Unable to resolve a conflict with a Presbyterian church group over an access road, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is considering a new design for the proposed Temescal Gateway Park in Pacific Palisades.
At the same time, residents are expressing their dissatisfaction with church plans to expand its conference facilities in the canyon to accommodate 500 overnight guests.
The land for the proposed park is owned by the conservancy, a state agency that prepares parkland for public use. It purchased the 20 acres in 1982 for use as a gateway to the west side of Topanga State Park.
It shares an unpaved road with the Presbyterian Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, a governing body for 285 churches. The synod owns and operates a conference center that lies between the conservancy property and Topanga State Park.
A previous plan that called for the conservancy and the church to share the cost of constructing a paved road through the proposed park fell through last spring. The conservancy then revised its plans, moving a parking lot closer to the Sunset Boulevard entrance, which meant that it needed a shorter road. Church officials say the new design would force the church to build its own road to its 147-acre conference center.
Expand Conference Center
The conservancy's board of directors next month will consider its staff's proposed redesign of Temescal Gateway Park. If adopted, the plan would have to be approved by the California Coastal Commission, conservancy analyst John Diaz said.
The previous road-sharing plan fell through when a dispute arose over the width of the road. Diaz said there was an agreement to have a 20-foot-wide road, but synod consultant Ann Krueger said the agreement did not specify a width.
Krueger said limiting the road's width to 20 feet would effectively prevent the synod's development because the Los Angeles fire code requires that roads serving new buildings be at least 28 feet wide. The conservancy, as a state agency, is exempt from city regulations.
"We wanted whatever the city required us to do, and the conservancy refused," Krueger said.
Diaz said the conservancy was ready to start asking for construction bids on the road last spring when the synod backed out. "We felt duped because we thought we had an agreement," he said.
In subsequent negotiations, Diaz said, synod officials would not commit themselves to a specific width for the road.
Krueger said that because the redesigned road would not be wide enough to meet city requirements, the new plan could require the church to build a second road to accommodate its expansion. "It's a waste of not only private dollars, but of public dollars," she said.
Meanwhile, the synod's expansion plans are being opposed by the Pacific Palisades Residents Assn., the Friends of Temescal Canyon and the Temescal Canyon Assn.
Opponents claim that expansion will destroy the rustic charm of the area and that the size of the development will increase traffic and congestion. Diane August, a leader of Friends of Temescal Canyon, said synod officials who promise that the site will retain its rustic charm are "talking out of both sides of their mouth. Are they really for the community? I'm not so sure that people who want to put up a hotel are for the community."
Krueger said the expansion is necessary to accommodate large church gatherings. To call the conference center a hotel is inaccurate and inflammatory, she said.
"The church has a need for a place where its larger churches can meet," she said.
Originally the site of Chautauquas--summer religious gatherings that began in the 1920s by the Methodist founders of Pacific Palisades--the center accommodates nonprofit organizations and Presbyterian groups in a 135-bed facility.
The synod wants to add 70,100 square feet to its facilities, including eight new lodges, a new dining hall, an administrative building and one new staff house, Krueger said.
An undetermined number of buildings will be removed during the 10-year construction period to make space for the new facilities, although several structures with historical value will be maintained, she said.
Krueger said the synod plans to file its final environmental impact report and architectural drawings for its expansion project with the Los Angeles zoning administrator by the middle of August or early September.
Residents say they don't trust the synod to maintain possession of the property after the new facilities and road are built. "We're not quite clear what their motives are," said August of Friends of Temescal Canyon.
(In another move opposed by neighbors, the synod plans to sell three acres of its land near Sunset Boulevard to the Palisades-Malibu YMCA for the construction of a 30,000-square-foot building and pool.)
Krueger charged that the neighbors who are afraid that development in the canyon could force the synod to abandon its plans and sell out to someone who would be less concerned with maintaining its use as a conference center. "If the local community looks at its stand, they would realize that the more they stall, the greater the chance for (the sale of church property) becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy," Krueger said.
She added that the neighbors would like to prevent any development of the synod land. August agrees.
"Perhaps if the synod finds it can't do what it wants to do to its property, the national park system could come in and take it over," August said. "That's our dream."