenance. Those costs add up to several hundred dollars a year for each acre, Moussafir said.
'Concerned About Public Acceptance'
Right-of-way strips controlled by the Department of Water and Power in other areas are used, for example, to grow Christmas trees or food crops or to store nursery plants, Moussafir said. Recreational uses such as parks and riding and hiking trails had also been mentioned for the right of way in Downey.
"In the case of Downey, the people chose to leave it status quo," Moussafir said. "As far as I'm concerned, that's OK. We're concerned about public acceptance . . . revenuewise, you're only talking about a thousand dollars per acre a year."
The strongest opposition came from residents along Guatemala Avenue, a residential area abutting a large portion of the right of way. Lois Buchanan, who lives on Guatemala Avenue, said residents feared that use of the strip would make the area less safe and disturb the neighborhood. She applauded the council action.
"We wanted it left as is," she said. "We felt we should stick together for fear of whatever was put back there would entice (people) to burglarize and vandalize."
The issue came to the attention of city officials last year after the Department of Water and Power granted a license to a farmer to grow cabbage on an acre parcel, said Maxine Woerner, associate planner. Because the area is zoned for single-family residential uses, a city permit was required.
The council denied the permit in June of last year after local residents voiced their opposition to the farming operation. The city then initiated a survey of 3,200 property owners near the Los Angeles department's right of way and Southern California Edison Co. right of way on the eastern edge of the city. The Edison right of way has long been used for Christmas tree and strawberry farming and to store nursery plants, City Planner Ron Yoshiki said.
Fifty-eight percent of the respondents whose property abuts the utilities' rights of way said they preferred that the land remain vacant. The council decision does not affect the Edison right of way, Yoshiki said.