A developer's controversial proposal to cut down a prominent ridge in the Verdugo Mountains appears headed for defeat this week after a capacity crowd of angry residents turned out to protest at a public hearing.
The Glendale Planning Commission on Monday unanimously rejected a proposal by the Gregg Development Co. of Glendale to obtain six acres of city-owned land in the mountains. The developer plans to use the land as part of a massive grading project that would slice up to 70 feet off the top of a ridgeline separating the Oakmont View and Oakmont Woods neighborhoods in the Verdugo-Woodlands area.
Almost 100 people packed the commission hearing to oppose the land sale. They also used the hearing as their only opportunity to protest the grading plan, which city officials had already decided would be approved without a public hearing.
The proposed land sale and its connection with the grading project were revealed by The Times in April and May. The issue will come before the Glendale City Council on June 28.
Mayor Carl W. Raggio said Tuesday that he "very much concurs" with the commission's action and plans to order the city manager to halt the grading project.
"We have the same concerns about ridges that the community has," said Raggio, predicting the City Council will also reject the grading plan and land swap proposal.
Representatives of the Glendale Hills Coordinating Council, a coalition of nine homeowner groups, said members are being urged this week to write city officials to voice their objections and to attend the June 28 hearing.
The Deer Canyon-Oakmont Property Owners Assn. on Monday hired an attorney to take court action, if necessary, to block the grading project, said Steve Cameron, association president.
The grading plan calls for removing 25,000 truckloads of dirt from the ridge to fill in a six-acre debris basin carved out during construction of Gregg Development's Oakmont View subdivision. The dirt is needed to create the last 24 view-home sites in the 197-lot development.
After a series of meetings between developers and top city officials, a three-member city panel in February quietly ruled that no environmental review was required of the grading project because the city and developers had agreed to adequate measures to lessen environmental damage.
A partner in the development company, Salvatore Gangi, had also offered to exchange a parcel of property of less than one-third of an acre that he owns next to the Ventura Freeway for the city's mountain land. Gangi agreed to pay the city $190,500--the difference between the appraised values of the two parcels.
The trade would eliminate the city's objections and liability for grading on city property and give Gangi a prime parcel of land where he planned to build his 8,110-square-foot personal residence, according to city records and staff workers.
The ruling by the city's Environmental and Planning Board meant that no public hearings would be required on the grading project before the Planning Commission and City Council. Developer John Gregg said last month he expected to obtain a grading permit from the city engineer within a few weeks.
The proposed land swap became public when it was listed as a routine "consent item" on a City Council agenda in April. Without comment, the council set public hearings on the land swap, which requires a zone change to allow Gangi to build his estate and to amend the land use element of the General Plan from public open space to private residential open space.
Several council members initially said they favored the land swap because the city could use Gangi's lot to build a downtown mini-park. Opposition arose only after the connection between the land swap and grading proposal was revealed.
Planning Commission Chairman Gerald Briggs told the packed audience Monday that the land swap and grading proposals are "totally absurd. . . . I'm mystified that it got as far as it did. . . . I fail to see why the city is even considering it."
Briggs also said, "I'm sorry we had to read about these deals in the Los Angeles Times. It is a shame we had to find out about it that way."
Briggs said he subsequently met Tuesday with two council members, Ginger Bremberg and Larry Zarian, to discuss the city's role in the grading and land swap proposals because he was concerned that "on the surface, there appeared to be a deal among city officials to put the issue to bed without public notice."
However, Briggs said that after talking with city officials, "I'm comfortable now that there was no intent to do that. There was no cover-up."